From pandas to street art: a history of diplomatic gifts

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Paul Brummel Diplomatic Gifts: A History of Fifty Gifts Offers lessons on Game of Thrones traps

Panda Beibei in 2017. Courtesy Flickr, Creative Commons; Photo: Ron Cogswell; CC 2.0

This interesting compendium traces the history of diplomatic gifts, from the ivory statues sent and received by the pharaoh Akhenaten to neighboring countries in the 14th century BC, to landmarks including the Statue of Liberty (a gift from the people in 1884)
France to the United States). As the British ambassador to Latvia, the latest in a long-standing appointment by the Foreign Office, Paul Brummel understands diplomacy and the subtle political implications that gift-giving can bring. Assessing whether a gift is a true expression of friendship, a game of thrones, or an outright bribe is part of the job, and in his introduction, Brummel delves into the various anthropological studies that helped him make his decision. For example, a report in the 1920s observed that people in the Trobriand Islands participated in a complex gift exchange system in which the same gift, a necklace and a bracelet, would be continually re-given, roughly It’s to make sure no one feels underrepresented.

Courtesy Hearst

Art and antiques are often diplomatic gifts, but given the pitfalls of misreading art, the more painkillers the better. Still, it seemed like a national embarrassment when David Cameron gave Barack Obama a painting by little-known street artist Ben Eine in 2014 after he received Ed Ruscha in return. Animals provide superior publicity, and China’s “panda diplomacy” is the most obvious example. After a 1972 ceremony for the political elite, an orangutan named Miyo pulled a rope to reveal a banner welcoming two new pandas (Kang Kang and Lan Lan) presented by China, and 20,000 Japanese members of the public lined up to greet the black- a pair of eyes. However, there are practical problems with the beast: When arranging to bring to France a baby camel from Timbuktu to François Hollande in 2013, the baby camel was temporarily entrusted to a local family for safekeeping. Only, due to some misunderstandings, they boiled it in tagine. In fact, the term “white elephant” originated as a beast received from a Southeast Asian monarch, and as a gift with conditions continues to be a burden hidden in honor.

Diplomatic Gifts: A History of Fifty Gifts
Paul Brummel, Hirst, £25 (hardcover)

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