People’s Education Press apologizes for controversial textbook art accused of distorting kids’ aesthetic taste
Published: May 26, 2022 03:46 PM
Photo:Sina Weibo

Snapshop of the controversial textbook Photo:Sina Weibo

The controversial covers and illustrations for the textbooks will be redrawn and a full evaluation of all published textbooks will be launched, the People's Education Press announced on Thursday after textbooks published by the publishing house stirred up an online controversy over the appearance of the characters in the book.

According to the statement, the publishing house has started to redraw the covers and some illustrations for certain primary school math textbooks to "improve the painting style and the artistic level." At the same time, it will comprehensively evaluate the cover and illustrations of all its published textbooks to further improve the design quality. 

The textbook bureau of China's Ministry of Education also announced on Thursday at noon that it will investigate the issue.

The hashtag "math textbook from People's Education Press" quickly topped the trending list on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Thursday, earning over one billion million views. 

The viral snapshots of the primary school math textbooks showed some of the cartoon children depicted in strange poses, including a crooked mouth, tongue sticking out and squinting eyes. One boy character has what looks like a tattoo on his ankle, a girl character goes to school in what appears to be a bunny girl outfit, and some other kids wear clothes with the US flag.

Many netizens criticized the art, claiming it would distort the aesthetic sense of young students and accused the illustrator of deliberately vilifying the aesthetics of the Chinese people. They also condemned the officials in charge of reviewing the content of the textbooks, calling them irresponsible.

"Primary school students are the audience of  the textbooks, which will subtly affect their aesthetic tastes. This style of drawing isn't suitable for a child's growth," one netizen who claimed to be a parent commented on Sina Weibo.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, told the Global Times on Thursday that the illustrations and covers of the textbooks need to be motivated, positive and cannot involve vulgarity.

"The process of reviewing textbooks especially national textbooks has several rigorous procedures. The cover will be created when the content is completed, and the sample book will be submitted to the textbook editorial committee for review. Printing can only start after approval of the review," Xiong said and pointed out that everyone's aesthetic taste is  different, and it is hard to achieve an aesthetic unity.

Media has reported that the textbooks were approved in 2012 and 2013 and the controversial covers and illustrations were designed by the Wu Yong. As of Thursday afternoon, Wu, who is claimed to graduate from Academy of Arts and Design of Tsinghua University, had not yet commented on the controversy. 

This is not the first of such online controversy. In 2021, Chinese food brand Three Squirrels' posters were criticized for using a model with slanted eyes and was accused of "smearing the image of Chinese women."