While Chinese often take pride in the rich variety of cuisine across the country, chopsticks have remained the most common tableware in the country. In dexterous hands, the two sticks about 30 cm long can handle everything from fetching a grain of bean to picking out fishbone. For Westerners who grow up with fork and knife, it is a challenge to handle chopsticks upon the first Chinese meal. Opinions differ as to who invented the chopsticks. Popular versions give credit to two men : Da Yu, a legendary man who curbed the floods and became one of the three most famous kings ; and Jiang Ziya, a military strategist who helped Ji Fa topple the cruel rule of the Shang Dynasty in the 11th century BC. There are many materials to make chopsticks. Common people use wood and bamboo, while ancient nobles preferred ivory and silver.
Plastic chopsticks were once popular in hotels and big restaurants. Disposable chopsticks have become the target of criticism from environmentalists and the whole society. In the land of courtesy, there are many rules about table manners. It is considered very rude to hit the bowl or search for a particular piece in a dish with chopsticks. Planting the chopsticks in a bowl of rice would Invite angry glares, as some southern provinces have the tradition of offering rice to the deceased in front of the tomb, with a pair of chopsticks planted in the bowl. In the past, a girl's dowry would always include a pair of chopsticks, as its pronunciation "kuai zi" can be expanded to "kuai sheng gui zi"-having a son quickly. Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (AD618-907) once granted a pair of chopsticks to his prime minister Song Jing as a way of praising his outspoken and candid character, because the chopsticks are always straight and unyielding.