Beyond the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’


The ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is a metaphor relating to how people are treated when they reach a level of success. — Photo from

THE ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is a metaphor referring to wherein a poppy field, if one poppy is taller than the others, it is cut down so that all the poppies are of a similar size.

This is a metaphor relating to how people are treated when they reach a level of success. So prevalent is such negative social behaviour that we find similar traits in many cultures.

There are similar metaphors in other countries as well such as Japan’s version stating, ‘the nail that sticks up gets hammered down’; in Holland, ‘the tall trees catch much wind’.

Perhaps this syndrome is best graphically described in what is known as the ‘Crab Mentally’.

Imagine you have a bucket. And then you fill this bucket with a bunch of crabs. If a crab was left by itself, it could easily climb out the bucket and escape if it wanted to.

But for some unknown reason, when there are multiple crabs in the bucket, the other crabs would not let each other escape. If a crab attempted to escape the bucket, it would be pulled back down by the other crabs.

However, it is generally accepted that such behaviour rarely exists in American culture.

Now, why might this be the case? Well, firstly America has created a more openly ambitious culture, in which it has been normalised to have high aspirations and talk about them.

In the US, drive and determination are much revered. Yes, the purported ‘American Dream’, where ‘anybody can be the President’.

Thus, it is with the greatest irony that on March 26, 2021, Joe Biden during his first news conference as US President said: “They (China) have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world. That’s NOT GONNA happen on my watch.”

Huh? If that’s not the ‘mother and father’ of the ‘Tall Poppy, Nail Sticking Out, Tall Tree and Crab’ syndrome, I don’t know what is.

And for once, the American regime did not lie. True to President Biden’ words, ‘not gonna happen on my watch’, the US let loose a programme to destabilise China politically and derail it economically.

The programme is wide-ranging, both subtle and overt. It seeks to instigate disgruntled and misguided groups of individuals, fund and coach them to create open revolts.

Then there is the building up of arms and militarisation of the countries around China, the formation of military pacts in Asia to encircle China.

The US mobilises a horde of pseudo-intellectuals and scholars to demonise China.

The Western media is totally bought over, spurning out lies and half-lies instead of the news.

The BBC, once held as the paragon of good journalism, is now no more than just a propaganda machine. It seems now they live by the mantra of Joseph Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda chief) who famously said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

The US shenanigans are too many to enumerate here. The readers can do their own independent search to fathom the magnitude.

Enough to mention that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has delivered a speech at Asia Society outlining the US administration’s approach to China. With carefully calibrated language, he sought to promote the ‘China threat’ narrative, interfere in China’s internal affairs, and smear China’s domestic and foreign policy, all in an attempt at full-blown containment and suppression of China.

(NOTE: The Asia Society, as published on its website, is dedicated to understanding Asia and its role in the world. With locations across Asia, the US and Europe, Asia Society brings together leading thinkers on policy, arts, culture, business, and education for lectures and discussions, analysis and reports, exhibitions, performances, networking and family events, and more. Through this global platform, it educates about Asia, shares insight about the current events in Asia, and celebrates voices from Asia and its diaspora. Since its founding in 1956, Asia Society has focused its work across three pillars: arts and culture, education, and policy.)

So obsessed is the US with China (or bringing down China) that in one of its TV programmes where children were asked to mimic the country’s President (then the newly-elected Donald Trump), one child shouted hilariously into the microphone ‘China, China, China’.

So why are the US and the West so obsessed with bringing China down?

I contend that it is more than just envy, the driving force behind the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’.

It is FEAR. It is the fear that the three or four centuries old big lie will be exposed.

For centuries, the advanced countries of the West have been coming to ‘primitive’ Asia and Africa preaching, persuading and coercing us to accept that their civilisation, their way of development being the only way to salvation on this earth.

We had no choice but to shallow the pronouncement hook, line and sinker.

Let me illustrate Sarawak’s experience. Last year, Hollywood released a film on the history of Sarawak – granted that it was a dramatised biopic of James Brooke, the Rajah.

The synopsis of ‘Edge of the world’ was illustrative. It talked about an English adventurer who had served time in the British army in the East. He inherited a fair fortune from his father.

Knowing the possible fortune in the East, he bought a yacht, an armed schooner with half a dozen six-pound guns, several swivel guns and plenty of handguns.

He chanced upon the island of Borneo, which he described as being people by wild natives, pagans, pirates, and headhunters.

He made it his mission to tame the unruly population and brought civilisation to the land.

Later after World War II, Sarawak was ceded as a full colony of Britain. Sarawak had docilely accepted the path of destiny as defined by the Christian West, except for a few hiccups in the 50s.

Why the 50s?

In 1949, the Chinese civil war ended with the defeat of the pro-West generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek. Mao Zedong proclaimed the alternative path to development guided by the communist and socialist ideology.

Even in Sarawak, there was a ripple of this wave. But the ideology and world view of ‘capitalism-democracy-freedom’ held sway.

However, now with the development and success of China (after its 100 years of humiliation), it is threatening the hegemony of the West (now headed by the USA).

So, the beast (or the dream) must be killed.

I recalled in the 50s and early 60s, there was a children’s song ‘Xiao Bai Chuan’ (Little White Boat) banned by the British Colonial government. The song was about a dream place on the boat presumably promoting the communist path of governance and development.

So, the dream boat must be sunk.

Unfortunately, it is no longer a small wooden sailboat. It appears to be turbo-charged and very high-tech.

So the USA, the self-proclaimed ‘big brother of the world’, is in a frenzy.

We, the world, hung our heads for fear that we will be reduced to grass underneath the feet of the two fighting elephants.