A lesson in Confucius for the PM

CONFUCIUS once said “study the past, if you would divine the future.” Someone should have told David Cameron this before he donned a poppy in Beijing. To show your respect for the fallen is a noble pursuit – one that City A.M. wholeheartedly supports (see p1 and p20) – but in China wearing what we see as a remembrance poppy is interpreted very differently.

Cameron should have known that there is only one thing the Chinese think of when it comes to poppies and the British: the Opium Wars. He has committed a serious cultural faux pas.

But he has got one cultural quirk very right on his trip to represent British business -- his presence. Historically in China, businessmen rank below peasants in the pecking order. To know a government official improves your social status and, unsurprisingly in a pseudo-Communist country, makes business easier to do.

His presence will speed along Sino-British deals. But speed is a relative term in a culture of collective decision-making. In the West we say “Rome wasn’t built in a day” because it took around 500 years. The Chinese consider themselves to still be working on the Han civilisation --- a project started in 207AD.