Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obama Bows to the Emperor of Japan

First he bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia. Now Barack Obama has bowed to the Emperor of Japan. Is this simply a trivial gesture or does it signal a new era in American subservience?

At the least we know that kings and emperors take these things extremely seriously, especially in Asia.

The most interesting example occurred in 1793 century when the King of England sent Lord McCartney to the court of the Emperor Qianlong with an offer to share the scientific and technological advances of the Industrial Revolution.

As the story is told, Qianlong rejected McCartney's offerings because the envoy refused to kowtow to the Emperor. For a detailed account, see Alain Peyrefitte's "The Immobile Empire."

As it happens Peyrefitte's explanation has been disputed, perhaps because when Qianlong wrote to the King of England explaining his decision, he did not highlight Lord McCartney's failure to kowtow.

The fact remains, however, that in Confucian and Asian cultures gestures are enormously important. Barack Obama may or may know this, but his instinctive bowing to foreign dignitaries is hardly an assertion of American pride and confidence.

For a fuller analysis of these gestures and what they say about Obama and the new American foreign policy, I link Scott Johnson's analysis from the Powerline blog. Link here.

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