China’s education ministry has ordered a state-owned publisher to rectify a school textbook that went viral owing to what social media users described as “tragically ugly” and inappropriate depictions of children.
The mathematics books published by the People’s Education Press contain illustrations of people with distorted faces and bulging pants. Boys are seen grabbing girls’ skirts and one child appears to have a leg tattoo.
The books are reportedly used in elementary schools across the country, from Shandong province in the north-east to Yunnan in the south.
Photos of the pictures went viral on China’s social media. Related hashtags had been viewed more than 4bn times by Monday and millions of comments were left beneath posts.
Some social media users came to the conclusion that the artwork was deliberately bad and provocative, noting a backwards Chinese flag in one instance and some clothing in the colour combination of the US flag, according to a report on the social media monitor website What’s On Weibo.
One commenter described the illustrations as “evil” and warned of a “worrying” future where “the education department is infiltrated by the west, and the textbooks are manipulated by the people who have infiltrated the system”.
Others were aggrieved that more talented artists had not been hired for the work.
One commenter said the textbook was about a decade old and that complaints had been raised before, but less attention was paid to the issue.
“The core [problem] is still that no one takes responsibility,” they wrote. “This is the cultural annihilation of the country, the awakening is too late, and the cost of auditing crimes is too low.”
A teacher from a Qingpu district school in Shanghai posted several photos online and said the images failed to convey “the innocence, self-motivation and sunshine of Chinese children”.
In response to the outcry, the ministry of education said it had launched a review of all textbooks for primary and secondary schools, focusing on content and illustration, “to ensure that the textbooks adhere to the correct political direction and value orientation, promote the excellent Chinese culture, and conform to the aesthetic habits of the public”.
It said it had instructed the publisher to “immediately rectify” the textbook, and invited feedback from the public.
Additional reporting by Xiaoqian Zhu