Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online

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Today’s colloquial understanding of kowtowing (derived from the Chinese term ketou, “touching the ground with one’s forehead”) as a self-abasing expression of respect and a gesture of submission dates back to a honorific Manchu ritual introduced in the context of the tribute system of the Qing Empire (1644-1911). In this rite, which was carried out three times in a row, the salutant or supplicant would throw himself to the ground, touching it thrice with his forehead (Chinese san gui jiu kou), while keeping the befitting distance from the dignitary - not only the Emperor, but also othe…

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Mittag, Achim, “Kowtow”, in: Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online, Editors of the English edition: Graeme Dunphy, Andrew Gow. Original German Edition: Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit. Im Auftrag des Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts (Essen) und in Verbindung mit den Fachherausgebern herausgegeben von Friedrich Jaeger. Copyright © J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung und Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH 2005–2012. Consulted online on 07 December 2023 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0272_emho_SIM_022710>
First published online: 2015
First print edition: 20190124

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