In March 2021, Asian Leadership Collective reached out to the HaperCollins team regarding the The World’s Worst Children story of Brian Wong by Walliams and illustrated by Ross.
Subsequently there was a further meeting including Georgie Ma and our founder and director, Anna Chan who spoke to the publisher about next steps. As mentioned in The Bookseller article, the story of Brian Wong is due to be removed.
Speaking to The Guardian, HarperCollins stated that “In consultation with our author and illustrator we can confirm that a new story will be written to replace ‘Brian Wong’ in future editions of The World’s Worst Children,” […] “The update will be scheduled at the next reprint as part of an ongoing commitment to regularly reviewing content.”
Asian Leadership’s statement:
Whilst it is encouraging that HarperCollins is seemingly taking some actions from the meetings we had earlier this year, it has been a slow process in them coming back to us on next steps. Asian Leadership Collective believe HarperCollins can be more transparent and take actions which shows their accountability and leadership as the 2nd largest consumer publisher in the world. We believe this is an opportunity for HarperCollins to build on their values “in building respectful relationships, constantly innovating and championing diversity of thought helping us to create a fair, diverse and inclusive company that is a leader in our industry.”
If HarperCollins were to publish a press article, and include a case study of the Brian Wong story in partnership with ourselves and those involved in the meeting, this would be a strong start for the publisher to being a powerful advocate for all communities. We believe HarperCollins is more than capable in actioning the above and in showing that they are an inclusive, strong thought leader and ally on these issues.
There must be transparency and accountability when dealing with situations which have caused harm and raised important questions about company responsibilities.
Questions asked to the publisher included:
- How it came to be that David Walliams could release a children’s book which is harmful and perpetuating negative stereotypes? Especially given Walliam’s dubious history and caricaturing in the show “Little Britain”, where some of episodes have now been banned due to their content.
- What processes of sign off did this book go through – were there any checks for the appropriateness of content, especially those which might cause distress to the communities it was looking to represent?
- How diverse is the team for the sign off and creation of children’s books at HarperCollins? Could these harmful narratives have been spotted earlier on in the process?
Examples of harmful stereotypes in the story:
- Model Minority: The book draws on stereotypes which perpetuate the model minority myth, branding Brian Wong as a “swot”.
- Racist Taunts: The seemingly harmless rhyming of “Wong” and “Wrong”, for many East and Southeast Asian people who have this surname is a racist taunt on their heritage and an othering which is not acceptable.
- Racist representation: The illustrations which accompany the story depict a child with small eyes and glasses. This image falls in line with imagery used to perpetuate Yellow Peril cartoons. These caricatures were used to slander and cause mistrust of East and South East Asian communities.
Asian Leadership Collective supports and stands with the East and Southeast Asian communities and their right to fair and equitable representation in the publishing industry.
Asian Leadership Collective works to increase and amplify leadership representation of East and Southeast Asian people within their place of work in the UK. This includes those of mixed East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) heritage. We support and encourage allies in their journey for inclusivity and equality; providing a safe space for learning and engaging with the ESEA community. Asian Leadership Collective is a registered Community Interest Company and member of Social Enterprise UK, our focus is to provide resources and give back to community in the UK. Visit our website and social media for more information.
We are available for any further information regarding the statement above.
Press contact: Anna Chan
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other media articles covering the Brian Wong story: