3176. ‘As I Please,’ 75A

Daily Herald for Tribune, 27 February 1947

The extracts from Tribune were preceded by this statement: ‘The Daily Herald has again allotted space to “Tribune”, the Socialist weekly, which has had to suspend publication because of the power cuts.’ The space allotted on 20 February was not devoted to anything by Orwell, nor does anything of his appear on any other day during this period. A different section of ‘As I Please,’ 75, was published by the Manchester Evening News on 28 February; see 3177.

Recently I was looking through a child’s illustrated alphabet, published this year. It is what is called a “travel alphabet.” Here are the rhymes accompanying three of the letters, J, N and U:

J for the Junk which the Chinaman finds

Is useful for carrying goods of all kinds.

N for the Native from Africa’s land.

He looks very fierce with his spear in his hand.

U for the Union Jacks Pam and John carry

While out for a hike with their nice Uncle Harry.

The “native” in the picture is a Zulu dressed only in some bracelets and a fragment of leopard skin. As for the Junk, the detail of the picture is very small, but the “Chinamen” portrayed in it appear to be wearing pigtails.

Perhaps there is not much to object to in the presence of the Union Jack. This is an age of competing nationalisms, and who shall blame us if we flourish our own emblems along with all the rest? But is it really necessary, in 1947, to teach children to use expressions like “native” and “Chinaman”?

The last-named word has been regarded as offensive by the Chinese for at least a dozen years. As for “native,” it was being officially discountenanced even in India as long as twenty years ago.

It is no use answering that it is childish for an Indian or an African to feel insulted when he is called a “native.” We all have these feelings in one form or another. If a Chinese wants to be called a Chinese and not a Chinaman, if a Scotsman objects to being called a Scotchman, or if a Negro demands his capital N, it is only the most ordinary politeness to do what is asked of one.1

The sad thing about this alphabet-book is that the writer obviously has no intention of insulting the “lower” races. He is merely not quite aware that they are human beings like ourselves. A “native” is a comic black man with very few clothes on; a “Chinaman” wears a pigtail and travels in a junk—which is about as true as saying that an Englishman wears a top hat and travels in a hansom cab.

This unconsciously patronising attitude is learned in childhood and then, as here, passed on to a new generation of children. And sometimes it pops up in quite enlightened people, with disconcerting results; as for instance at the end of 1941, when China officially became our Ally, and at the first important anniversary the B.B.C. celebrated the occasion by flying the Chinese flag over Broadcasting House, and flying it upside-down.