“Donald Trump is reinventing the kowtow for the Twitter age,” wrote David Rothkopf in a Los Angeles Times op-ed published November 3, just before Trump left for a 12-day, five-country Asia trip. Rothkopf cited Trump’s “fawning tweets” celebrating Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “extraordinary elevation” at the 19th Chinese Community Party Congress – an elevation that cemented Xi’s authoritarian rule – and Trump’s “over-the-top” boast “that he and Xi had the best ‘president-president’ relationship ever.”
The previous week, the Guardian (UK) had used the same verb in a headline about Trump’s China visit.
In both instances, the choice of kowtow was revealing and contextually appropriate: the English word derives directly from a Chinese term, k’o-t’ou, whose literal meaning is “knock the head” – a gesture of extreme subservience.
Kowtowing before officials in Guangzhou, China, pre-1889. Via Hong Kong Free Press; the headline on the story reads “It’s time to stop the shameful kowtowing to China – before it’s too late.”