Chopsticks World


Photo by Larissa Mueller


Wang Xuelian has been working at the YunHong chopsticks store for only three days and has already sold several sets. She says it is a lucrative business to be in. “Everyone uses chopsticks!” she says. The narrow shop, which is lined with elegant wood shelves showcasing dozens of pristine sets of the famed utensils, is one of 20 the YunHong Company owns throughout China.

Although its prices are higher than other stores, quality materials make these chopsticks desirable among the growing affluent Chinese. Wang says tourists are also attracted to the store, but the company's consumer base is mainly Chinese. Made of sandalwood, bamboo, rosewood, steel, porcelain, ox bone or silver, the sets can range in price from $240 to less than a dollar for the children’s version. “Nowadays, sending a set of chopsticks as a present is fashionable,” says Wang. “The pronunciation of chopsticks in Chinese, kuai zi, also sounds like the word for happy, kaui le.”

Perhaps a more appropriate store name would be “Chopsticks World.” One can find chopsticks themed for almost any occasion, including birthdays and weddings. During the spring festival, chopsticks with fish designs are particularly popular because the fish symbolizes good luck and abundance. One can even purchase a set with phrases immortalized by Chairman Mao, such as: "Politics is war carried out without bloodshed, while war is politics carried out with bloodshed."

Wang also says she enjoys promoting chopstick culture through her work. The ancient tools have evoked countless legends and fables telling of its origins, yet no one is certain where chopsticks come from. Wang's favorite tale tells of a man whose wife wanted to kill him. She cooked poisoned meat soup and just when he was about to take a sip, a bird came flying and bit his hand, giving him two bamboo sticks. The man used the sticks to pick the meat from the soup, only to notice the sticks burned from the poison. It was the chopsticks that saved the man’s life.


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