By Dr Wong Wee Nam
16 July 2014
The National Library Board (NLB)’s recent announcement to remove 3 children’s books from circulation does not surprise me. Such hasty knee-jerk reactions have happened with the authorities in the past. So is the speed with which the authorities take on the role as a guardian of societal moral values when there is no need to.
The decision to remove the books disappoints me. The decision to pulp the books disappoints me even more. All this while I thought only the Chinese Emperor Qin Shihuang would destroy books that he disapproved of. I never expected NLB to be so dramatic.
Like in the past, the withdrawal of the books has no logical or scientific basis.
In 1963, when the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary, hit the charts, it was banned. The reason given was that the lyrics had drug connotations and allowing the song would promote drug-taking in Singapore.
Composer Peter Yarrow strongly defended that his song was about the hardships of growing old and had no drug reference. He said the song was based on a children’s poem written in 1959 by a friend. How could it be referring to smoking pot when smoking pot was not known then?
I have listened to the song, with its children’s lyrics and catchy tune, repeatedly for fifty years, and have not come anywhere closer to taking a cigarette let alone smoking pot.
A few years before that, the Ministry of Culture also banned “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence, citing pornography and vulgar language as its reasons. They had to upkeep the moral values of society. Again, the decision was not logical or scientific. There is no doubt that a large number of our so-called pioneer generation had read the book in their youth. Have they turned Singapore into a sexually sinful city with their depraved minds?
Coming back to the book “And Tango Makes Three”, it is really a wonder how some adults can conclude that children reading the book about two cute penguins could be so influenced as to end up with deviant values and reject pro-family values.
The young readers would probably read the book with their innocent minds and marvel at the magic of hatching an egg by the two penguins and laugh at their stupidity in trying to hatch a stone before that. With an uncontaminated mind, they probably see the raising of the chick by the two adult penguins as an act of love, just like what they are receiving from their own parents.
Furthermore, “And Tango Makes Three” is actually a true life story about two penguins, Roy and Silo, from the New York Central Park Zoo. For people who are sufficiently repulsed by the penguins’ behaviour to object to the book, just remember that they are also God’s creatures. Perhaps they are made that way for us to reflect on some divine message that may be coming out from the lives of these innocent penguins.
There is no need to be quick about removing books from the library shelves whenever a complaint is made without going through a logical and scientific enquiry. Would the NLB remove Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books from the shelves if someone were to complain that George (Georgina) could turn our impressionable young female readers into butches? Is there statistical support for this?
How about “The Butterfly Lovers” (梁山伯与祝英台)? Liang Shan Bo was obviously in love with a “man”. Though the “man” was Zhu Yingtai in disguise, Liang Shan Bo’s relationship was still homosexual. Do we want to remove the book from the children’s library and forbid our orchestras from performing the concerto?
Why not ban the greatest of all Chinese novels, “The Dream of The Red Mansion”, 红楼梦, which contains all kinds of immoral sexual acts and vulgar words that are not found in standard dictionaries. What kind of family values does the family in the story promote?
Big Jiao, the servant, summed it very well in a famous phrase: “A houseful of rutting dogs and bitches in heat. Father-in-law pokes in the ashes (daughter-in-law). Aunties have it off with brothers-in-law.” (每日家偷狗戏鸡。爬灰的爬灰，养小叔子的养小叔子)
In a fast changing society, protecting societal norms is too important and complex to be left to a few individuals. A panel of diverse and open-minded people should be formed to help the NLB review controversial books.