Friday, February 13, 2009

Secret Swastika: The Wacky Swastika Mix-Up

From the CBC. Toy pandas bearing swastikas a cultural mix-up.

Tiny, cheerful pandas sporting what appears to be a Nazi symbol are not what you'd expect to find in a festive Christmas cracker. But some people in northern Alberta and Toronto found exactly that when they pulled apart their holiday poppers. The manufacturer of Christmas crackers says a cross-cultural misunderstanding was behind the saluting toy pandas wearing military-style hats with a symbol similar to the Nazi swastika. Martin Walpert, president of Montreal-based Walpert Industries, said the symbol is not what it appears to be. "It's not the Nazi symbol. It is a Buddhist sign. The Nazi symbol goes in the opposite direction and it's at a different angle," said Walpert. "That's not what people see but that's what it is," he said (possibly the greatest quote i've read coming from the manufactured news in a long time! -s). Walpert said his company ordered only plain pandas for the crackers from the manufacturer in China. He said they ran out of the plain ones and filled the rest of the order with the pandas featuring the symbol. Because the symbol is viewed very differently in China than it is in the Western world, the workers wouldn't have foreseen that a symbol of luck and prosperity would be mistaken for a symbol of hate.
Walpert personally called some of the people who received the bears sporting the symbol to apologize. Walpert said he hoped only 10 or so of the swastika bears made it into the order. He said the company's quality control measures will be even more stringent in the future. "So that things don't happen such as you get some sort of a religious symbol inside the cracker that shouldn't be there," he said. The swastika, both the clockwise and counter-clockwise versions, is an ancient symbol, appearing in many religions around the world. The Buddhist symbol is called "wan" in Chinese and "manji" in Japanese. The symbol also appears in Hindu, Celtic and Jewish cultures, as well as native cultures in both North and South America. Web sites devoted to the symbol show diverse examples of pre-Nazi uses of the symbol, such as a "lucky" Coca-Cola watch fob from 1925 in the shape of a swastika and a 1916 girls' hockey team called the Edmonton Swastikas. The cross-cultural confusion over the symbol also forced Nintendo to recall a Pokemon card featuring the "manji" in 1999 after a complaint by the Anti-Defamation League. The Anti-Defamation League was informed that not everyone cares what they think.

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