Does Obama’s Body Language Bow to Chinese Leader Hu Jintao Weaken His Image Among Americans and Worldwide?




 The way a person bows in Asian countries reflects what a person is communicating non verbally  to another person. While a bow is often a sign of respect, a bow can reflect the way a person is feeling – humble, sincere, remorse, or even deference.

The degree of the bow also means something. The lower the bow, the more formal and the more it says. So does how long you hold the position when you bow. For instance if you are apologizing to someone the bow is longer and lower.

 Where bowing really gets disturbing is here. Someone who is in an inferior position will address the person in a superior position with a bow while the person in the superior position may will not bow at all.

That is why the photo above of Obama publicly bowing to Chinese leader Hu Jintao has been so disturbing to many.  While the economic power of China is certainly increasing, many believe that Obama’s bowing to him is a public acknowledgement that he is aware of this and accepting of this. If you look at President Obama he  is looking down  as a signal of defence as his body s leaning towards the Chinese leader.

The Chinese leader’s body language is in marked contrast to Obamas’ where  Hu is  leaning away from Obama and looking directly at him as a visible sign of personal power as Obama bows and gazes downward in a subservient gesture.

  While many believe that one needs to “do in Rome as the Roman’s do” and join the culture when a person is visiting another country, the problem here is that the Chinese leader was visiting  OUR country, the USA. It was not the reverse. That is what has concerned others who believe that by Obama bowing to the leader he was exhibiting a weaker position to the world and abroad.


 Even though there was controversy about Obama’s bowing when he was in Japan, it seemed a lot more appropriate than this recent bow to the Chinese leader. In the first place he was on foreign soil. In the second place he was with the Emperor of Japan Akihito. In the third place the Emperor was much older than Obama, perhaps old enough to be his grandfather.

Perhaps these factors was why his bow was so low. In any case, Obama’s bowing to Emperor Akihito  can certainly be justified, even though it was very controversial at the time.


 While we have seen bowing in Asia, we have certainly not seen it among Middle Easterners. So what most controversial was when Obama publicly bowed to the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah. The bow was extremely low ,  with Obama’s knees bent. When knees are  bent it is considered the ultimate  signal in subservience, with only kneeling on the ground to follow in terms of degree of subservience and deference .  It also signifies an apology as when anyone usually bows that low they are usually apologizing for something. 

 Thus, many felt  that  Obama’s low and subservient  the bow to the Saudi King  was extremely inappropriate for an American President under any circumstances.

Even though  Obama’s bow was not  as low as it was with  the Saudi Leader, the  subservient bow to yet another world leader is not a signal of self-confidence to Westerners or to non Westerners for that matter.

As you can see the  Chinese leader  who does not return the bow. In fact the leader looks very superior to Obama as he doesn’t bow back, unlike the Japanese Emperor Akihito who’s head is slightly bowed during Obama’s bow. The Chinese leader does not bow back in the least as his posture is ramrod straight and head and instead and appears in a completely upright body position.

 It clearly shows that the Chinese leader is the one in the power position.

 Obama also  bowed to the Queen of England, which may be protocol if you are a British subject. But if you are the  President of the USA you may not have to it. Nevertheless he gave her a little bow as you can see above.

He even gave a deferential bow to the Queen’s husband  Prince Philip which many felt was uncalled for. Many believed that a President of one of the most powerful nations in the world should not have been bowing to a powerless husband who was only of any significance because he married the Queen.

Obama also bowed in Feb 2010 to Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko who has the identical superior ramrod straight head and body posture as Chinese leader Jintaoe Hu.  The Ukrainian leader gazes down upon Obama as did Chinese leader as like Hu he has a ramrod straight posture and does not exhibit  a mutual bow or anything deferential towards Obama.


The bow with Yushchenko took place in February of 2010. That month Obama was doing even more bowing as he bowed a low head down to  Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who looked at him a bit surprised.


 Obama even bowed to no-nonsense Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie with a very low and humble bow. While there  must have been a good joke as  shared during the circumstances, it is clear that  body language wise Gov. Christie , he is in the top dog position. He turns his head to the side and doesn’t even look at  The President who bows  too low for comfort.

Like it or not,  the botom line ,  perception wise,  is that when a  President of a powerful country bows to other heads of state or those in a lesser political position like the husband of a Queen, a governor of a state  or the Mayor of a city, it  makes him appear weak as a leader.

