Treason is a hot topic again – it’s the concern behind a law passed in China last week and a key topic for discussions between the Presidents of China and the United States next week. And, of course, the excuse for pyro-parties across the UK today.

What is it about treason that makes it still acceptable to financially reward children for making effigies of someone that will be burned in public with celebratory fireworks and sweet foods?

Treason in Britain today means plotting to kill the sovereign, their heir or key members of their government; interfering with the line of succession – including by adultery or rape; and declaring war against the nation or assisting the nation’s enemies. And that’s where espionage comes in. The death penalty for treason was only replaced with life imprisonment in 1998.

In China, treason means inciting subversion or splitting of the state; stealing state secrets; and spying for a foreign nation. The penalty is typically a prison sentence of 2-10 years.

I can’t think of anything else which has drawn together Brits of all ages to celebrate publicly in the open air every year for over 400 years – and in inhospitable November. Does this put a different complexion on the international espionage debates?