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The use of forks at meals is a sign of higher civilisation. Not only savages, but also highly cultured people have been accustomed to take their meals with their natural forks, their fingers. The ancient Greeks and Romans had only spoons at their banquets, but no forks. These are first mentioned by Petrus Damianus, who died in 1072 A.D. He reports that a Byzantine princess introduced this innovation in Venice. For many centuries forks were regarded as an instrument of sinful effeminacy, and it was not before the 17th and 18th centuries that their use became general in Europe.
In China chopsticks have always taken the place of forks. Both are, so to say, artificial prolongations of the fingers, invented to keep the latter clean; forks are stiff, chopsticks moveable fingers. The early use of chopsticks testifies to the old age of Chinese civilisation.
If we can believe a notice in the Shi-chi, chopsticks were already known under the Yin dynasty, for their last emperor is said to have employed ivory chopsticks. (Shi-chi chap. 14 and 38, Chavannes Mém. Hist. Vol. III, p. 16 Note 3 and Vol. IV, p. 216.) Wang Ch`ung relates the same fact in two places, Vol. I, p. 354 and Vol. II, p. 117. Sse-Ma Chêng proposes to explain the expression ### occurring in the Shi-chi by ivory cups, which might perhaps agree better with the context, but ### chu cannot mean a cup. 1 It is the usual sign for chopsticks, for which ### and ### are also written.
For the Chou epoch the use of chopsticks is quite certain. Hsün Tse XV, 11 r. says that trees a hundred feet high seen from a mountain appear like chopsticks. 2 The philosopher Hsün Tse lived in the 4th century B.C.Huai Nan Tse XI, 2 r. connects ivory chopsticks with mounds of dregs, 3 referring, as the commentator says, to the extravagance of the last emperor of the Yin dynasty, Chou.
In the Han-shu chap. 40 p. 6 r. Chang Liang arrived when the emperor was at dinner. In order to demonstrate his ideas Chang Liang begged to borrow the chopsticks of the emperor. Another passage of the same historical work, Han-shu chap. 40 p. 29 r. narrates an adventure of general Chou Ya Fu who died in 152 B.C. As a joke the emperor offered him a big piece of meat to eat, but uncut, and without chopsticks. Chou Ya Fu became uneasy, and asked for some chopsticks from the emperor's table. 4
The Fei Yen wai-chuan5 says of Chao Fei Yen that, when she was raised to the rank of an empress, Pun Ch`ieh Yü congratulated her and presented her with various objects. Amongst these was a pair of chopsticks made of rhinoceros horn to avoid poison. 6 The Chinese believe that this horn indicates whether a dish is poisonous. The new empress was very capricious. When she felt the slightest suffering, she did not eat or drink alone, and the emperor was obliged to hold the spoon and the chopsticks for her. 7
The Liki tells us when chopsticks may be used and when not:---"Do not use chopsticks in eating millet," 8 and "If the soup be made of vegetables, chopsticks should be used; but not if there be no vegetables" 9 (Legge, Sacred Books Vol. XXVII p. 80 and 82.) The meaning seems to be that chopsticks are only to be used for solid food, whereas for soup and liquid food the spoon is the proper implement.
From the characters used for chopsticks it seems that in ancient times they were mostly made of bamboo. Subsequently common wood was employed as well as bone and ivory. Tutenague ### is also said to be a suitable material, but gold and jade are regarded as unfit. These are the chief materials of which chopsticks are still made.
4. ### Cf. Giles, Biogr. Dict. No. 462.
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|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|