From the Congo to the USSR: Hergé in controversy

'Tintin in the Congo' is one of Hergé's comics that has raised great controversy. (@Hergé-Moulinsart)

Some Tintin comics have been criticised for transmitting racist or partisan ideas of colonialism

Hergé created The Adventures of Tintin for an audience of children, but over time some of his stories have been criticised for the ideas and stereotypes they transmitted.

The first Tintin comic strips appeared in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s section of Le Vingtième Siècle, a conservative and very religious Belgian newspaper. The director, Norbert Wallez, was a priest and journalist who asked Hergé to create a character that would spread Catholic values ​​among children.

In ‘Tintin in the Land of the Soviets’, the young reporter travels to Moscow to write an article about the new communist government. Influenced by the newspaper’s editorial direction, Hergé filled the first Tintin comic with anti-Communist messages.

Over time, Hergé recognised that he let himself be carried away by his own prejudices in that first comic. The artist came from a wealthy family and never questioned what his bosses at the newspaper told him.


Belgian colonialism in the Congo 

Hergé was also criticised for his colonialist and racist views in stories like ‘Tintin in the Congo’, a story first published in black and white in 1931.

In this case, Wallez asked him to place the story in the Congo, which had been a Belgian colony since 1908. The aim was to give a positive view of the Belgian occupation and evangelisation being carried out by the Church in Africa.

The end of World War II (1940-1945) also marked the end of the colonial era. At that time, the first criticisms against the comic appeared due to the racist description of Africans.

In 1946, Hergé created a new version of the story in colour, removing the most controversial vignettes and texts. However, the controversy has remained to this day.

In 2007, the UK Commission for Racial Equality asked that the book be removed from bookstores, although in the end it remained on the condition that the publisher include a warning message regarding its contents. In 2011, the work Tintin in the Congo was put on trial in Belgium for racism. 


Comfort or ignorance? 

Hergé had to face these accusations until his death in 1983. According to him, when he drew the first Tintin stories, during the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, there was no social awareness of racial and cultural stereotypes.

In that sense, the racist comments and careless representation of some characters are a reflection of the ignorance that existed at that time, when the internet and social networks had not yet been invented.

However, Hergé did use some of his stories to echo conflicts and injustices like the slave trade (The Red Sea Sharks), the arms trade and guerrillas (The Broken Ear, Tintin and the Picaros) or conspiracies between governments (King Ottokar’s Sceptre).

To defend his work, Tintin fans refer to works like ‘The Blue Lotus’ (1936). Hergé wrote this comic with the help of Zhang Chongren, a Chinese student who helped him educate himself in order to not present the typical stereotypes of Chinese culture.

The comic was considered one of the 100 best books of the 20th century by the French newspaper Le Monde.

Made into a character, Zhang reappears in Tintin in Tibet, the story of two friends from different cultures and the power of friendship to move mountains (or to overcome any obstacle, no matter how high).

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