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Famous Chinese writer Lin Yutang(林语堂) said that as a good manner western people hold the hands of others but Chinese people hold their hands only. A very interesting point,isn't it?

As today is the Chinese New Year of 2024 or Year of Loong (Happy New Year and Best Wishes to everybody, by the way), I see with my own eyes many people in China greet each other by holding their own hands too, espeically in the showy parades of ancient-style costumes. But I notice that in making the gesture some people clench their left hand into a fist, the other the right one. On my asking, they give different answers, the most frequently given being "I get this from the TV drama (or video, picture, etc) I see".

Is there any rule for that etiquette?

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  • Quote:- "that as a good manner western people hold the hands of others but Chinese people hold their hands only. A very interesting point, isn't it?" I wonder what he meant by "very interesting point"? Is it plausible to interpret "western people hold the hands of others but Chinese people hold their hands only" to mean that Western people care for or help others while the Chinese care only for themselves? BTW, the handshake may have originated in prehistory as a demonstration of peaceful intent, since it shows that the hand holds no weapon. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handshake Feb 10 at 12:17

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The term 林語堂 used is 拱手, not 抱拳. In fact, most Chinese 拱手, few 抱拳, except in martial art movies. The following is an excerpt from his book 《生活的艺术》:

现在可以谈谈卫生上的反对理由。居住上海的西方人说我们的铜元是微生物的寻常集合所,所以碰都不敢碰,但是在街上随便和张三李四握手时,并不觉得什么。这实属不合逻辑。因为你怎能知道这张三李四的手没有摸过你所畏如蛇蝎的铜元呢?更坏的是,有时你或许遇到一个咳嗽时常用手帕掩着口部以示卫生,但露出已患肺病气色的人竟也伸出手来和你相握。在这一点上,中国的习俗实较为科学化,因为中国人不过是握了自己的手拱拱而已。我不知道中国这个习俗从何而起,但从医学卫生的观点说起来,我们不能否认它的长处。

What he said is so true. I remember seeing a video in which a person extended his hand toward the then German chancellor Merkel. Merkel looked at his hand, smiling, but didn't extend her hand. This was during Covid-19 years.

enter image description here

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    拱手是向友人打招呼; 抱拳是向敵(對)手/習武者打招呼 :)
    – r13
    Feb 10 at 14:27
  • Some works of 林语堂 are written in English and their Chinese version is translated by others, so 抱拳 is one of the options. Feb 11 at 2:04
  • @NanningYouth You are right. It might be due to translation. So, I searched some classic novels for 拱手 and 抱拳. Here is what I found: the term 拱手 appears in 紅樓夢 once, 三國演義 twice, 西遊記 twice, 金瓶梅 twice, 封神演義 8 times, 儒林外史 17 times. I couldn't find 抱拳 in any of them. The results support my claim that 抱拳 is rarely used.
    – joehua
    Feb 11 at 9:07
  • Not only people like us who love Chinese culture but also those who live here in China do not know exactly what is what. 拱手礼和抱拳礼有何区别?用错场合容易闹笑话,连成龙都错过 baijiahao.baidu.com/… Feb 12 at 8:53
  • @NanningYou Not me. I can tell the difference. The only times I have seen 抱拳 are in martial art movies, never in real life.
    – joehua
    Feb 12 at 14:53
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The answer to your question is here

  1. With both hands together forming a ball shape:

抱拳,是用左手抱右手,自然抱合,松紧适度,拱手。双手自然于胸前微微晃动,不宜过烈、过高。这种行礼,被称为“吉拜”。反之,若是用右手抱左手,则是不尊重对方的“凶拜”。它多用于吊丧,见面作揖时如果弄错了方向,是非常不礼貌的。

"Holding fists salute" is to hold the right hand with the left hand, close it naturally, with appropriate tightness, and cup the hand. The hands should naturally shake slightly in front of the chest, but should not be too strong or too high.

This kind of salute is called an "auspicious salute". On the other hand, if you hold your left hand with your right hand, it is called an "ominous salute". It is mostly used in funerals.

It would be very impolite if you go in the wrong direction when you meet and greet someone. (don't do an auspicious greeting at a funeral! Don't do an ominous greeting at a wedding)

  1. With one palm on top of one fist:

习武之人切磋比划时,行的抱拳礼有两种,一种是右掌左拳,另一种是左掌右拳

When martial arts practitioners spar, there are two types of fist-holding ceremonies, one is with the right palm on top of the left fist, and the other is with the left palm on top of the right fist.

右掌左拳,在比武时含有决生死之意

The right palm and the left fist mean a life-and-death fight in martial arts competitions.

左掌右拳则表示只是切磋而已。

The left palm and the right fist indicate that it is just a sparring exercise.

Like this one:

enter image description here

Just remember, left hand on top is good; right hand on top is bad

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  • Quote:-"... left hand on top is good; right hand on top is bad" I was told when I started martial arts training decades ago the "left over right" where the left hand folds over the right fist is politically correct because the left represents the other party who is superior to you, a gesture of humility on your part. In the picture of Jet Li where the left is an open palm which symbolizes that even in martial matters where fighting, violence is involved, Buddhist principles of compassion is ever present. So that Jet Li gesture is a symbolic marriage of martial prowess and Buddhist compassion. Feb 10 at 11:57
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Other answers about the hand gesture itself are quite good, but no one really directly addressed why its sometimes left or sometimes right, and I think its an important if minor thing-- the answer is that sometimes its being done wrong.

It could be an accident, they just didn't know//research that its supposed to be a specific way, or could be on purpose because the camera angles look cooler with the wrong hand. Compare to tv shows doing things in a hopsital that would never happen in real life, or "playing" an instrument completely wrongly.... but it looks cool. Historical accuracies and tv shows rarely go hand in hand (ha!) although its not like its never happened.

Just to round out my answer, here is a depiction of 抱拳 being done in an angle the tv show won't ever depict ((closed hand variation)):

enter image description here

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