The National Library Board (NLB) has decided to move the Chinese-language children’s book “Who Wins?” from its Children section to its Family and Parenting section in its libraries, said a spokesperson on Monday (19 October).
The NLB said in a statement that the decision came after its review in consultation with the Library Consultative Panel (LCP).
“Taking into consideration public feedback and the views of the LCP, NLB has decided to move the book to the Family and Parenting section located in the Adults’ Collection of our libraries,” the statement read.
It added that parents and guardians can “make use of this book to discuss how children can deal with bullying in schools and correct any potential misunderstandings that children may have”.
The book, written by Wu Xing Hua, stirred controversy for its racial stereotyping content. It contains a character depicted as a “dark-skinned” boy with “oily curly hair”.
The character, Mao Mao — which means “hairy” in Chinese — is characterised as an aggressive school bully.
However, in July, all copies of the book were temporarily removed from the shelves by the authorities for review after several complaints were made against the book for its racist content.
Facebook user Umm Yusof lodged the first complaint on 17 July, in which she sought the rationale behind publishing the book, seeing how the book portrayed the dark-skinned boy as “irredeemably nasty” despite his appearance being irrelevant to the plot.
A few days later on 21 July, the publisher Marshall Cavendish Education (MCE) apologised on Facebook and said that it will cease the sale and distribution of the Amazing Adventures of Pi Pi series – which consists of five books – and recall the copies of the book from retail stores.
Wong Chee Meng, a visiting researcher for Centre for Chinese Language & Culture at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), denounced the Ministry of Education-backed Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning for failing to scrutinise the content of the book.
Dr Wong said that the book series has been included in a long list of supplementary reading material since 2018 on the Committee website, but the content as provided in the list makes no mention of the character Mao Mao.
“If National Library Board is to be deemed culpable for having included the book series in its collection, surely they are not alone in it?” he said.
He also raised concerns on how the racialised depiction of a school bully in a children’s book may “negatively shape Chinese perception” of people of other ethnicities in diverse Singapore.