Could the knife and fork replace chopsticks?

19 Mar

A Chinese tradition that has been in existence for 4000 years could be under threat. The Chairman of Jilin Forestry Industry Group has suggested that the production of chopsticks is unsustainable, as it is no longer possible to continue chopping down 20 million trees a year to produce around 80 billion pairs of chopsticks a year. He stated that “we must change our consumption habits and encourage people to carry their own tableware”, he even mentioned an idea that metal knives and forks should be available in restaurants. This could prove a difficult part of the Chinese culture to change seeing as many people are opposed to the idea, however it could become necessary in order to help sustain the environment.



6 Responses to “Could the knife and fork replace chopsticks?”

  1. timhaythorne March 20, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    I think that the idea of knives and forks is irrational in the short run and probably in the long run too. The will of the people is one factor, but more important is the fact that China’s traditional cuisine simply does not suit western cutlery and has adapted itself over the years to suit the chopstick. The main difference between the two being that using chopsticks eating can be done with one hand as the bowl is held in the other, suited to the lower tables used across the country.

    In the study of Macroeconomics, a number of trade theories state that countries should export goods in which they have plentiful production resources and import those with which they lack. China, over time, has clearly seen a decline in the appropriate wood (Poplar and Sweet gum ideal) resource for chopsticks production, and therefore should look to trade with other countries.

    Granted that many countries would see no immediate need to produce chopsticks, if not specifically for trade. It is up to those countries with plentiful resources in this area to open up new export industries and trade with China. Some have already found this niche in the US, with a company Georgia exporting more than 2 million a day to their Chinese partners. However, given that the Chinese use their cutlery as disposables, this is clearly a market which can be grown in to and there will be opportunities to do so for a very long time until demand within China is satisfied.


  2. db7g09 March 22, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    On Sunday, the famous Chinese actor Huang Bo posted a message on Weibo that caught people’s attention. He said when he was dining at a restaurant and wanted to wash the disposable chopsticks provided by the restaurant, he was astonished to find that after soaking the chopsticks in the cup of hot water, the water turned yellow and gave off a pungent smell. Following the post and coupled with Bai Guangxin comments, a fresh round of debate has emerged over the usage of disposable chopsticks in China.

    Some have raised concerns about the national standards for disposable chopsticks; others question whether China should wean itself off this product to protect its environment. A few even said that the issue is not only about environment protection, but is a matter of possible life and death.

    In regards to what the Chairman of Jilin Forestry Industry Group has said, that remains unclear, and how fast this will happen is questionable. There have been several aborted campaigns to halt the use of disposable chopsticks in recent years but if knives and forks are to be that replacement, it will be unthinkable.

    In China, chopsticks are as quintessential to life and culture as tea and rice or noodles (depending on whether you’re in the north or south). When I lived in Hong Kong or travelled around China, using a fork was rarely an option, certainly not at the hole-in-the-wall eateries which served the most delicious renditions of dumplings, noodles and “homestyle” dishes.

    There are many stories of the provenance of chopsticks, which in some form have been entrenched in Chinese history for thousands of years. Many centre on practical needs – getting meat out of fire, speed, using whatever is around. There are also many superstitions attached to them: dropping chopsticks is bad luck, sticking them upright in your rice is taboo because of the imagery of incense sticks at funeral altars, and finding an uneven pair means you’re going to miss transport.

    According to Audra Ang, writing in the Guardian, “Knives and forks, whose use at the table is said to have been discouraged by benevolent philosopher Confucius because they were instruments of killing, don’t have the same rich traditions and legacy of elegance and delicacy.” And it is true, that you rarely hear of a stabbing involving chopsticks, at least in China anyway, although note the link below from the USA. On the other hand, from a Western perspective, one could say there is as much tradition and ‘elegance’ (if you really want to call it that) in Western silverware and using the correct fork for the correct dish of the meal etc.

    I agree with Tim’s comments about the disposability of chopsticks in China and that it is a market that can be grown into. As an alternative solution, in Korea, they use metallic chopsticks, and this seems to work. But the question is whether China could transfer to the metallic chopstick age? Chopsticks certainly require less metal than a knife and fork.

    For me, it was only after my time in China that I had better insight into how integral chopsticks are to the country’s identity. It would be a shame if that gets eroded.


    Anthony Fay – ‘SPD: Child stabbed with chopsticks’ – 7 September 2013 – (accessed 22 March 2013).

    Audra Ang – ‘Dispose of chopsticks and China loses part of its identity’ – 18 March 2013 (accessed 22 March 2013).

    Scott Greene – ‘Will Forks Conquer Chopsticks in China?’ – 18 March 2013 (accessed 22 March 2013).

    Wang Wenwen – ‘Time to put chopsticks on the chopping block?’ – 22 March 2013 (accessed 22 March 2013).

    • jc35g10 April 2, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

      This article raises many interesting points and it is hard to see which side to agree with. However, although it would be terribly sad to lose such an important part of Chinese culture, it has to be argued that many societies and communities are having to adapt or change their old traditions and cultural activities in order to ‘move with the times’ and deal with issues which may be currently affecting the planet. This would include deforestation. Thus, although disregarding and removing chopsticks from Chinese culture for another option would be a sad loss of a way of life which has spanned over many centuries, it is something which needs to be done for this current century. Thus, in order to slow the usage of “1.18 million square meters of forest, according to the Forest Ministry’s statistics from 2004 to 2009” and to save the limited supplies for future generations, this change is necessary.

      However, it can be argued that it would depend what the change from chopsticks would be toward. If plastic cutlery were to be used, then this could arguable be just as damaging to the planet as chopsticks. However, stainless steel would be more appropriate.

      Therefore, although the loss of this part of culture would be a shame, it appears to be necessary in order to help preserve the environment. Due to globalisation, many countries have already lost important parts of their cultures and it is simply a necessity and product of the time. I am sure the food dishes would be able to adapt again to suit knives and forks, as it once had to do for chopsticks.

  3. jc35g10 April 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Source for previous comment:

  4. ja11g12 April 5, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    This isn’t the first time that China’s eating habits have changed in recent years. The opening and popularisation of McDonald’s restaurants caused a change in eating behaviour especially by witnessing the actions of foreigners eating within the restaurants

  5. st24g10 May 13, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    It would be a great shame if chopsticks were to be replaced, due to the great history they hold. The Chinese were taught to use chopsticks long before spoons and forks were invented in Europe. Chopsticks were strongly encouraged by the great Chinese philosopher Confucius. Chinese people under the cultivation of Confucianism deemed knives and forks to represent anger and violence, similar to weapons. In contracts the chopsticks represented something much calmer and placid. The smooth and simple design of the chopsticks creates a gentle notion. Therefore, negative instruments such as knives and fork which we commonly use here, are often banned from the dining table. Consequently that is why Chinese cuisine is chopped into small bite size pieces before it reaches the table.


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