Racist stereotypes in Hong Kong textbooks spark controversy (update)

(Update: publishing house issues statement)

A controversy has arisen in Hong Kong as a result of new textbooks that stereotype different nationalities in exercises intended to teach multiculturalism to young students. From a blog called Hongwrong.com comes the following pictures from textbooks, published by a Singapore company called Educational Publishing House Ltd. .

From a grade 3 textbook, you can see how different people are characterized in a unit called “Racial Harmony. The British are English teachers while Filipinos are domestic helpers and Japanese run sushi restaurants:

 

 

According to Inquirer.net, Charles Jose, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines, responded to questions about whether the government would ask for changes in the textbook by saying:

“In this age of globalization, Filipinos are everywhere,… They are needed and welcome in where they can contribute.”

 

Meanwhile, in a grade 4 textbook titled “The Wonderful World,” students are asked to identify the “race” of each person from their characteristics. On the right, there are four categories of people — white, black, brown, yellow — and under each are various traits:

White – light skin, tall, flat/narrow nose, thin/thick lips..
Black – very dark skin, tall, flat and wide nose, thin/thick lips, curly hair.
Brown – dark skin, big/small nose, thin/thick lips.
Yellow – yellow skin, blue/dark brown eyes, high cheek bones.

 

 

Several days after publishing this post, I received an e-mail with a statement from the publisher. Here it is:

For the topic ‘Racial Harmony’, the Editor’s intention was to highlight examples of non-Chinese who live in Hong Kong and are familiar to local primary students, in order for the students to understand how different cultures live in harmony in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has never shown any prejudice towards different occupations, but has always respected people who are hard-working and responsible. The examples used in this textbook are meant for the students to be thankful of people in various working positions. Domestic helpers are highly respected and greatly appreciated in Hong Kong. There are over 180,000 Filipinos living and working in Hong Kong, the majority as domestic workers, and they make an indispensable contribution to society. As members of their employers’ households, they are often treasured as part of the family.

All occupations have equal value, and we fully respect this.

The company always aims to publish high-quality textbooks to meet the needs of Hong Kong schools. We understand the concerns expressed and take them fully to heart. In view of the comments, we will consult different ethnic groups and other stakeholders for improvements so as to avoid any unintended interpretation of our teaching materials.

Educational Publishing House

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · June 2, 2014