When sending his greetings to someone in another state, he would bow twice before sending the messenger on his way.
Bowing even once before sending a message doesn’t make any sense in our world of instant ubiquitous connectivity where speed is prized above all else. But when it comes to less time-sensitive communications such as a thank you for a gift or invitation, why not send a handwritten note on the finest paper? In addition to showing how much you value your relationship with the recipient, you will have a much better chance of capturing their attention with such a thoughtful gesture.
This article features a translation of Chapter 15 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.
(1) At a time when long-distance missives were relatively rare, it’s not too difficult to see why a formal ritual would have been developed to mark such an event. The intention of the two bows was to show the sender’s respect for the intended recipient – perhaps injected with a dash of hope that the messenger would survive the long and potentially dangerous journey ahead of him. According to some sources, the messenger would “deliver” the greeting with two bows when he arrived at the home of the recipient and then “bring back” two bows back when he returned to the home of the sender as an acknowledgement of the greeting.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan.