Publisher sorry if readers ‘misunderstood’ racist book for Singapore’s kids

Who Wins? depicts a dark-skinned bully tormenting the light-skinned protagonist as “smelly” and with oily, curly hair. Photo: Umm Yusof/Facebook
Who Wins? depicts a dark-skinned bully tormenting the light-skinned protagonist as “smelly” and with oily, curly hair. Photo: Umm Yusof/Facebook

The publisher of a Chinese-language children’s book accused of spreading racial discrimination has pulled the book from stores and suspended further distribution. 

Days after the National Library Board said it was removing the Who Wins? book, publisher Marshall Cavendish Education today apologized not for its racist depictions, but rather any confusion readers may have experienced.

“We would like to apologise for any misunderstanding caused to some readers. As a socially responsible publisher, we have decided to cease the sale and distribution of this series and recall the books from retail stores,” it said in a statement. 

The major educational publisher said it has recalled and would no longer sell the book, which depicted a dark-skinned boy with a “head of oily curls” as a school bully tormenting light-skinned students.

The picture book, written by Chinese author Wu Xing Hua and intended for children 7 to 9, was part of a five-book series called the Amazing Adventures Of Pi Pi. Through Pi Pi’s experiences, they impart lessons about life.

The book stirred controversy after it was called out Friday by Facebook user Umm Yusof, who had he borrowed it from a public library. 

“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,” Umm Yusof wrote of her translated sections from the book.

“It goes on to describe how Mao Mao bullies the protagonist Pi Pi – making him do his homework, use his own money to buy Mao Mao his favourite food, etc. And after Mao Mao gives Pi Pi a bloody nose, the latter walks home cursing Mao Mao as ‘smelly.’”

In response to the backlash, the National Library Board told Coconuts Singapore it was removing the book from shelves. 

“In view of some feedback from its patrons, NLB is currently reviewing the Chinese language book in our collection, ‘Who Wins?’ by Wu Xing Hua. This will be done in consultation with our Library Consultative Panel, which is an independent and citizen-based panel,” its statement said. “In line with our established procedures, we have removed all copies of the books from our libraries during the period of review.”

The book was published by Marshall Cavendish Education in 2018. 

“The books we publish cater to an all-inclusive society where diversity is respected and celebrated, and our team is dedicated and committed to that cause,” the publisher said.

“The core of Marshall Cavendish Education’s mission is to support, nurture and inspire students. We want to reassure our readers that there is no intention from Marshall Cavendish Education to produce content that promotes discrimination in any way,” it added.

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