A Chinese young adult fiction writer has canceled the release of her highly anticipated debut novel after attacks from an online mob accusing her of lacing her fantasy book with “anti-blackness.”
Amélie Wen Zhao is a young up-and-coming author whose first novel, Blood Heir, was set to be released this summer.
Set in the fantasy “Cyrilian Empire” where slavery exists based on possession of magical powers rather than skin color, the book was meant to critique the “epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking” in Asia today.
The fantasy work was slated to be released in June, but after a sudden deluge of criticism from reviewers and Twitter users, Zhao announced in a Wednesday statement “to the book community” that she would cancel the book altogether.
“I want to start by saying that I have the utmost respect for your voices, and I’m listening. I am grateful to those who have raised questions around representation, coding, and themes in my book,” Zhao Wrote.
“I emigrated from China when I was 18. Drawing on my own multicultural upbringing and the complex history of my heritage that has incidences of bias and oppression, I wrote Blood Heir from my immediate cultural perspective. The issues around Affinite indenturement in the story represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country. The narrative and history of slavery in the United States is not something I can, would, or intended to write, but I recognize that I am not writing in merely my own cultural context. I am so sorry for the pain this has caused.”
“It was never my intention to bring harm to any reader of this valued community, particularly those for whom I seek to write and empower. As such I have decided to ask my publisher not to publish Blood Heir at this time, and they have agreed. I don’t wish to clarify, defend, or have anyone defend me,” Zhao concluded. “This is not that; this is an apology.”
To The Book Community: An Apology pic.twitter.com/SCdYMOSLOA
— Amélie Wen Zhao (@ameliewenzhao) January 30, 2019
Zhao’s apology came after several accusations of racism and “anti-blackness,” based just on early excerpts.
Although the book is not yet available to the public, a few screenshots from advanced reader copies have been circulating. One in particular contains the phrase “oppression is blind to skin color.” Although this sentence is meant to portray the situation in the fantasy world created by Zhao, rather than an assertion about the nature of oppression in the real world, many are calling it an example of racist “colorblindness.”
We need to talk about Blood Heir, because claiming “POC solidarity” just erases all of the anti-black issues with this book that, frankly, make me hella uncomfortable. Can POC be ignorant toward the struggles of other POC? Of course. And that needs to be fixed
— Ashia ☁️ (@AshiaMonet) January 30, 2019
Others came after Zhao for her apparent mistreatment of a character named May. Excerpts show May being described as “tawny” and “bronze,” with hair of “dark curls.” Critics assert that these traits are meant to portray May as black “coded,” but there is no evidence that the race of the character is ever defined. The character in question eventually dies at a slave auction. Although the status of those being auctioned is not based on skin color, a supposedly black character dying at an event involving slavery was clear evidence to some of Zhao’s anti-black sentiments.
Firstly, the little girl in BLOOD HEIR is coded as Black. From several descriptions, not just tawny, and comparisons to others’ complexions. Then there’s ways the characters treat her.
So, she’s clearly the darkest and also coded as “special” because she has ocean-green eyes.
— LL McKinney is on (partial) hiatus (@ElleOnWords) January 30, 2019
“There is a slave auction in which the black slave girl dies for Ana and she sings her a lullaby as she dies,” one reviewer complained, adding that “the only disabled character is a villain who walks with a cane.”
“And no, that the author is Chinese doesn’t make her exempt from criticism or fundamentally anti-black narratives. There are plenty of other not happily racist Chinese YA authors you can support instead,” the review concluded.