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A simple pair of chopsticks made from Yew wood. (Public Domain)

In China, chopsticks are a common tableware. Chinese folk culture has many taboos on the use of chopsticks and also many chopstick-related legends. However, few know that chopsticks can be used as a talisman to repel evil.

Chopsticks are traditionally crafted with round tips and square ends. When used to pick up food, the two sticks do not move simultaneously; rather, one moves actively, while the other follows it passively; one is above, while the other is below. According to Taoism, this combination reflects the Taiji, a Chinese cosmological term for the “Supreme Ultimate” state of undifferentiated absolute and infinite potential, from which is derived the duality of Yin and Yang. Chinese philosophy uses Yin and Yang to represent opposite properties in the universe: cold and hot, slow and fast, still and moving, lower and upper, etc. The active stick is recognized as Yang, while the passive one is Yin. The stick above is Yang, while the one below is Yin.

Natural phenomena are balanced in the change and transformation of Yin and Yang, which are in conflict with each other, but mutually dependent; Taiji can exist only by the interaction of the two opposites. Likewise, two chopsticks can be alternating; the active one is not always active, while the one below is not always passive. Two chopsticks, like Yin and Yang, are in constant change and motion.

By their shape, chopsticks contain the symbols of both Heaven (Yang) and Earth (Yin). One end of a chopstick is square, while the other end is circular. In ancient Chinese philosophy, Heaven is symbolized by the circular and Earth by the square.

Another theme in Chinese philosophy that is reflected in chopsticks is Bagua, or the Eight Trigrams. The trigrams themselves are categorized as xiantian or Original Heavenly, and houtian or Latter Heavenly. Of the eight trigrams in Original Heavenly Bagua, the second figure refers to the character dui (兑), which indicates an open mouth ready for a meal.

Chopsticks come in pairs, and being long in shape, resemble the trigram called xun (巽), which holds a binary value of 011. The trigram’s corresponding element is Wood, understood as a gentle yet penetrative force. Chopsticks are thus seen as a combined pair of wooden entities used to handle and penetrate food, while also entering the mouth.

Because chopsticks carry Yin and Yang and their two ends embody Heaven and Earth, they are endowed with versatility. In ancient China, some methods of exorcism even applied chopsticks to defeat demons and evil spirits, as no specter can withstand the combined strength of Heaven and Earth.

Editor: Xiao Fan
Translator: Amy Hsu