What issues do Herge’s albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?
Herge was a Belgian cartoonist who created the character whose name is ‘Tintin’ (Assouline, 2009). When it comes to one of his albums called ‘Blue Lotus’, it is delicately and realistically describing the era of Japanese invasion of Manchuria which was occurred in 1931. For instance, there is a scene that Mitsuhirato is offering Chinese people the opium, and those who addicted by the opium suddenly become very aggressive. This scene represents that the era when Chinese people were under Japanese influences.
The reason why Herge played an important role to both Asian countries and Western countries is that most of Western people had prejudice like Asian people dump their children into the river, eat rotten eggs, and other negative prejudices toward them. However, by precisely researching and demonstrating what is actually happened at that time in China and their relationship between Japan – thanks to his best friend, ‘Zhang Chongren’ – the Western audiences or readers of Tintin could adjust their prejudice towards Asian people and could actually learn what was happened there as well as the geography of some part of China (e.g. Shanghai, Yangtze river) (Assouline, 2009).
Nevertheless, with regard to depict Asian people’s appearance, Herge drew them as the people who have squinted eyes and the combed-dark black hair (Laser-Robinson, 2019). It is lessened while describing Chinese people, but still exaggerated while describing Japanese people. Moreover, by describing Tintin as the saviour of drowning Chinese boy, it leads to another prejudice that Western people should have sympathy about poor Asians (Mountfort, 2012). Thus, Herge could be considered as the racist although he tried to demolish the Western people’s prejudice towards Asian people by doing the researches, somehow he still biased towards Asian since he depicted Japanese character’s appearance as ridiculous ugly face as well as described Asian people as they cannot independently act by themselves and they need Western hero to protect them from harm.
According to Mountfort (2012), “in a pivotal set of panels (43 f1−13) where Tintin rescues a drowning Chang from the Yangtze River, the bewildered boy asks Tintin, ‘But … why did you save my life?’ The pair then go on to trade their respective cultural stereotypes” (p.40). As can be seen, not only Western people have prejudice towards Asian people, but Asian people themselves also biased towards Western people that Westerners will deny them even though they are in danger.
In conclusion, although Herge encourage other Western people to get away from the Asian stereotype through releasing his album, still it is biased. In terms of race, by drawing Western people as predominant characters whereas Chinese people depend on them, and by describing Japanese people as typical, exaggerated Asian face of what Westerners was thinking, it represented that Herge was not threw away his stereotype towards Asian people at all. Since there is neither predominant race nor inferior race on Earth, Western people should respect Asian people as independent race with their unique culture, not having sympathy on them. Also, Asian people should be proud of themselves – neither overwhelmed by the Western people nor aggressive towards them, but embrace them and attempt to communicate with them as the same ‘human’ to ‘human’ as well as respect Western culture.
Assouline, P. (2009). Herge: The man who created Tintin. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Laser-Robinson, A. (2019). An analysis of Hergé’s portrayal of various racial groups in the adventures of Tintin: The blue lotus. [online] Tintinologist.org. Available at: https://www.tintinologist.org/articles/analysis-bluelotus.pdf [Accessed 16 Sep. 2019].
Mountfort, P. (2012). ‘Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 1(1), pp.33-49.