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Should Apprentices Kowtow to Masters?

An initiation rite for traditional arts has drawn attention and criticism.

By Qiao Minxuan Updated Jul.13

A ceremony during which a traditional performing arts apprentice kowtowed to the master has sparked heated debate over whether the practice is acceptable in the contemporary society. 

In the picture posted online, a teenage girl kneels before a seated young man, her head pressed against the ground. The identity of the young man revealed to be Li Zhen, a traditional performer in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province. The young master argued that the ceremony is part of long-held tradition of his trade.   

Such rituals are mere gestures of respect in traditional culture, said Tang Yongcheng, a teacher of history at Changzhou High School, adding that in reality, the master and the apprentice are still considered equal. Tang noted that this apprenticeship is quite different from normal teaching. The relationship between the master and the apprentice is more personal. Hence, a ritual could be necessary.  

Ge Jinhua, Vice Dean of Language and Heritage College of Changzhou University argued otherwise. Kowtow represents a lowering of personal status to access esoteric knowledge, he said.