Censoring Fairytales

Here’s a classic.

I’m currently reading a book at bedtime to the boys. It’s called “The Orchard Book Of Swords, Sorcerers and Superheroes”.


It has kids versions of classic tales, like King Arthur, Jason and the Argonauts, Ali Baba, etc. Tonight we were reading “Aladdin”. All of the usual things are in there, Aladdin, the magic lamp, the genie, etc. The only surprising thing was that the whole story was set in… CHINA.

A few times in the story it says they are in China. I’m scratching my head while I’m reading it, thinking “surely this was set in Persia”. The characters are all wearing turbans, etc.

After I finish and tuck the boys into bed, I turn to the front cover of the book to see when it was printed – 2003. The year we invaded Iraq. The book was printed in London.

AHA!, I think. I’ve uncovered censorship in children’s literature! The publishers didn’t want to mention Baghdad when we’re bombing the crap out of it so they re-set the story!

And so I start to write this post.

Except… when I go to Wikipedia to confirm the original location of the story, I read this:

Aladdin (a corruption of the Arabic name Alāa ed-DÄ«n, Arabic: علاء الدين literally “nobility of faith”) is one of the tales with a Syrian origin in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, and one of the most famous.

The “China” of the original tale much more closely resembles the medieval Muslim world of the other Arabian Nights stories, so much so that in retellings the “Chinese” element is often quietly forgotten.

The story concerns an impoverished young ne’er-do-well named Aladdin, in a Chinese city, who is recruited by a sorcerer from the Maghreb in the far west….

Well I’ll be….

7 thoughts on “Censoring Fairytales

  1. “History is written by the victors.” –Sir Winston Churchill.

    Publishers are constantly rewriting or making literature more “politically correct.” I work in the education publishing industry, I design scholastic textbooks mostly for the US market, and I’m constantly amazed at the crud they feed kids these days. It started all out mostly harmless, changing references of “Indians” to “Native Americans” and “Blacks” to “African Amercians,” etc. Then it progressed to a whole slew of “rules” for writing in the new world of textbooks… At one time we weren’t allowed to use the word “God” in textbooks, or “Satan”, “he and she” became “she and he.” If we showed photos of doctors and nurses, the doctors had to be female. If we showed someone in a technology job, like computer programmer, they couldn’t be Oriental… and so on. Really stupid things that the publishers claimed “continued the stereotype.”

    What really finished it for me was when editors started telling us that we couldn’t use the colours pink or purple in books because pink reminded people of girls or flesh and that gave kids the wrong idea, and we couldn’t use purple because purple was supposed to represent homosexuality. Er…What? How does a colour represent someone’s sexual orientation? And how are school-aged kids supposed to pick this up from seeing a colour in a book? Is homosexuality so easily “caught” like a disease?

    Another nail in the coffin was when an editor, writing about a famous American-Indian war changed the text from something like “thousands of Indians were slaughtered” to “several American soldiers were injured.”

    It’s almost amusing, isn’t it? Imagine what kids will be learning years from now… by then it’ll be down to “The Americans and Natives met over a nice cup of tea and the Natives shook hands and said ‘Yes, you can have our land, we weren’t using it anyway.'”

  2. Interesting stories Herne. I wonder where the books are which teach kids about the history of our countries. Where are the kids books which deal with what happened to the Australian Aborigines (sorry – the “indigenous Australians”) at the hands of the Europeans? Anyone out there got a kids in high school studying Australian history? How is this portrayed in schools these days?

  3. I was studying Australian history at high school fairly recently. I was actually in the first lot of NSW kids forced to study 2 years of Australian history and geography.

    We pretty much got the gory story though. Fighting, stolen children, attempts at assimilation. Even discussed the more current Aboriginal deaths in custody business.
    We also discussed the justification used at the time for all of this behavior too. I did complain however that in 2 years of Australian history they didn’t really bother much with pre-federation history let alone pre-european Australian history.

    If you’re interested in having a look at what they’re teaching kids then just drop into a bookstore which carries textbooks and have a browse through year nine/ten history books. They’re set exactly to the current curriculum.

  4. Much better than the changes made to The Little Mermaid

    Most of the more detailed Aboriginal history is no longer taught. These changes were made under John Howard, after the 1996 election.

    We used to cover the number of languages extinguished after Europeans came to Australia, but now few kids are taught that Aboriginal people spoke more than one language. The stolen generation is now dumbed down, to be less horrific. The situation of current residents of the original isolation camps is never discussed. Many Australian young people now believe that all Aboriginal people are born to the same conditions we are, running water, sewerage, power, education and a health system, and that any poverty or health problems are self-inflicted. It’s a far cry from reality.

    Books that should be read on Aboriginal history are: Wandering Girl – Glenyse Ward (an autobiography from the stolen generation), My Place – Sally Morgan (multiple generations) and anything written before 1996.


  5. I don’t know where they were teaching that! I was studying Australian history/geography in 2001-2002 and we certainly didn’t get taught that rubbish!
    That said I did go to a very good school and they weren’t much into toting the Howard line. Still, our textbooks pretty much covered the whole early white settlers were ignorant dickheads side of the story.

  6. when i was in my schooling years which finished 3 years ago. i was never really taught australian history maybe in year 5-6 we covered australian folk law and a couple of songs but what i’ve learnt about australia has been through a couple of abc programs and abc2. the normal channels won’t touch the stuff with a 20foot pole. this was 3 public schools in queensland.

  7. thanks for the post. i wrote an essay bout this. i used some of people’s info from here. hope this censoring crap’ll stop. i really do. and by info, i mean facts and stories. no personal stuff. don’t worry. i’m just in college doin a final paper- u know that 10 page essay. thanks a lot and if there’s anything u want to tell me bout, just e mail me. my e mail is pulserapid@hotmail.com

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