Sherlock Holmes (the private detective) has always been a fascinating figure for Western audiences, because of his pristine use of rationality, reason, and logic, and his astonishing ability to ‘see’ or ‘perceive’ more than others. The BBC’s re-imagining of the Arthur Conan-Doyle characters in its 2010 series entitled ‘Sherlock’ (starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role) utilises entertaining and very clever scripts created by Dr Who writers Steve Moffat, Mark Gatiss and others, and has been incredibly successful not only in the UK, but also across the world. It is a BBC series that can be described as lavishly produced and superbly acted, with Sherlock’s breath-taking ‘deductions’ around crime-scenes often sending shivers down the spine and making the air seem to ‘crackle’ with creative electricity, whilst the other characters look on in a type of impotent amazement! Sherlock, again and again demonstrates a relentless ability to think clearly and discern even the slightest of relevant facts from an often confusing jumble of information, and ‘perceive’ how those facts ‘fit together’ to reveal the truth of who committed a crime, where, when, how and with whom, etc. Although Sherlock often presents ‘adult’ themes of murder and mayhem in its episodes, the use of logic and reason to assess the material world is a good example of ‘rationality’ over ‘superstition’.
Given that Sherlock Holmes – the master detective who possesses the power to bring duplicitous people to their knees just through the power of his insight – then why as a character could he not ‘see through’ the obvious anti-Chinese racism that appeared throughout the script of the 2010 episode of Sherlock entitled ‘The Blind Banker’ (S1E2)? This episode was written by Stephen Thompson, who amongst other work has written scripts for Dr Who since 2011 – even co-writing with Steve Moffat for the 2014 Dr Who episode entitled ‘Time Heist’. Thompson has also been responsible for two other Sherlock episodes entitled ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ (2012) and the ‘The Sign of Three’ (2012) co-written with Moffat and Gatiss. The misrepresentation of Chinese history, Chinese culture, and Chinese people is so thorough in its ignorance that one cannot but conclude that Thompson used for his inspiration, the equally racist 1977 Dr Who episode entitled the ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’, where the BBC script writers saw fit to include the ethnic slur ‘ch*nk’ on more than one occasion. Thirty-five years on, and the British born Chinese lead actor in ‘The Blind Baker’ – Gemma Chan – is asked by modern white British producers at the BBC to ‘put on’ a terrible Chinese accent that is supposed to represent how white British ‘hear’ Chinese people when they talk in England. In fact Gemma Chan speaks with a refined English accent which is easily discernible in her lead-role for the Channel 4 2015 Sci-fi series ‘Humans’. Although the word ‘ch*nk’ is omitted, Thompson provides all the stupid Eurocentric and racist stereotypes that have been evident for hundreds of years in the UK, and which form the bedrock of anti-Chinese racism. What is even more worrying about this blatant racist misrepresentation of Chinese people in the UK is that other British ‘white’ executives at the BBC vetted Thompson’s script and then ‘okayed’ it for production!
Not only this, but Cumberbatch is seen making comments such as ‘no one can get a visa’ to travel outside of China – playing on the stereotype that modern China is a despotic country – when in fact hundreds of thousands of Chinese people (which includes a large number of students) travel to the West on a regular basis. Of course, in true racist style, Thompson depicts the Chinese people as weird, stupid, sinister, sub-human, insane in their ambitions, obsessive, secretive, naturally drawn to crime, irrational, possessing animal-like skills due to their retarded evolutionary development, violent, unreasonable, pleading, inscrutable, uncaring and unable to think clearly. This disgusting portrayal of the Chinese people in the UK can be compared with the modern US depiction of Sherlock Holmes where Dr Watson is positively played by Chinese-American Actor Lucy Liu. Perhaps the strangest manifestation of Thompson’s racial stereotyping lies in the fact that Gemma Chan’s character (Soo Lin Yao) is seen at one point deciding to live in a cupboard at the museum, so that she can be near to the ‘teapots’ she obsessively tends! Even more bizarrely, the main protagonist is of course a Chinese acrobat whose speciality lies in the fact that he can enter and leave any building in a ‘weird’ manner – but which actually turns-out to just be the ability to fit through open windows. Whatever his skills, the Chinese actor playing this part, although central to the plot and seen on screen a number of times, remains ‘uncredited’ on the BBC website. Every Chinese person is depicted as being a member of, or victim of a Chinese crime syndicate (the ‘Tong’) when in fact China has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and the members of the Chinese diaspora are generally well behaved. Chinese people do not possess the ability to ‘live’ appropriately in the modern world and so must exist in dark allies or Tube tunnels, when not existing in strange curiosity shops or attending the Chinese circus. This appalling racist misrepresentation of a part of UK society was lauded as a ‘success’ by the white press, with even the liberal Guardian Newspaper claiming this episode ‘better’ than the first! The inability for intelligent white people to discern what is and is not racist proves that the UK is still a very racist country. Ethnic minorities who suffer this type of routine and casual racism are so oppressed that they are made to feel that they should not complain – but they should use their brains and complain away. Racism must be fought on every front to protect those in the future being victims of it. Thompson’s ill-gotten script ensures Victorian anti-Chinese racism lives anew in the 21st century. What about a Sherlock episode that sees the detective ‘seeing through’ Eurocentric racism, and revealing its links to a vicious Eurocentricism and imperialism?