This article is taken from the July 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
You opened Paul Rafaelle’s marvellous recollections of life as a resident correspondent in the Chinese capital by noting that Mr Rafaelle had been stationed in “Peking (now Beijing)”. Actually, it is still Peking, just as Moskva is Moscow, Warszawa is Warsaw, Praha is Prague, Wien is Vienna and Baile Atha Cliath is Dublin.
The modern habit of using the local name of major world cities, rather than the established English name, is rooted in politics and is much too readily accepted by British, Australian and US media organisations.
Outside the Anglosphere, the politico-cultural cringe of switching to “Beijing” has not been universally adopted. German, French, Italian and Russian media still call it “Peking” or “Pekin”. The most prestigious university in the city is still generally known as … Peking University.
The People’s Republic began to demand the use of “Beijing” in 1979, and one by one the English-speaking newspapers of the world caved in. The Times held out until 1997 when its then correspondent was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told that co-operation would be withdrawn if his newspaper did not kowtow. And it did.
Imagine, by contrast, what would happen, and what every sensible person would think, if (for instance) the London Foreign Office tried to put pressure on Le Monde or Le Figaro to switch from “Londres” to “London”. Those who have no need to submit to such pressure really shouldn’t. No wonder the Chinese leadership think they can push us around.
Clandon lives on
It was disappointing to see the National Trust’s work described as “one-sided” in the June edition of The Critic, given the wonderful range of landscapes, buildings and stories we share with our members.
Clandon Park is a fascinating place with a rich and layered history, and we talk about all of this with our visitors; from its role as a field hospital in the First World War, to the Onslow family’s political contributions as MPs and Speakers of the Commons, as well as the house’s beautiful architecture and collections. We are incredibly grateful for the support historic families give us and continue to work openly and actively with the present Earl of Onslow as we care for Clandon.
We welcomed visitors back to Clandon just months after the fire, and have continued to offer access to the house as the project develops. We have also been keeping the public up to date with the progress and discoveries we have been making and your readers can see the latest on our website.
Dr Kent Rawlinson
Project Director, Clandon Park
In Michael Prodger’s succinct account of what should be done with the Benin bronzes (The Critic, June 2021), the use of the word “looted” and the fact that the British Navy no longer engages in punitive raids both imply the illegitimacy of current ownership. But if we are to sit in judgement on the past, why stop with the events of 1897? Why not ask how the Benin palaces came to be stuffed full of treasure in the first place?
It is unlikely that the rulers of West African kingdoms were entirely exempt from the usual ways in which kings across cultures have acquired wealth throughout history: by tribute, plunder and conquest.
In our own country, after the fall of Rome, the leaders of the Britons called themselves kings but were actually tyrants. According to Gildas, a 6th-century British monk, they plundered, terrorized, and rewarded the robbers who sat with them at table. In his history of the Anglo-Saxons, Marc Morris also describes the dominance of the Scyldings as far from benign. Their founding father, Scyld, “rose to greatness by robbing the halls of others and laying fear upon them, forcing them to pay tribute.”
Perhaps the rulers of Benin were utterly benign, and oppressed no one on their route to power, wealth and privilege. Perhaps they deserved every last precious object in their possession. But we should at least ask the questions, and be consistent, if we are in the business of exposing the wrongs of our ancestors.
Shoot the messenger
David Starkey’s attack on the “middle-class” influence on socialism makes a schoolboy error: the validity of an idea bears no relationship to the people who create it; Wagner’s anti-semitism has no relationship to the quality of his music. Of course, psychologically, a person may refuse to listen to Wagner’s music because of his views, ditto socialism. In short, by maligning the messenger the message will not be read.
With regards to Hartlepool, the voters must have forgotten how the Conservatives used their taxpayers’ money to bail out the bankers in 2010, resulting in their lives being impoverished for the next ten years: less money for their council and hence fewer services and facilities, fewer hospital beds and nurses, more children in poverty, multiplication of food banks and family poverty via no wage increases.
Adam Dant’s otherwise commendable map, Invasions of the British Isles, omits what is often regarded as the last invasion of Britain, namely the landing of the Duke of Monmouth at Lyme Regis in 1685.
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