Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Chinese Emperor's Etiquette

The kowtow, comes from "kòu tóu" in Mandarin. To the Chinese, this deep, lowest bow possible, was viewed as an act of deep respect. In Imperial Chinese protocol, the kowtow was performed before the Emperor of China. Depending on the solemnity of the situation different grades of kowtow would be used. In the most solemn of ceremonies, for example at the coronation of a new Emperor, the Emperor's subjects would undertake the ceremony of the "3 kneelings and 9 kowtows", the so-called "grand kowtow," involving kneeling from a standing position 3 times, and each time, performing the kowtow 3 times while kneeling. The "full kowtow" has been described as "3 kneelings and 9 knockings of the head on the ground."
Groping in the Darkness:

The Chinese Still Clinging to Customs of Centuries Ago

Capt. Maddox, of the Marine Corps, has just returned from a three years' service in China, where he has been employed as an instructor for the Chinese military in the use of modern arms. The captain says that he found the Chinese very teachable. They will make very good soldiers, he believes. 

The men of the northern provinces of China are tall, and have fine figures. In these regions, six feet is not an uncommon height. The inhabitants of Southern China are small and inferior physical types. It is from them, that the immigrants to this country come. 

Capt. Maddox says that the Chinese prejudice against foreigners is not much less than when seaports were first opened. The Chinese Emperor has never given audience to the representatives of foreign nations. This audience was only secured after several years of diplomatic talks.

Consent was given to the reception of the foreigners if they would consent to follow the Chinese etiquette for such an audience. This compels the person received to crawl upon bis stomach as be enters the room, pausing on the road to bump his head on the floor at requisite intervals until reaching a sacred line in front of the emperor, where he must remain prostrate until told to retire by the "all-stomach route." Naturally the foreign representatives refused to accede to this etiquette. 

The matter was finally compromised by requiring the diplomatic people to make continuous bows upon entering and retiring from the Emperor's presence. When the ministers came to be presented, they were kept waiting for nearly two hours in a very cold ante-room. 

The British minister, who was a very old gentleman (nearly 80) became thoroughly chilled. His teeth were chattering with the cold when he entered for the first time, the sacred presence of the Emperor. His shivering was noted by the keen-eyed Chinese, and published in all the Peking papers as evidence of his terror upon entering the awful presence of Chinese Majesty. This audience of foreigners has never been repeated. It created great dissatisfaction in China. 

The present Emperor is a lad of 17, who is guided by the Empress Regent. He has never been seen by any of the foreigners and by none except the highest officials of his own race. The old question of an audience to the ministers can not be raised until the present Emperor is of age and has displaced the Empress Regent. —Marin Journal, 1885

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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