Chinese Regime ‘Punishes’ 27 People for ‘Ugly’ Textbook Cartoons

YICHANG, CHINA - AUGUST 22, 2022 - A citizen shows an illustration of a primary school mat
CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) “punished” 27 employees Monday for their roles in approving illustrations in public primary school textbooks that were deemed “ugly” and “problematic,” China’s state-run Global Times and Xinhua News Agency reported.

China’s MOE announced penalties, including “serious warnings” and firings, for 27 staff members on August 22, including employees of China’s People’s Education Press.

The punishments were the result of the MOE’s three-month investigation into complaints about illustrations featured in elementary school math textbooks distributed by China’s government.

The MOE deemed the cartoon-like illustrations “problematic” and “not aesthetically pleasing” for the following reasons, according to Xinhua, China’s official state press agency:

The overall style of painting does not conform to public aesthetic habits, and some of the illustrated characters are ugly and have poor mental outlook, which does not properly reflect the sunny image of Chinese children. Second, it is not serious and normative, and there are even errors in individual illustrations [sic].


[S]ome illustrations are not of high professional standards, and some illustrations have scientific and normative problems. […] it is not meticulous and accurate, and some illustrations are easily misunderstood. Some illustrations are rough drawn, some lines are drawn and elements are selected improperly, and the proportions of the pictures are not harmonious [sic].

The MOE’s investigation determined that China’s People’s Education Press failed to comprehend the relevant textbooks’ “educational function” by highlighting errant illustrations. The MOE further claimed that the public press failed to properly select contract illustrators and neglected to rectify the problems surrounding the illustrations in a timely manner, suggesting that the drawings were brought to the publisher’s attention prior to the investigation’s launch.

“The publishing house also lacked guidance and supervision to textbook review [sic],” the MOE said in a statement.

China’s People’s Education Publishing House said on August 22 that it began a process to “redraw” the problematic illustrations in late May and completed the process “a few days ago.”

The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper revealed on August 23 that the math textbooks in question were published by China’s People’s Education Press almost a decade ago, adding that were reportedly used across public primary schools nationwide.

“But they went viral in May after a teacher published photos of the illustrations inside, including people with distorted faces and bulging pants, boys pictured grabbing girls’ skirts and at least one child with an apparent leg tattoo,” the newspaper detailed.

The Guardian published copies of the “ugly” illustrations in May, noting that the textbooks in which they were featured were used in Chinese schools “from Shandong province in the north-east to Yunnan in the south.”

The website What’s on Weibo (referring to Sina Weibo, known as China’s version of Twitter) also published photographs of the illustrations on May 26 that appeared to show cartoon boys with bulges in their pants and at least one cartoon girl whose underwear was exposed as she jumped rope.


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