the invention of Chopsticks

This is the eighth part to our series on Myths and Legends. Again in China, this is the legend of the invention of Chopsticks. 

For westerners visiting China, one of the things one must learn in order to survive is to manage the use of chopsticks- a pair of small and thin sticks of the same length used as eating utensils. They look simple, but they have as many functions as knives and forks do: picking, mixing, nipping, cutting and digging. Many Asian countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Malaysia use chopsticks too, but it’s believed that chopsticks first appeared in China. There is a legend that tells how chopsticks were invented and how marital problems are an ancient thing.

There was a historical and legendary man named Jiang Ziya in China. He assisted the Kings of the Zhou Dynasty in overthrowing the Shang Dynasty in ancient China. Obviously, he was very smart and knowledgeable. But he wasn’t that smart about making money. So he was always really poor. His wife could not endure poverty, and so she despised and nagged at him constantly.

the invention of Chopsticks

Volunteer picks-up noodles with chopsticks.

One day, when he came back with empty hands from fishing, his wife said “You must be hungry, I’ve prepared some meat, please enjoy.” Jiang Ziya was very hungry, so he reached out for the meat. Suddenly, a bird flew in from the window and pecked on his hand. Jiang Ziya tried two more times, but the bird did the same thing and flew away. Wanting to find out why, Jiang Ziya ran after the bird and came to a small hill. The bird landed on a bamboo branch and sang:

“Jiang Ziya, Jiang Ziya, eat the meat but with no hands, use what’s under my feet.”

Jiang Ziya then took two bamboo sticks and went home. When his wife urged him to eat the meat, he stuck the two bamboo sticks into the bowl. To his surprise, blue smoke rose up from the bowl. He now knew that the food was poisoned.

We don’t know how that marriage went on. But we know that from that point on, Jiang Ziya always used the bamboo sticks that the bird had shown him, and his wife dared not to poison him anymore. The story spread quickly among the neighbors, and all the people started to use bamboo sticks to eat. Know poison is available without the blue smoke, but chopstick remain the most popular eating utensil in Asia.

the invention of Chopsticks

Volunteers enjoying Chinese food with chopsticks.

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