Samsung executives kneeling in China
This picture of Samsung executives kneeling at a Chinese retail partner event has gone viral and offended thousands of Chinese consumers Weibo

Samsung has stuck its foot in its mouth by getting its executives to kneel and bow to Chinese smartphone retail partners at an event meant to thank them for their continued support following the global Galaxy Note 7 recall.

The troubled South Korean smartphone manufacturer hosted a lavish dinner in Shijiazhuang, Hebei on 29 October to thank 20 local retailers for continuing to support the Samsung brand, despite the huge amount of negative press Samsung has recently garnered in China over the way it handled the issue of Galaxy Note 7 smartphone batteries overheating and exploding.

At the event, much to the bemusement of the guests, at least 23 Chinese Samsung executives suddenly knelt en masse and prostrated themselves on the stage facing the audience, according to Chinese news site The Paper.

What was clearly meant to be a heartfelt gesture of apology over losing the trust of Chinese consumers has unfortunately backfired, garnering angry reactions from thousands of users on Sina Weibo, one of the country's most popular social networks.

Kneeling is not done lightly in China

Although bowing is common in both Korea and Japan as an essential form of greetings, and so you would think that kneeling would be the next step up from that, the practice is just not done in China.

Kneeling is reserved for people praying to a deity in the temple, or as a mark of respect to the elders in one's family, and even then, it is only performed during a special occasion, such as during Chinese New Year, or during the traditional tea ceremony when a couple seeks the blessing of their parents for their wedding.

Thus, Chinese internet users have been incredibly offended that the South Korean smartphone manufacturer deemed the gesture to be suitable, and the misappropriation of an important gesture in their culture has only served to tarnish Samsung's reputation even more in their eyes.

In early September, when Samsung made the decision to order a global recall and replacement of faulty Note 7 devices, the smartphone manufacturer specifically assured Chinese consumers that Note 7 devices sold in the country were safe and did not need to be sent back as part of the global recall, because they are apparently made with different batteries that would not overheat and explode.

Samsung's reputation has gone downhill in China

However, in late September and early October, reports began to emerge that Note 7 devices in China were exploding too, so finally in mid-October, Samsung expanded its global recall of Note 7 devices to include China.

But the damage had already been done. Numerous Samsung users contacted Chinese media complaining that their Note 7 handsets were catching fire, and Zhang Sitong, 23, from Tianjin, even alleges that Samsung executives visited his home and tried to bribe him to keep video footage of his smoking phone from going public.

Instead of agreeing to the bribe, Zhang told state broadcaster Chinese Central Television (CCTV) instead, who asked him if he would like to investigate how his phone malfunctioned with another disgruntled Samsung fan to help make an investigative TV news package. Zhang agreed, quit his job and went on a road trip paid by CCTV, and the TV package aired in China on 18 October, accompanied by heavy criticism of the brand by CCTV news anchors.

When asked why they decided to kneel at the event, Samsung China said: "This was a regional stock ordering event for distributors, the public relations team had no knowledge of it beforehand.

"As we understand it, despite the influence of the Galaxy Note 7 explosions, distributors continue to support Samsung and booked many orders at the event. This was extremely touching for Samsung's top executives, and in accordance to their customs, they kneeled to express gratitude towards these distributors. Samsung's China executives were also moved and they kneeled too."