Perspectives on Poppies

From Evan Osnos in The New Yorker:

British Prime Minister , en route to the Group of 20 summit in Seoul, stopped in Beijing this week and suddenly found himself in a sartorial conundrum: Chinese officials, eyeing his lapel, asked him to remove the poppy that Britons wear every November in memory of their war dead. The Chinese side told U.K. officials that it would offend a Chinese audience who might somehow view a poppy as a reminder that China fought and lost two Opium Wars with Britain in the nineteenth century, leading to what the Chinese call the “century of humiliation.” (Nobody, it seems, stopped to point out that the British corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, used as a symbol of Remembrance Day, is a different flower than the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, that gave China so much grief.)

From Michael White in The Guardian:

“We informed them that they mean a great deal to us and we would be wearing them all the same,” a British official explained.

Oh dear. That sounds pretty priggish. I have no wish to reopen the Jon Snow no-poppy controversy, which has kept overpaid columnists in work all week – and Tania Branigan sets out a few further examples of double standards in today’s paper.

But surely no better example of residual western arrogance combined, oddly enough, with a hint of Maoist conformity (exactly what Snow was complaining about), could be offered than the sight of our chaps all wearing their poppies in Beijing?

To Chinese officialdom, whose collective memory goes back 2,000 years further than Whitehall’s, the poppy speaks of the two opium wars forced on them by the British empire when – then as now – Britain had insufficiently attractive export products with which to offset its imports from China – but unlike now had the military means to address the deficit.

See also: the website of the Royal British Legion, which organises the UK’s annual Poppy Appeal.

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