Well, that was a depressing read.
So what were Hergé’s political beliefs? Well even for the thirties he was fairly right-wing. Mostly in terms of his depictions of race. in particular, many of his early depictions of African peoples are very cringe-worthy by modern standards. I believe that is an important caveat that at the time these kinds of depictions ethnic minorities were not only common but almost universally accepted as fairly accurate (Mountfort, 2010). More on that later.
As is covered in the article I am responding to these caricatures are very racist. However, I generally air on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt with something like this, these racist depictions are as much a product of the world around Herge as they are a product of the man himself. When he says he was a product of the circles he ran in I believe him. That being said, Hergé should absolutely not be given a free pass for it. The criticisms he received were absolutely warranted for his work to be considered racist even in the 30’s it needed to go pretty far.
All of this being said I think that Hergé is an excellent example of giving second chances. While his racial depictions never reached any level that would be considered progressive by today’s standards, he did show a continuing desire and effort to improve in these areas. In my opinion that should be commended despite the fact that he often stumbled, or even failed outright.
Comparing his first depictions of Chinese people as pigtailed torturers, to his later depictions as a rich culture that had been stepped on by both imperialism and Imperial Japan. Which unfortunately makes his depiction of the Japanese people even more unacceptable. How on earth he could have simultaneously drawn The Blue Lotus and written Japan the way he did is inconceivable to me. How did he not wonder if the same divide between stereotypes and reality also existed for Japan as it did/does for China? I wonder what he would have thought of the Nanking massacre or Unit 731.
What I do wonder about are the parts of his earlier work that were later censored, it is obviously important to look back at them historically and understand why they are wrong. But I do wonder if their alteration was at his order and if so why. Was it to cover his former mistakes> Was it out of embarrassment? Was it to fight back against his former self? This is a question that sadly we will likely never known the answer to. But I’d like to think it was on his orders and he had it done in an attempt at self-improvement and another try and doing better, where previously he had failed.
Mountfort, P. (2010). ‘Yellow skin, black hair …careful, Tintin’: Hergé and orientalism. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4917942-dt-content-rid-10258696_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/AJPC_Herge%20and%20Orientalism.pdf