Great Britain

University of York pulls three wise monkeys from their website over ‘racist stereotype’ fears

THE University of York has pulled an image of the three wise monkeys from its website - over fears the creatures are a 'racist stereotype'.

Woke academics issued a grovelling apology over the use of the image, vowing to 'be accountable for their privileges'.

But experts have been left baffled by the decision - and say they have "no idea" why the picture was controversial.

The image of the monkeys - known worldwide for centuries to mean seeing, hearing and speaking no evil - was pulled ahead of an art history conference, The Times reports.

Organisers say the poster promotes a "longstanding visual history of oppression and exploits racist stereotypes".

In a statement, they said: "We bring this to your attention, so that we may be held accountable for our actions and, in our privileges, do and be better.”

The image, associated with Buddhism, first became popular in Japan in the 17th century before spreading to the west - and traditionally the creatures are seen as helpers for divine figures.

Tim Clark, who retired as curator of the British Museum’s Japanese collections in 2019, told the paper he had “no idea” why the monkeys would have been an issue.

Meanwhile, Lord Moore of Etchingham, former editor of The Daily Telegraph, slammed the decision in his column for the Spectator magazine.

He said: "One of the difficulties about being woke is that you develop a sort of hypersensitivity to particular phrases and images, which ultimately makes it almost impossible to say or do anything because you are concerned that someone may take offence."

He said organisers have "inflicted upon themselves a show trial in which they do a stammering confession".

Meanwhile, Dr Lucia Dolce, who has been studying Japanese Buddhism at the School of Oriental and African Studies for 20 years, told the paper the monkeys are seen in a positive way in Japanese culture.

Asked if the image could be controversial, she said: “That would be wrong because the monkey is a sacred being."

Where does the image of the three wise monkeys come from?

The monkeys illustrate a Japanese saying - 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil'.

The phrase is regularly used to refer to people who deal with wrongdoing and dishonesty by turning a blind eye.

Historians have traced the image back to the 17th century. It was carved over a door of the Tōshō-gū Shinto shrine.

The monkey is an important being in the Shinto religion.

But the saying itself is likely much older. It's associated with a figure from Tendai Buddhism from the 8th century.

And a similar phrase existed in China between the 2nd and 4th century BC - 'Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety'.

The image is known around the world.

A spokeswoman for the University of York said that the organisers of the online conference - Sensorial Fixations: Orality, Aurality, Opticality and Hapticity - were worried about accidentally insulting people.

“The Japanese symbol of the three wise monkeys was used to represent a postgraduate conference about the sensory experiences of the body," she said.

"It also appeared on a document that asked for submission of research papers to the conference on a range of areas, one of which included papers that represented black, indigenous and people of colour.

“It was considered that a monkey, which has been used in a derogatory way in the past, could cause offence in this context, despite this not being the intention of the organisers, so the image was removed.”

In 2007, four members of union Unison used the image to hit out at leaders who they claimed were ignoring their criticisms.

But the leaders said the image was intended as a racial slur against one of them, who was black.

In 2013, an employment tribunal awarded the members £49,000 after ruling no reasonable person could interpret the use of the image as a racist slur.

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