Handshaking was first introduced to China at the beginning of the 20th century, at the end of the Qing dynasty. Although it is now popular in urban areas, it is still not in common usage in the Chinese countryside. There people will more often greet each other with a nod or a slight bow.
Long ago, when Chinese people met or parted, they would bow to each other and cup their hands left over right, moving them up and down several times in front of the chest as a sign of reverence. In Han China the kowtow, which consisted of kneeling and touching the forehead to the ground, was widely used as the way to show one’s deepest respect to elders, superiors and especially the emperor. But since the collapse of Imperial China this greeting has fallen out of use.
Ni hao literally means ‘are you well?’ Another polite way to greet someone and simultaneously ask them if they are well is to ask if they have eaten: Ni chi fan le ma? This greeting stems from the tradition of never letting a person go hungry; if they were hungry you would offer them a meal. Today this question is used simply as another form of ‘How are you?’ The reply Chi le, ‘I have eaten’, is now equivalent to ‘I’m fine.’