Tag Archives: Inky Boys

THE INKY BOYS – Cross Cultural Interpretation on Race

Gong Shu’s “Yi Shu: The Art of Living with Change” is adapted and simplified by me to provide a theoretical interpretation or cross cultural perspective of “The story of The Inky Boys”. The ancient Chinese Theory of Yin and Yang (as outlined in the premier classic, Yi Jing) is used predominantly to interpret the misbehaviour of “The Inky Boys”, in a dynamic picture book, “Struwwelpeter”, written by Heinrich Hoffman in the early 19th Century. It was a best seller then, but few parents would now read this book to their children. This article was my vain attempt in understanding the story using Chinese literary perspectives, and integrated them with western theories and knowledge in understanding racialism.

In Chinese cosmology, all phenomena in the natural world and in human relationship contain two opposing and yet complementary pair, the yin and yang. They interact with each other incessantly in interdependent and inter connected ways. In the yin, part of yang is contained, and the same is applied to the yang, whenever one is overwhelmed by the other. Not infrequently, the yang has the tendency to privilege over the Yin in Chinese family. There is thus caution to act in extreme mammer, if harmony is the goal. In other words, there is whiteness within blackness; responsibility in delinquency; beyond the Cartesian divide.  These fundamental forces are related to the five elements. The teasing and bullying of the boys are due to imbalance and disharmony between the yin and yang elements, resulting in the blockage of qi (energy) in body, mind and spirit. The traditional Chinese considered the qi body as yin, and the physical body as yang. The teasing arises out of fear or insecurity, due to misperception of the outside world. The imbalanced yin and yang trigger the mind to generate mental images, dreams and fantasies. The wood elements descend and dissipate causing malfunction of the liver elements, resulting not only in qi (energy) blockage, but also hormonal secretions.

In Ancient China, Racialism was unheard of, as 92% of the huge populations are Hans; the other 55 minorities lived in faraway border areas, where they hardly interact, until modern time. The Hans have been ruled by their own ethnic minorities in their dynastic history, and the rule last as long as citizens are well taken care of materially. There was no racialism as seen between colonial and colonised as in western countries. There are, however, regional or provincial protectionism. The Zen master once spoke that people might be divided into different regions or class but their Buddha nature was the same. Bodhidharma was a black Indian, but enlightenment did not depend on skin colour. Nevertheless, Chinese people preferred fair skin to darker skin people, not racial, but social and cultural discrimination. In India the caste system showed ferocious discrimination despite they were all black and Indian. It was not colour differences that result in racialism. It was political, economic, cultural domination and belief in the caste system. In Japan, there is no racialism as seen in the West, but the Japanese think they are more “white” than other Asians and, to them, whiteness  is associated with superiority, despite their cultural and moral debt to their neighbours.  In Malaysia, colour and religion are privileged are sine non quo to economic and political domination.   We, thereby, see various nationalities view skin colour quite differently, as evidenced in multicultural feminism.

In addition, Go Shu incorporated other teachings, such as Daoism, Confucianism, Zen Buddhism and other classics into her Yi Shu Theory. Confucianism would teach personal, family and community order, in a hierarchical way. Mencius would advise that the kids moved to another neighbourhood.  Mohism‘s “universal love” would be appalled by excessive power of Agrippa in blackening the naughty boys. Han Fei’s Legalist Theory might agree with the exercise of power in the punishment of strayed children, as he believed that people were naturally evil, and strict discipline would be necessary to bring social order. Even in China different schools had diverse theories of their own, and each interpreted them differently. We could not deny that external discipline might be required. Therefore, the theories and their interpretations were neither right nor wrong. What was relevant was the application to place them rightly to achieve harmony.

Gong Shu also draws on western critical theories, creative arts, Moreno’s psychodrama and sociometry, gestalt and other therapies, in a united way to assist her understanding, interpretation of the healing processes.  In the flow of feeling and emotions (tele), the white naughty inky boys will each learn their psycho-social distance as they relate.  They have to learn how they measure to others boys in the community and adult expectation. Maybe the bad conduct was triggered by herd mentality, in the sense that group identity emboldened them. The cheers at others might be perceived as jeer, and their fun was at the expense of others hurt.  Psychodrama would act out their inner feeling and emotion, the unconsciousness fear and insecurity about black people. Gong Shu might also provide art therapy, and allowed the kids to paint their perceived fears. Dance therapy might release their excessive negative energy.

In conclusion, western critical theories kept trumpeting that race is a social and cultural construct, but their sense of supremacy and domination have yet to be deconstructed.  The Inky Boys offered an opportunity that others do not view colour or race in colonial mindset. This article is a humble attempt to integrate western and eastern theories in literary interpretation.


1.Heinrich Hoffman,The Inky Boys,Struwwelpeter, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12116/12116-h/12116-h.htm

2.Gong Shu, Yi Shu:The Art of Living with Change, http://psychodrama.dapcmi.com/english/The%20Art%20of%20Living%20with%20Change.htm