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The Kung Fu Hand Salutation

Hand salutation has been part of Chinese social and cultural etiquette for thousands of years it is how individuals greet each other it is a gesture of goodwill to show or present a form of respect, trust, friendship and to convey a sense of none violence a no hostility, no bad intention or an agreement especially between strangers it is the equivalent of hand shaking normally the hand shaking with both hands will come after both parties have reciprocated to each other’s hand salute. The salutation is done within a certain distance or safe distance as an announcement and respect of space before advancing any closer that is followed with extending of both hands to shake not with one hand but with two hands extended outwards. The greeting expressions can vary from “qing” 請 meaning please, or welcome 歡迎 “huan ying”.

The social hand salutation is done with the right hand in closed fist with the left hand resting or wrap on top of the clench right fist like holding it or restraining the fist. The fist symbolizes hostility or fight while the open palm represents control and peace by wrapping the fist with your left hand it means no fighting or submission of mutual surrender. There is also interpretation based upon ancient religious symbolism that is related to Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and ancient Chinese mythological ancestral religion wherein the right fist symbolizes the moon or the earth and the left open palm symbolizes heaven, spirit or the stars making it about the union of Heaven (gods), spirit (human soul) and earth. Other interpretation for this form of salutation are:

  1. The left hand wrapped on top of the right clench fist symbolises none aggression, no fight, or peace.

  2. The second reason is by holding one’s two hands together is a sign that you do not want to past any dirt or to keep your own dirty hands to yourself or better yet not to transfer any germs or diseases.

  3. The third reason is to show that you have nothing to hide no weapons especially in greeting with a foreign leader or during a treaty agreement or visitation to show that you are not an assassin or have hostile intention also a good sign of humility and submission to peace.

  4. A gesture of honesty and trustworthiness especially in final agreement between parties on contracts or treaties.

  5. The hand shaking with both hands is to show that both your hands are free of any weapons or hidden agenda.

This salutation will also be adapted by the kung fu martial arts community with some changes added on it to represents the lineage or kung fu clan of individual sects. The main concept of clench fist and open palm remain the same with the general custom salutation which represents peace, no fight, none violence, no hidden weapons, respect, trust etc.

The most common kung fu salutation first used is both arms the elbows are in horizontal level, the right fist horizontally level with the left palm straight open all fingers like in a knife hand it is not wrapping the right fist it is touching each other like a gate holding off a battering ram the gate being the left open palm and the battering ram being the right fist unlike the social salutation which has the left open hand wrap on top of the right fist. (See photo) It is also said that to do the opposite which is to use the left hand in closed fist and right hand in open palm translate to distrust, arrogance or be cautious.

During the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1674 AD replaced by the Qing dynasty several underground groups mainly in the south started to introduce none traditional salutation that are related mostly as coded hand signals in their rebellion against the Qing government this hand signals serve as a means of communication between rebel groups against the Qing or Manchu dynasty under the disguised that it is part of their local tradition to do the hand salutation differently. The most prominent kung fu salutation that propped up during the 1700’s are: