Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review - The Chinese Emperor's New Clothes

The Chinese Emperor's New Clothes
by Ying Chang Compestine
illustrated by David Roberts
Date: 2017
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Ming Da is only nine years old when he becomes the emperor of China, and his three advisors take advantage of him by stealing his stores of rice, gold, and precious stones. But Ming Da has a plan. With the help of his tailors, he comes up with a clever idea to outsmart his devious advisors: He asks his tailors to make “magical” new clothes for him. Anyone who is honest, the young emperor explains, will see the clothes’ true splendor, but anyone who is dishonest will see only burlap sacks. The emperor dons a burlap sack, and the ministers can’t help but fall for his cunning trick.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book is a great example of an author blowing it. What could have been a cute retelling of a classic story is marred by blatant cultural appropriation and just plain rudeness. What's frustrating is that, had the first and last paragraphs been cut, this wouldn't even have been an issue.

The story starts out on a bad foot with the assertion that this is the real version of the story:

The truth is that the story took place here in China, and without any tricky tailors.

Here is the real story.

The author knows as well as anyone that those statements are lies, because in the author's note she talks about reading the Hans Christian Andersen version as a child. (His version was actually based on older versions, some of which date back to the 11th century, variations of which came from Spain, Persia, and India. Not China.) Why anyone would want to start out a children's book with a lie is beyond me... but what really gets my goat is that it's not just a harmless lie. It's cultural appropriation in this case, and it's not even done with respect. Take a look at the last paragraph of the book:

Now that's the real story! The emperor marched through the town to save his country. I don't know how people ended up with that old folktale about two sly tailors fooling a vain emperor.

Can you imagine the outcry if a Western author took a story like the Ballad of Mulan, set it in England, claimed that was the real version, and took a shot at anyone who believed otherwise? What's sad, though, is that this problematic issue was completely unnecessary. Aside from those paragraphs, the rest of the story is rather cute. So are the illustrations. But I just can't in good conscience give a higher rating to a book that steals from another cultural tradition and then lies about it. To children, no less.

Premise: 1/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 1/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

No comments:

Post a Comment