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Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History

by: Q. Edward Wang

New York NY: Cambridge University Press 2015, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-1-02396-3

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(1) page(s): 12

This well-researched volume looks at these eating tools used by more than one and a half billion people in Asia and elsewhere. It concentrates on China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam and goes beyond eating, discussing their use as gifts, symbols, even metaphors in history, society, and culture.

Unique facets of Chinese life, they are the main focus of the text of these main eating tools that are complex instruments used by more than one-fifth of the world’s population every single day. Chopsticks have evolved from a simple cooking tool to a main one in use from the Neolithic Age to today. They are used by folk in Asia and outside of Asia, people from Mongolia to Mexico and many other places all over the world.

Authored by a History professor and Coordinator of Asian Studies at Rowan University and the Changjiang Professor of History at China’s Peking University, this book looks at their history, etiquette, color, intrigue, and endless other information about chopsticks, doing so in seven chapters from its introduction, to the last chapter titled: “Bridging Food Cultures in the World.” Included is a time line, map of East Asia, glossary, bibliography, and an index, as well as twenty-nine color photographs from bone spoons and neolithic chopsticks to couples dressed in Han Dynasty wedding attire eating with them.

The rear cover has positive comments by professors from Princeton, Penn State, Texas A&M, and China’s Fudan University touting them as fine history, and they are. These professors and others say it is lucidly written, readable, and fascinating; all true. It opens eyes about everything you ever wanted to know about chopsticks in China, Japan, and the other countries that use them daily.

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