He bluffed his way through the gullible

Updated: 2016-04-18 08:18

By Xin Laizhe(China Daily)

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He bluffed his way through the gullible

Entrepreneur David de Rothschild attends the 'Euro Finance Week' in Frankfurt Main, Germany, 18 November 2013.[Photo/IC]

Subterfuge, conceit, intrigue are human traits as old as human civilization itself. Zeus used them to seduce maidens and overpower rival gods. The Bible, starting from the Book of Genesis, is replete with them, so are the ancient texts of ancient lands like India, Persia and Mesopotamia. Chinese texts too have the share of these human traits: A Dream of Red Mansions comes readily to mind.

Eight centuries before one of China's four classics was written, at the turn of the century before last, to be precise, a deceit of continental proportions was played out in Europe. Erik the Red fooled people in Denmark into believing that in the north, a little across the sea was a land green and fertile, a contrast to the mostly cold climes of the Scandinavian country. His fellow Danes swallowed his bait hook, line and sinker, and paid him handsomely to buy pieces of land on what later came to be known as Greenland. Yet he is credited as the man who founded the first human (Norse) settlement on the second-largest island in the world. (His aptly named son Lief Erikson is widely believed to have discovered Greenland, though.)

Those were different times in a world far different from the one we live in today. And yet we have a man who has visited China several times in recent years claiming to be a member of one of the most famous banking families in the world and succeeded, until now, in making the rich and powerful believe in his claims. The Rothschilds, as one of the wealthiest families in the world, have been in the limelight for a century and a half but still continue to remain somewhat of a mystery to outsiders. Recently, the Rothschilds made the headlines following the publication of Currency Wars, which claimed the family has deeply influenced the developments in Europe.

But despite the hold the Rothschilds have on people's imagination, the charming, British-accented Oliver Rothschild managed to sell himself as one of the heirs to the family's riches and attended high-profile business events organized by Chinese universities, institutions and think tanks. He was part of a road show in Beijing in January; three days later he delivered a speech at Tsinghua University. In the past year, he has inspected Chinese cities, held with business leaders, visited enterprises and "graced" important international events like the China-Arab States Expo.

Let's accept it, humans by nature are fascinated by the rich and famous. We always expect to make a fortunate discovery, or make a fortune, by accident. Horace Walpole gave a name to this human trait: serendipity. All the better when we come in contact with something or someone that could lead us to that discovery. Oliver Rothschild seemed to have played that role to perfection till the United Kingdom-based family said he was not in any related to it.

It's easy to call Oliver Rothschild an impostor-or haul him over the coals for deceiving those who believed in his credentials. But he succeeded, wittingly or unwittingly, in deceiving those around him because they were eager to seat him on an ivory tower, deaf to the canary in the coal mine, because of their greed. You can carry coal to Newcastle and sell it too if people are gullible.

Remember "Rosebud", the last word spoken by Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. The search for the word's "meaning" leads us through a mesh of lies, deceits and stratagems. We know the truth behind "Rosebud", yet one Rothschild is enough excuse for us to immediately start building castles in the air, and believe our dream of riches are about to come true.

Oliver Rothschild may not be a member of the famed UK-based banking family, still he should be thanked for bringing out the fools in we humans even in this age of internet and social media when just a few clicks could have revealed his true colors.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily.