Health authorities in Shanghai have suggested a change to Chinese traditional table etiquette when people eat communally, which has been well received by the majority of the public and the catering industry across the country amid its fight against the contagious novel coronavirus.
Chinese often eat communally and share their dishes with others. The proposal to add separate chopsticks and spoons to serve when people dine together, made by four health organizations in Shanghai on Sunday, said such a change of etiquette allows diners to avoid using their own chopsticks to pick food from the same dishes and therefore reduces the chances of transmission of many diseases.
"Chinese people like to dine together to enjoy reunions among families and friends, but we should note that sharing dishes can spread diseases easily," read the proposal by local health authorities, including Shanghai Health Commission and Shanghai Center for Health Promotion.
Although the novel coronavirus also transmits through contact and droplets, adding a pair of serving chopsticks and spoons can reduce the spread of viruses and harmful bacteria such as helicobacter pylori, which is commonly found in Chinese people's digestive tracts, it said.
Zheng Jin, spokeswoman for Shanghai Municipal Heath Commission, said on Monday that the proposal has been warmly received, getting more than 1.26 million views and tens of thousands of supporters on social media Sina Weibo and WeChat.
Many cities followed suit on Monday. The municipal office for civilized society in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and its provincial association of catering services published a similar proposal in Guangzhou Daily.
In addition to encouraging the public to use separate utensils for shared dishes at home, it suggests that restaurants make separate serving chopsticks and spoons standard.
Haikou, Hainan province, also announced a similar proposal, asking mid-sized restaurants, canteens in rural areas and catering services in tourist sites to pick up the habit.
In Shanghai, the office for civilized society said that 100 Shanghai Model Restaurants committed on Monday to providing a separate pair of chopsticks or a spoon for diners to transfer food to their plates.
Wang Shijia, deputy manager of Lu Bo Lang, a renowned traditional restaurant in Shanghai, said this policy is nothing new for them.
"We have been providing public chopsticks and spoons at each table long before the proposal, and customers all appreciate it," Wang said.
Luo Xian, a Guangzhou resident, said on Weibo that she, too, had started using separate public chopsticks at home long ago.
"It was difficult to change the habit at first, so I bought a different set of cutlery to remind myself," she said.
Pan Fangjun, a small restaurant owner in Beijing, said he also supports such proposals.
"It is a good thing for public health, and it doesn't bother our restaurant to put an extra spoon or chopsticks," he said. "The real difficulty is each individual has to change their mindset and form a new habit."
Still, there are people who dismiss the idea of using a separate public utensil.
In an online poll of 7,500 people on the use of serving utensils, 56 percent said they would definitely add a pair of serving chopsticks or spoons out of health concerns, 24 percent said they would simply take note, and the remaining 20 percent said they would not follow suit because they are not in the habit and don't think it is necessary, according to the poll launched by Caijing Magazine's website.
Many also expressed that they would feel awkward asking for public chopsticks when others don't.
Lin Yufeng, an assistant researcher of cultural communication at Nanjing University, said the reason for the objection is due to the Chinese culture of collectivism.
"Behind Chinese table manners lies its culture of sharing, where one's own cutlery represents the individual himself, and eating the dish using his chopsticks suggests a participation in one community," he said.
"In most cases, the collectivism mentality directs people's action, so changing the habit of not using public serving utensils must start with everyone."