Jul 4, 2010

CFP Letter to Editor re: Bowing

June 8, 2010
fax: 508 756-8315

Though I claim no special expertise in oriental customs, neither am I completely uninformed. Which is why I found suspect Fr. Hemrick‘s assertion [CFP The Human Side 6/4/10) that since his Vietnamese friends bowed as sign of friendship, somehow this also applied to the Chinese. Frankly I found this to be a little bit too ethno-centric, kind of like saying all those people over there are the same.

A little research did not disprove my suspicion. Perhaps to the Vietnamese, a bow as a sign of friendship grew out of a view that until recently handshakes were considered barbaric. But that is Vietnam, not China. Other research indicated that the formal bow may have replaced the kowtow in China, and that bows appear reserved for one’s deceased ancestors.

My point is not to ridicule Fr. Hemrick‘s desire for peace, just to say that though criticism of President Obama’s bow to Chinese President Hu Jintao (and his full bows to Japanese Emperor Akihito and Saudi King Abdullah before that) may have been strong, harsh even, this criticism was not unwarranted, nor should it be muted, because it is this criticism that is the opportunity for an educational moment.

The President of the United States represents us overseas, and his words and actions are viewed through a microscope. Our President and State Department representatives are aware of this and always kept these symbolic messages in mind when preparing for any foreign trip. At best our President’s bow sent a mixed message to our foreign friends and non-friends, as well as to us Americans. In a dangerous world, mis-queues cost lives, which is why it is legitimate to question the intentions of the President; to ask was the message received actually the one the President intended to send? Assuming the President intended a sign of friendship, as assuming Hu Jintao, the Chinese, the Americans and the rest of the world saw this bow as a message of friendship, is doubly problematic, especially since this assumption is not even consistent with what we know about Chinese culture.

If “[l]abeling a Westerner's bow to an Easterner a disgrace... reflects ignorance and belligerence”, what should we call lumping the Chinese and Vietnamese together while ignoring the confused signals the leader of one nuclear power sent the leader of another nuclear power?

Jay G


JayG said...

Thanks Paul,
But the CFP did not publish it...

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Why am I not surprised Jay? Perhaps the CFP should change its masthead. Instead of citing John 8:32 (when the paper often plays hard and fast with the truth), perhaps a better motto for the CFP would be: Merda taurorum animas conturbit