The Mongol in Our Midst

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The Mongol in Our Midst: A Study of Man and His Three Faces is a pseudo-scientific book by the British physician F. G. Crookshank which was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Consonant with the scientific racism prevalent in its time, this work advanced the now-discredited idea that so-called "Mongolian imbecility" (a form of mental retardation now known as Down syndrome), was an atavistic throwback to, and/or the result of rape in the wake of invasions of Europe by, members of supposedly more primitive Mongoloid race, such as the Huns, Avars or the Mongols themselves, and by way of Ashkenazic Jews claimed to have interbred with the steppe tribe of the Khazars.[1] Finding success with a popular audience, The Mongol in Our Midst was expanded from its 123-page first edition in 1924 to over 500 pages by its third edition in 1931. The third edition included responses to critics and expanded anthropological and clinical material, speculations and arguments.[2]

In The Mongol in Our Midst, Crookshank argued that "Mongolian imbecility," thought at the time to affect whites only, was the result of the distant racial history of the patient's 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.[3] As a consequence, Crookshank deemed "Mongolian imbeciles . . . a race apart. For better or for worse, they are not quite as are other men and women around them." Crookshank considered his English patients "Mongol expatriates."[4]

In support of his thesis, Crookshank relied on physical traits and behaviors he dubbed the "Mongolian stigmata," among which he included small earlobes, protruding anuses, and small genitals in both sexes,[5] traits he deemed common to both "Mongolian imbeciles" and members of what he termed the Mongoloid race, which included Chinese and Japanese, as well as Mongols. The Mongol in Our Midst cited the cross-legged sitting posture of some "Mongolian imbeciles" as further evidence of his thesis, since the Buddha is often depicted in statues sitting cross-legged.[6]

Langdon Down, who first described Down Syndrome, coined the term "imbecile of the Mongoloid type," but Crookshank turned one of Down's central theses on its head. Whereas Down stressed the obvious fact that the parents of his patients were Caucasian and that their offspring were therefore not "real Mongols,"[7] Crookshank argued at length that Down's patients were precisely that.[8] Where Down presented his observation that white parents could have offspring who bore a superficial resemblance to other races as evidence of "the unity of the human species,"[7] Crookshank argued the reverse, allying himself with the views of his German translator Eugen Kurtz to claim that the different human races were in fact different species descended from different species of apes.[9]

The Mongol in Our Midst successfully reached a broad popular audience, and received some critical approbation at the time.[10] One contemporary review in the journal Nature, for example, praised Crookshank as "argu[ing] with much skill in favour of his view..."[11] Contemporary critical acclaim was hardly universal, however, as one reviewer "wondered whether 'this theory was ever seriously entertained by anyone other than the author himself'" and other contemporaries of Crookshank viewed its arguments as "preposterous" and "flimsy in the extreme."[9] A review of the first edition in The Nation wondered briefly whether whole book might be a mere hoax, since "The author's thesis need only be stated to be refuted with a laugh."[9] Crookshank himself, however, was "deadly serious," publishing his fully-re-written and much-expanded subsequent editions in response to critics, and creating a work that created something of a "pleasant furor among laymen."[9]

Modern scholars regard this work as "a grand edifice of absurd allegations about the orangutan, the racial 'Mongolian,' the "Mongoloid,' all of whom were said to share a variety of homologies."[9]

Crookshanks' theories were refuted entirely by the trisomy 21 discoveries of 1959 that defined the genetic defect causing Down Syndrome, although the term "Mongolism", despite Crookshanks' contributions to its stigmatization, took several decades to fade away entirely.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McIver., Weatherford, J. (2004-01-01). Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world. Crown. p. 258. ISBN 0609809644. OCLC 53045282. 
  2. ^ See Shrubsall 1931, p. 830, a review of the third edition in The British Journal of Psychiatry.
  3. ^ This theory is noted in Wright 2001, p. 173.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ These "stigmata" are summarized in Weatherford 2004, p. 258.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b "Down - Ethnic Classification of Idiots - 1866". Retrieved 2017-01-01. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b c d e Keevak, Michael (2011). Becoming yellow : a short history of racial thinking. Princeton University Press. p. 117. ISBN 9781400838608. OCLC 713342093. 
  10. ^ 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."
  11. ^ Nature 114: 605 (25 October 1924).
  12. ^ Gould, Stephen Jay (1980). The Panda's Thumb : More Reflections in Natural History. Norton. pp. 167–168. ISBN 9780393013801. OCLC 781219337.