So it took me way longer than it should have to figure out why I keep seeing men here waring red poppies in their little jacket pinholes. It was shocking how many people wearing a poppy had no real idea what it stood for. One guy told me it was to help the orphans, but most seemed to understand it as a symbol of peace.
November 11, Remembrance day, marks the official end of World War I in 1918, when the Germans signed the Armistice at the 11th hour on the 11th. It is celebrated by all Commonwealth countries, or rather any country formerly part of the British Empire… Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and Hong Kong! The red poppy symbolism comes from In Flanders Fields: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row…”
The poppies brought up a lot of controversy when David Cameron visited China earlier this month and refused to take off his poppy. The Chinese government asked his envoy to not wear poppies because they would remind the Chinese people of the nineteenth century opium wars.
The basic story is that when the Chinese governor of Hong Kong closed down trade with England and others because of what opium was doing to his people, the British government sent in their warships and took over Hong Kong for the next 70 years.
Despite refusing to take of his poppy, Cameron was still a lot weaker than I expected him to be on human rights, particularly the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo. I think he mostly cares about upping trade with this new behemoth.
Even just last week some sweet old ladies in a mall tried to sell me a poppy–the donations go towards veterans. I was given one today at a British lunch spot. Was I the only person not aware of this apparently fairly entrenched European tradition?