On July 18th, Beijing released a set of official Olympic and Paralympic posters and graphics. A sharp eyed reader quickly pointed out a mistake in one of the smiling face photos:
Can you identify the problem in this photo?
The actor in the photo is greeting by raising joined hands (作揖). However, the way he wrapped one hand over another is wrong. As the reader put it:
The act of 作揖 is to join hands at slightly raised height and push outwards. The exact manner in joining hands is highly important. If it is formed with the left hand wrapped around a fist formed by the right hand, then it is an auspicious greeting. The other way signals an inauspicious greeting. In the old days, when attending a funeral, the guest is supposed to greet with the inauspicious greeting.
Oops! Others commented that, after these traditional and elaborate greetings faded away in daily usages, such mistake is not uncommon nowadays in both domestic and international TV shows and movies. The most recent example is, you guessed it, Kung Fu Panda.
There is a lot more to the historical origin and variations of 作揖 that are meant for different settings and people. A Beijing tour guide pointed out in his/her blog one particular useful application of 作揖:
When faced with many guests in front of you, it is often impractical to greet them individually. One could instead join the hands, raise to the eye brow height, greet three times from left to right. This particular style is called “three head shakes of a jade dragon.”
Now you have it. Of course, when in doubt, just shake hands.