The Chinese Takeout Container

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The object I have chosen to research is the Chinese takeout box. This paper pail was invented in 1894 and called an oyster pail, but is now commonly used in Chinese-American restaurants across the country. The box is made out of a single piece of coated paper and folded Japanese-origami-style to create a leakproof container. A wire handle and wire staples hold the box together and make it easy to carry. The company that now makes these containers is called Fold-Pak, and in the 1970s, one of their graphic designers created the signature red pagoda and “Thank You” or “Enjoy” lettering that makes these takeout containers distinguishable from others. This box is known for its easy transportability, signature white and red design, and folded pattern.

The Chinese takeout box is interesting because it is uniquely American. These boxes, including the food that goes inside of them, are nowhere to be found in China because the design is so Americanized. A topic of exploration could be the combination of Chinese and American cultures, perhaps how there are stigmas attached to either and are apparent through the lettering and pagoda design on the takeout box. Another topic of exploration could be the environmental impact of the design and redesign of these boxes. Lots of takeout restaurants use Styrofoam or plastic to hold leftovers and neither of these materials break down very easily. Although paper, especially the paperboard with polycoating that is used now for the takeout boxes, is not extremely environmentally friendly, most boxes can be recycled and if thrown away, the paper taxes less time to decompose than Styrofoam would. There are even brands of takeout boxes that don’t use wire and are nondyed, making it fit the needs of the more environmentally conscious. These boxes are also an American pop culture symbol. They are easily recognizable and featured in many TV shows and movies. If you drew a picture of a box and asked someone to identify it, they would know exactly what it was. The symbols, design, and imagery of this takeout box are unmistakable.

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