Saturday, April 25, 2009

Why do old Chinese people walk with hands behind their backs?


Hands, San Francisco Chinatown, April 2007.

Spend a day observing people in Chinatown, and you will see them: elderly Chinese men and women walking slowly, deliberately, eyes on the ground, shoulders hunched forward, with both hands clasped tightly behind their backs. I've asked friends who would notice this sort of thing, bugged co-workers from Hong Kong and the Mainland who all went "hmmm," googled and Ask Jeeves'd for a satisfying reason for this, but nothing. "It's cultural" (vague). "Back support" (but I don't see old Irish people doing it). "It's carried over from working in the rice paddies" (did you just pull that answer from your ass?).

So what do you think?

23 comments:

  1. its because if you hold yourself, you feel that you exist, you have an anchor in the realworld, and you can easily safty follow your dreamworld. sure, you could clasp your hands in the front, but that is think is less comfortable. and if you have your hands in the front, its always like you want something to do, hands are made for doing something, dreams not. and dreaming is not about wanting something. in the back you cant see them, but still you feel them.

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  2. maybe irish people dont dream/think that much ;)

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  3. i like the idea that hiding our hands help us to think. it makes sense. when people pace to reflect and make important decisions, they put their hands behind their backs. you see this in movies all the time. whoever you are, thanks for the very wise observation. and for the visit!

    eman

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  4. I think the answer is simpler. They do it beecause their fathers did it, because their fathers did it... like smoking.

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  5. It is an ingrained cultural thing, they do it as they mosey along looking for something to pick up! It is a thought process, body language,like any other, they are thinking as they mosey along, the back alleys of my neighbourhood looking through the recyclables or garbage. When they see something they want they take it and with now one hand behind their backs they scurry away.

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  6. not just old chinese ppl

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  7. THEY HIDE THEIR HANDS WAITING TO USE THEIR NINJA SKILLS ON YOU

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  8. Funny enough, I've noticed that recently in Hong Kong and did a mini photo essay on it :)

    http://www.richmondlam.com/index.php?/rl/03-the-stroll/

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    1. Very interesting! Beautiful photography btw!

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  9. It's crazy because my granny did it, whom passed 6yrs ago, my daughter is 3yrs old and has been walking with one hand behind her back. Since she could walk ..genetics????

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  10. Walking with your hands behind your back is very good for your health. Your shoulders are pulled back which helps to keep your spine straight and your body aligned. When you walk with your arms swinging, you are often walking out of balance side to side. This leads to asymmetrical muscle development as well as asymmetrical joint mobility. When you first start to walk like this you may feel out of balance but as you get used to it you will notice that you are walking more evenly and fluidly. Walk slowly and pay attention to your center of balance and I think you will find it quite relaxing and physically therapeutic :)

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  11. Anointed Redbone, it should be "who passed", not whom. Sorry for your loss.

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  12. You all missed the real reason. Holding the hands behind the back allows walking and standing with a slight hunch forward. This relieves the nerve compression of sciatica, a common ailment of older people, especially men. It is possible that many who do this don't even fully recognize why they do it, but just that it makes them feel better.

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  13. It's not just the Chinese; I see all kinds of elderly people walking like this in LA. I have been told that its a sign one is at ease.

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  14. it's cultural and not just seen in china, but also india and other east-asian countries, from both old and young alike. i believe the real answer, is because it presents to people that you are not a threat. possibly deeply ingrained in the cultures for respecting each other and authority.

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  15. As we get older, we get rheumatism, and lots of other age-related things that make us not as agile on our feet as we were in our younger days. Walking with your hands behind your back makes you walk straight, tall and erect, and not wobbling all over the place - wherever you like on this planet. Prince Charles isn't Chinese, but he always walks like that. (Kevin)

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  16. Former coal miners all do it from there days walking up the tipple to keep there balance

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  17. One of the rules on a sign in a temple in Vietnam(Hoi An) requests that visitors should not walk with their hands clasped behind their backs-I cannot find out why.

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  18. I have spent lots of time in China, and actually live in a Chinatown in the US. I have noticed this as well. I asked my Chinese wife, father-in-law, etc. and have not yet been presented with an answer. My Chinese family/friends had not even noticed it until I pointed it out to them. It must be a cultural thing.

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  19. I think maybe it could be because of a major "energy gate" of the body in traditional Chinese medicine called the Ming Men. It is found in the low middle back. Perhaps it is a protection or something which aids in retaining energy?
    That is my whacky guess.

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  20. i do that because it feels normal. I've seen many old people do it unconsciously. It's either for back support or just plain old 'it feels better than to leave the hands awkwardly at the sides'

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  21. It is a sign of authority...as in "I don't perceive you to a threat". It is a common stance in Middle Eastern, Eastern and Indian cultures. We don't like it in the West because it either means someone is standing down or they are concealing a weapon behind their back. In my opinion.

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    Replies
    1. Perception...it is cultural and might not mean what European heritage people perceive

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