Sticking Chopsticks into the Rice Bowl


DerShann is currently a student at USC, majoring in Philoshophy. His family are from Tsingtao, Shandong, China. He likes to play the game League of Legends, and the following folklore is collected during some of the games we played together via the voice chat chanel.

The Main Piece:

DerShann: I’ve got this one super popular belief: you cannot stick your chopsticks into the rice in your bowl.

Me: I’ve heard of it. But why is it?

DerShann: Because that makes the chopsticks look like incense, burned to serve the dead. So sticking the chopsticks into the rice means the rice is for dead people.

Me: So what do you think of it?

DerShann: I kind of believe it. Like, there’s no certain, immediate consequences, nothing happens if you do that. But it might still bring around bad luck, it’s not a good sign. And, I wouldn’t do it because it kinda makes people uncomfortable.


I think this reveals how people are afraid of dying. They feel uncomfortable when they are using things that are similar to things designed for the dead. Or they don’t like to behave like a dead person. I think being afraid of death is a universal sentiment, but only in East Asia do this piece of folklore exist. Our traditional chopsticks has some similarity with incense that are used to serve gods or ghosts or souls.

Most of the people I know are aware of this taboo, and most of them follow it, although a large portion of them don’t really believe in ghosts or superstitious powers of the rice bowl. But people just follow it because this is the tradition, or the cultural norm.