The Mongol in Our Midst

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The Mongol in Our Midst: A Study of Man and His Three Faces is a book by the British physician F. G. Crookshank that was first published in 1924. It advanced the now-discredited idea, then prevalent in contemporary scientific racism, that so-called "Mongolian imbecility," a form of mental retardation now known as Down syndrome, was an atavistic throwback to the more primitive Mongoloid race. Finding success with a popular audience, The Mongol in Our Midst was republished in two more editions, the third edition in 1931 with expanded anthropological and clinical references.[1]

In The Mongol in Our Midst, Crookshank argued that "Mongolian imbecility" was the result of the distant racial history of the Caucasian parents, each of whom must also carry Mongol traits. That Caucasians bore this racial history was either the result of those individuals sharing a common Mongoloid ancestor, or of all Caucasians having distant Mongoloid ancestry. "Mongolian imbeciles", then, were atavistic throwbacks to that Mongoloid heritage, the modern emergence of which Crookshank believed was due to their incomplete development in the womb.[2] As a consequence, "Mongolian imbeciles" were "a race apart. For better or for worse, they are not quite as are other men and women around them. They are indeed 'Mongol expatriates.'"[3]

In support of his thesis, Crookshank presented purported examples of physical characteristics and behavior shared by "Mongolian imbeciles" and those of the Mongoloid race. Crookshank termed the physical traits the "Mongolian stigmata", among which he included small earlobes, protruding anuses, and small genitals in both sexes.[4] The Mongol in Our Midst also emphasized what Crookshank viewed as the natural habit of "Mongolian imbeciles" to sit cross-legged, the same position portrayed in statues of the Buddha.[5]

These ideas did not originate with Crookshank; the linkage of Down syndrome to the so-called Mongoloid race dated from the mid-19th century.[6] Through The Mongol in Our Midst, however, Crookshank was successful in bringing it to a widespread, popular audience, and his book and thesis were well received at the time.[7] A contemporary review in the journal Nature, for example, praised Crookshank as "argu[ing] with much skill in favour of his view..."[8]

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  1. ^ See Shrubsall 1931, p. 830, a review of the third edition in The British Journal of Psychiatry.
  2. ^ This theory is noted in Wright 2001, p. 173.
  3. ^ Quote republished in Weatherford 2004, p. 258. The term "Mongol expatriates" and the book's theory of reemergent Mongoloid ancestry are also noted and summarized in Shrubsall 1931, p. 831.
  4. ^ These "stigmata" are summarized in Weatherford 2004, p. 258.
  5. ^ See summaries in Nature, 605, and Shrubsall 1931, pp. 831–32, both noting the book's emphasis on the significance of the cross-legged stance, and comparing the common sitting posture of "Mongoloid imbeciles" to depictions of the Buddha. Known as the lotus position, this sitting posture actually originated in India.
  6. ^ John Langdon Down, the British doctor who first described the condition and after whom it is now named, labeled it the "Mongolian type of Idiot" in 1866, as part of his theory that it was possible to classify different types of conditions by supposed ethnic characteristics. Weatherford 2004, p. 257 credits Scottish scientist Robert Chambers with "the first recorded link" between the race and the condition, in his 1844 work Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. See also Down syndrome: history for a fuller treatment.
  7. ^ A contemporary review of the book's third edition in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that the first edition "attracted wide attention when it first became available." J Am Med Assoc 99 (9): 782. 1932. Shrubsall 1931, p. 830, also noted in The British Journal of Psychiatry that The Mongol in Our Midst "excited considerable excitement on its first appearance." Weatherford 2004, p. 258 simply describes the book as having been "popular."
  8. ^ Nature 114: 605 (25 October 1924).