Taboos When Using Chopsticks in China


Chinese people have been using chopsticks as their tableware ever since ancient times, when they were called “zhu”. People are very particular about the use of chopsticks in daily life. Usually, we hold the upper part of chopsticks with the thumb and index finger of the right hand, and use the other three naturally bent fingers to support the chopsticks with both ends matched. Before dinner, chopsticks should be put neatly on the right of the rice bowl; after we have finished eating, they should be put above the vertical midline of the bowl. Be sure to remember the following taboos when using chopsticks.

Don’t put chopsticks in a random order on the table.

It is ominous when a pair of chopsticks is not neatly put together with the ends seeming different in length because it is reminiscent of funeral rites. In Chinese culture, a person is put into a coffin after death, and uncovered coffins are made of three long wooden boards and two short ones, which vary in length. Therefore, it is also deemed unlucky to use mismatching chopsticks.

Don’t point your index finger at others while using chopsticks.

Pointing your index finger at others usually implies accusation, thus doing so while eating cannot be permitted.

Don’t suck the end of a chopstick.

This behavior itself is already very impolite, not to mention the disgusting noise. This behavior is also not permitted and is usually thought as a result of inadequate upbringing.

Don’t tap chopsticks on the edge of your bowl or plate.

As an old saying goes, “Tapping bowls and you’ll be a beggar for life”. In the past, only beggars tapped and implored to attract the attention and compassion of passers-by. People will hold a person in contempt if he taps his bowls.

Don’t poke at your food while you decide what to eat next.

It is vulgar and disgusting to poke at a dish looking for something to eat.

Don’t let liquids drip from your chopsticks when you are taking food.

It is seen as disrespectful and undesirable if you let liquids drip into other dishes or on the table from your chopsticks when you are taking food.

Don’t use the reverse ends of chopsticks.

This means that you are too hungry to pay attention to table manners and thus will be looked down upon.

This means that you are too hungry to pay attention to table manners and thus will be looked down upon.

Don’t spear food with a chopstick.

It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick, since this behavior is like giving someone the middle finger, and is an insult to others at the table.

Don’t stick your chopsticks vertically in the bowl.

Usually for convenience, people will pass someone a rice bowl with chopsticks stuck vertically in it. But it is deemed extremely unacceptable since it resembles the ritual of incense-burning to the dead.

Don’t cross your chopsticks on the table.

This taboo is almost always ignored. Crossing chopsticks at the dinner table is a denial of all others at the table, as the red crosses marked by a teacher on mistakes in homework; at the same time, it is disrespectful to yourself, because in ancient times, people only marked a cross when pleading guilty to all the alleged crimes.

Don’t let your chopsticks fall on the ground.

Dropping chopsticks on the ground is very disrespectful. This behavior is thought to be unfilial, since in Chinese people’s belief, deceased ancestors rest underground, and falling chopsticks will disturb them. Fortunately, people can make up for this by crossing the fallen chopsticks on the ground—the first one east-west, the second south-north—meaning that “I’m not behaving myself; I shouldn’t have disturbed the ancestors”, and then picking up chopsticks apologizing “I should be punished by death”.

Don’t rest the tips of chopsticks on the plate with their opposite ends on the table.

When drinking or chatting without using chopsticks, don’t rest the tips of chopsticks on the plate with their opposite ends on the table, because the tips of chopsticks tilt upward and point at others at the table, which again implies condemnation or accusation. This behavior is unsightly, but many people nowadays ignore this rule.

Source: Confucius Institute Online