 If he must bow to n Asian leader, make sure it is on Asian soil and make sure there are no cameras present for the  photo opt.  In politics that now plays out on a  world wide stage in moments,  the  image which the  political leader is essential and important in terms of repect and   how they will be regarded.


Just ask Russian leader Vladamir Putin who carefully manicures and manages his public image. The only image of him you will ever see is  where he is swimming the deepest sea, skiing the highest mountains, or riding the fastest stallion as he shows off hs buff arms. He isn’t bowing to anyone. Perhaps President Obama may want to follow suit if he values how he is perceived especially in the next election.

While many around the world  may think that this animated  Taiwanese cartoon of the President kow-towing to Hu is funny, there is absolutely nothing funny about it to any American. There is nothing humorous about a President of one of the most powerful countries in the world being perceived  as weak, under any circumstances .


37 thoughts on “Does Obama’s Body Language Bow to Chinese Leader Hu Jintao Weaken His Image Among Americans and Worldwide?

  1. I agreewith your assessment. President Obama needs to learn protocol concerning greetings of leaders. And, his bow just looks awkward in these still shots. Ofcourse, it may be that China will bail us out of our deficit mess and thus that would make us subserviant in the real to that nation. The old proverb says, The borrower is servant to the lender.


  2. Obama was raised in Asia, which complicates this. On the one hand, bowing may come naturally to him.That could explain unnecessarily bowing to westerners On the other hand, that would mean that he knows exactly what he’s doing. The bow to the Chinese is very disturbing, but more than that the Chinese response is even more confusing. But then, China has us over a barrel; not only are many of our businesses in China, but we’re also accepting millions of Chinese in the country that will have extremely significant positions in this country within a generation. Perhaps Obama is bowing so low because we’re so foolish.


    1. It doesn’t matter where Obama was raised. What matters is that he is NOW an American President and must comport himself as the leader of one of the most powerful countries inthe world. Thus, not bowing should be second nature.


  3. It would seem that neither of the Obamas have a clue as to how to greet foreign dignitaries. When Michelle Obama met Queen Elizabeth she actually put her arm around the Queen. This is a huge faux pas in the protocol for meeting British Royalty.


  4. This fear-based talk of bowing is one of the primary challenges facing this country as its indicative of a constant need to prove how big & strong we are. Only the weak get so worked up about the perception others have on them and place so much emphasis on ‘looking’ tough. The truly powerful happily show grace & humility to others because their power is not born of gestures or ideas but of their own existence, works, & ‘inner’ courage.

    The President of the United States ‘is’ the most powerful man on the planet and the United States tho lagging lately economically is still the most powerful nation on the planet. When you have power, not only do you not have to wear it on your chest but the wise sheath it in humility so as to ease the spirits of those they encounter making harmony more likely. Which contrary to popular belief, is the ultimate goal.

    While all this talk of bowing & apparent weakness is swirling around him, this President is busy actually ‘doing’ the kind of things that will have his legacy stand against the brightest stars in our history. At which time all of this silly nonsense will be seen for what it is.


      1. Not sure what getting elected or not has to do with anything as this President has already shown an ability to get elected has he not?

        There are two types of people who run for office & positions of authority: Opportunists who endeavor to appease the people’s whims so as to reach their own goals regardless of whether those ideas are sound & worthy of us or not, and true leaders who endeavor to lead the people to a higher place, helping them overcome ideas & behaviors that don’t serve the greater good.

        The latter are the people who truly make change happen and are responsible for everything substantial that mankind has ever accomplished.

        They are the reason that women have the freedoms they didn’t have 100 yrs ago, that minorities can function in places/manners previously not permitted, and that we aren’t still stuck in many of the absurd practices of the past. They LEAD and change perception with their works rather than try to align themselves with with the immature whims of an uninformed populace.

        And in every case, there have been people like this author and many of these commenters who spoke up against them because they dared to be different. We need to put more emphasis on ‘being’ great rather than trying to ‘look’ it.


  5. I am upset with the constant bowing the President of the United States does to other country’s leaders. It is not only to China’s leader he has bowed but to almost every leader of every other country he has ever met. There is no way the United States will continue to be a super power if this continues.


    1. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with this post. The US is not seen as a super power even now. The US economy is indicative of how the rest of the world sees the US.

