In post-Confucian ancient China (around 500BC – 200AD), at a time when scholarship was well-respected, it was believed to be uncivilized to serve meat at the table as a whole carcass that still looked like the animal. What’s more, it was considered rude to subject your guests to having to dissect the animal at the table like an aggressive warrior or violent barbarian. This way of thinking is well represented by this quote from Confucius that states: “The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table.”
As a result, long before Europeans started chopping up their meat pre-being served at the table, in China the custom of dicing up food into small pieces was already established.
In order to easily eat the pre-cut food, chopsticks were developed as delicate, civilized tools perfect for picking up the dainty food pieces.
After the habit of eating with chopsticks was established in China, it slowly spread to other parts of Asia including Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan.
But where did the chopsticks come from?
Chopsticks had been around before they started being used as eating utensils. The earliest chopsticks that have been found date from around 1200BC and they seem to have been used to stir the fire, to serve food or to seize food rather than having their later purpose of picking up tiny food morsels.
It is likely that the first chopstick-like sticks developed as tools in food preparation over a fire, and these early tools probably arose from sticks and twigs primitive people found in their surroundings. Eventually these sticks evolved. Over time they started being carved out of more materials including bone, ivory, metal, jade, porcelain, bamboo, wood and eventually plastic. They gained more refined functions until they reached their famous purpose as the eating utensils that we’re familiar with today.