After Complaints of ‘Racist’ Content On Chinese-language Children’s Book, Publisher Apologises And Halts Distribution

·4-min read

July 21 Racial Harmony Day (RHD) in Singapore. The day serves as a reminder to everyone who lives in this multicultural country the importance of maintaining racial and religious harmony. Whether or not it is RHD, the social fabric can only be strengthened with the combined efforts and understanding of each individual. 

That also means engaging and stepping up when stereotypes and racial discord are observed in our daily lives and conversations. 

Chinese-language Children Book Removed from Libraries After Complaint from a Reader

The National Library Board (NLB) has removed all copies of a Chinese-language children book from their libraries after a library user complained about its ‘racist’ content last Friday (17 Jul). 

The book, titled 谁赢了? (Who Wins?) is a Children’s book written by Wu Xing Hua. The picture book features a “dark-skinned” boy with “oily curly hair” called “Mao Mao”, or hairy in english terms. 

Image Source: Facebook/Umm Yusof

Mao Mao is described in “explicitly racialised terms, and in contrast to all the other characters who are depicted as fair-skinned,” according to Estella Young as identified by the Straits Times.

The 42-year-old mother said she was “shocked” to have discovered the “astoundingly racist” book she borrowed for her 8-year-old son while flipping through the pages at home. It led her to express her displeasure under the alias of Umm Yusof in a Facebook post, and requested NLB in removing the title from their shelves.

Image source: Facebook screengrab

Book Revolves Around a “Dark-skinned” School Bully 

Mao Mao is portrayed as an aggressive “school bully” whom “everyone is afraid of”. An example would be Mao Mao getting the protagonist, Pi Pi, to complete his homework. However, if Pi Pi refuses, he would be subjected to Mao Mao’s bullying acts. 

It is said that Mao Mao would also resort to snatching Pi Pi’s food if Pi Pi refused to buy his favourite food for him.

NLB Removes Chinese-language Children Book
NLB Removes Chinese-language Children Book

NLB removes Chinese-language children book from libraries following a review from the board. | Image source: Facebook/Umm Yusof

In one instance, Mao Mao gave Pi Pi a “bloody nose” and was cursed by Pi Pi as “smelly”. According to Young, Mao Mao is painted in a negative light throughout the book, without given any chances for redemption. 

“This book doesn’t use the common redemptive tropes of the bully just being misunderstood, or the protagonist turning him into a friend. Big Bad Black Boy is aggressive from start to end, spurring Pi Pi to learn martial arts (“Karate Kid” trope). The book ends with both boys fighting in the canteen and getting hauled to the principal’s office,” wrote Young, who is also a freelance writer.

“Appearance is irrelevant to the plot”

Apart from the stereotypical qualities ascribed to Mao Mao, Young also criticised how Marshall Cavendish Education could have allowed such a book to be published whereby Mao Mao’s appearance had nothing to do with the plot. 

“What on earth possessed Marshall Cavendish Education to publish a book in which the sole dark-skinned character is irredeemably nasty – especially when his appearance is irrelevant to the plot?” she wrote.

Marshall Cavendish Education is known to be a leading academic publisher of K-12 math textbooks, workbooks and digital curricula among others. 

Who Wins? was published by Marshall Cavendish Education in 2018 and is part of a series of five books, Amazing Adventures Of Pi Pi. 

According to media reports on Tuesday (21 Jul), Marshall Cavendish Education has apologised for causing any misunderstanding to readers. The publisher also said in a statement to CNA’s queries that they have halted the sale and distribution of the books from retail stores

Marshall Cavendish Education also seeks to reassure readers that there is no intention from the publisher to “produce content that promotes discrimination in any way”.

Following the complaint, the board is currently reviewing the book, an NLB spokesperson said to The Straits Times.

“This will be done in consultation with our Library Consultative Panel, which is an independent and citizen-based panel,” the spokesperson said.

You can view Young’s full post here:

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