Every Chinese household have chopsticks. More and more western households have them nicely slotted in the utensils holder at the kitchen too.
But when chopsticks are used as display items or given as gifts, they carry significant symbolism that are meant to convey material meanings.
The Mandarin words of chopsticks is written as 筷子 (kuai zi). It sounds the same as the words 快子 which means the quick arrival of a son.
This is why chopsticks are common traditional gifts given to newly weds to wish the new married couple good fertility luck. For the Chinese in ancient times, having boys are much celebrated in terms of heritage and legacy because they carry the surname (last name) of the patriarch’s family tree.
Because food was considered as the result of wealth, chopsticks can also often make it’s way into gifts for businesses and house warmings. The cultural message behind this is that the receiver would never have to worry about food as he is wealthy.
This is also part of the symbolism with the golden rice bowl.
It was believed that how a person uses, holds and maneuvers a pair of chopsticks can tell a lot about the individual.
Firstly, and probably the most famous way not to use a chopstick is to place it with one end inside the bowl and the other end resting on bowl’s rim. This is a taboo that can be met with raised eyebrows at a Chinese dinner. Especially with the elderly. Such a placement of chopsticks are meant for offerings to the departed. So chopsticks should always be placed squarely on the rims of the bowl, or a rest.
Using only 1 chopstick to eat instead of a pair also has supernatural connotations. So does having them crossed when placed over a bowl, and sticking them in the rice.
Kids are usually berated for such behavior and are taught from young not to play with chopsticks.
It is also expressly mentioned in the Book of rites (禮記) that children should be taught how to use the chopsticks in the right hand instead of the left. While some people argue that this must have been overlooked by the writer, there were surely left-handers in the past. And it’s hubris to accuse the book of being ridiculous. However, the reason for chopsticks to be meant for the right hand is not mentioned.
When held in the hand, the utensil should also be at just about the right position in the palm and fingers.
If the chopsticks are held too high up, it implies a romance partner who is far away. When they are held too low it signifies that the partner is too close for comfort. Possibly a very possessive person. Some parents can be very mindful of this as they don’t want their kids to suffer in marriage. And it also indirectly affects them when their children are suffering in their marriages.
When a cup is positioned in between the 2 chopstick, it implies separation.
Using them to point at something or wave at someone is also considered rude behavior.
Kids can also tend to play with chopsticks like hitting a bowl with it to make their own music. This is considered a reflection of begging or in prison.
Using an uneven pair of chopsticks is calling for misfortune.
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