Singapore – A library user discovered an “astoundingly racist” Chinese-language children’s book and complained to the National Library Board (NLB) regarding the content. Since then, the book has been removed from libraries and is under review.
Umm Yusof took to Facebook on Friday (July 17) to share her findings on a book borrowed “ironically” for Racial Harmony Day which is on July 21. The book is entitled “Who Wins? (谁赢了),” written by Wu Xing Hua (吴星华) and published by Marshall Cavendish Education in 2018. “The villain (毛毛… meaning HAIRY) is described in explicitly racialised terms, and in contrast to all the other characters who are depicted as fair-skinned,” explained the Facebook user.
She quoted one passage as an example: “Mao Mao is the school bully; everyone is afraid of him. Mao Mao is dark-skinned with a head of oily curls. Mao Mao does not respect anyone, not even the teachers.”
The Facebook user mentioned that the book goes on with Mao Mao bullying the protagonist Pi Pi, making him do his homework, using his money to buy Mao Mao his favourite food, and the like. “And after Mao Mao gives Pi Pi a bloody nose, the latter walks home cursing Mao Mao as ‘smelly,'” wrote Umm Yusof. The concerned citizen noted that the book doesn’t use the typical redemptive tropes of the bully just being misunderstood or the protagonist turning the bully into a friend. The book “is aggressive from start to end, spurring Pi Pi to learn martial arts (“Karate Kid” trope).” The story ends with the boys fighting in the canteen and being hauled over to the principal’s office, highlighted Umm Yusof.
“The author basically channels the old-school Chinese parent threat of ‘Behave, or the Ah Neh will get you’, with a dash of the ‘Oily Man’ and ‘smelly Indian’ bogeys thrown in,” added the Facebook user. “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?”
It was mentioned in the comments that Umm Yusof had submitted her feedback through NLB’s Request for Review of Library Materials. On Sunday (July 19), the NLB confirmed that the board is reviewing the book, reported straitstimes.com. “This will be done in consultation with our Library Consultative Panel, which is an independent and citizen-based panel,” said an NLB representative. They have, since then, removed all copies of the book from the libraries while it is being reviewed.
Members from the online community were appalled that such a book has been on the shelves since 2018. “As a Chinese Singaporean, I am not okay with this book, and its message,” commented Facebook user Germaine Ong. “No amount of explaining/excusing can make it accepted.” Many can’t imagine how many children or adults could have read the book and got influenced by the content.
A debate also occurred regarding the concept of using physical characteristics to define a person’s “badness” or their role as a bully in stories.
Meanwhile, Marshall Cavendish Education replied to the post and thanked Umm Yusof for bringing the matter to their attention. “We appreciate any feedback given and will do our utmost to resolve the issue,” said the publisher.
On Racial Harmony Day, ironically, I borrowed an astoundingly racist local book from the National Library Board,…