      And I, for one, am not surprised to see Obama bowing when meeting the Chinese officials – it’s not about bowing to show subservience, it’s to show respect. Would that all leaders showed respect to other leaders (in politics or business) & the world would be slightly better off.


  6. There are so many instances where Obama doesn’t behave or react as an American. Things that we learned in elementary school that are second nature to Americans, such as standing when the national anthem is played or right hand over the heart when pledging allegiance to the flag. He did not go to school in the US as a young child so that could be why he doesn’t realize these things – but what about Michelle? IMO he has not shown respect for this country of which he is the president – the highest honor in the world.


  7. I forgot about how Netanyahu was treated when he came to the White House. Obama kept him waiting while he went to have dinner. It was ludicris and disgraceful.


  8. Good grief, the world must be in a wonderful situation if that’s all we can worry about.
    It is time for all of us to realize that different cultures greet in different ways. When in Rome do what the Romans do. In China, Japan, etc., the bowing of one’s head is their culture, in USA, and Canada, we look people in the eyes when we greet. That is what Obama or any North American leader should do. And if the visiting dignitary from another culture is not aware of the manners of respect when arriving in NA, they should stay home, or learn that our customs are different.
    Stop kowtowing especially to leaders of countries that not only do not respect our customs, they have no respect for their own people offering them human rights.

    This should be directed at all NA leaders, my Prime Minister included!


  9. BTW, I voted for President Obama & the protocols of greeting world leaders is disturbing. I wonder if this is all some kind of plan. I mean most of us were lead to believe that Bush was a buffoon, but in truth, it was an act. Something similar is going on with Obama’s so called “naivete” meme, also influenced by the media. Thank you Dr. Glass for your spot on observations. I look forward to reading your books & attending more of your lectures. I’ve become so much more observant and aware of other ppl’s body language thanks to your expertise!

    I am a fan. You are on my books to read list. thank you so much for your valuable service!


  10. I’d like to agree with Wayne that you shouldn’t have to “look tough” and it should be okay to show humility, but I cannot. The President is the Commander of the Armed Forces and America has many enemies in the world. Like it or not, non-verbal actions can be perceived by our enemies to be weakness, not humility, and embolden them to take adverse action against our country. Other leaders may not even be consciously aware that they are judging this to be weakness at the time, but you never know what can happen down the line and what goes on in a decision makers subconsious that will result in drastic actions later.

    If I were President, I would want to know that I had done everything I could to prevent an attack on our country and that includes sending (and being aware of) the appropriate non-verbal communication to those who might cause us harm.


    1. He bowed because he sees them as superior! ! Simple really. He bowed to tampa mayor because his mother was a strong woman and he probably has some whacky relationship w strong women in power. Hillary Clinton .. Etc.

      Its wrong.. It does NOTHING for our country and those of us who arent drinking the kool aid . U others are the ones ruining our country. Go watch more snooky and reality ( not) tv. Good grief!


  11. Pingback: Hu’s on First
  12. Absolutely hilarious. Obama is a puppet – here merely to serve the wishes of bankers and large corporations, whom really run the show. The President in this country is the main actor in a bad movie shown to the public to give the illusion of a democracy.

    Hu is superior. At least he has some degree of power within his country.


  13. More selective amnesia. Let me see, how did the Chinese become the U.S. creditor again? how long has the Saudi government been allies with the U.S.?



  14. Take it easy author. Obama was merely bowing to the world’s leaders and peasants alike as a form of atonement for the sins of the USA in raping and plundering the world and having 900 military overseas bases to do that. God will understand even though crusaders never will.


  15. I was not aware that we (in this beloved country) are so shallow that we would actually make a big deal over who bows, how they bow, to whom they bow, etc..
    Protocol is not the difference between life and death. However, bombs, lack of health care, toxic culture, just to name a few, are. Could we re-address our priorities just a bit.


    1. It is NOT out of context Edwin Wilson. Open your eyes and observe the body language in terms of the bow . See what IS not what you WANT things to be. A bow is a bow. You don;t need continuous footage. Take your hatred elsewhere. This is NOT a political blog Edwin. It just reports what it observes in the context of body language of world leaders, celebrities, sports figures, and newsmakers.


  16. I think the originator never did ever studied the art of bowing, I bow to my colleagues everyday with full respect as a gesture of sincerity, prosperous teamwork and building among us. It really doesn’t shows who is inferior or not, as we all understand that we are all equals.


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