The Five Chinese Brothers

5 chinese a

The Five Chinese Brothers

Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese
Coward-McCann, Inc., 1938, 1965

Summary: “Five brothers who look just alike outwit the executioner by using their extraordinary individual qualities.”

In the same vein as the pre-Disney-sanitized versions of Grimm’s fairy tales were full of death and triumph, this old Chinese tall tale weaves a fantastic story with a foolish boy losing his life and four brothers who prevent the fifth brother from being executed for murder. There’s a moral lesson to this tale – one that teaches kittens to listen to adults to stay safe (and alive!) and one that teaches adults to not go to extreme measures to prove a point.

Of course this book has been challenged – any time there’s a book with one view there’s a ton more with opposite views. Some readers have taken exception to the illustrations of the book:

The Five Chinese Brothers was banned when parents expressed concern at the Salem Public Library that the book’s “racial stereotypes were demeaning to Chinese People (1990).” The book was also challenged in a California grade school because “it contains descriptions of violent plots to execute five brothers (1998).”” And another blogger had this to say, “Chinese faces carry a yellow-orange hue; the eyes are often reduced to stereotypical slits.  There has been some discussion of the book as an endorsement of capital punishment and a celebration of violence in general.”

Nevermind this classic of children’s literature was published in 1938 and may have been reflecting the general views of the day. Even if those views are not acceptable by today’s standards (i.e., obsessive adherence to political correctness), perhaps the book should be read as a cultural example of ‘days gone by’ and past thoughts and interpretations taken into consideration to be learned from not banned.

Rating 3 out of 5 paws because although it is a classic, we don’t care for stories about cheating and executions.

As we’ve stated before, The Library doesn’t like all banned books and wouldn’t read them – except for the fact that they’ve been banned or challenged. We read to protest censorship and to give a voice to those beleaguered books & authors.

Reviewer: loc jackJack

3 thoughts on “The Five Chinese Brothers

  1. Mary McNeil February 4, 2018 / 12:07 pm

    I remember having this book read to me when I was a little kid – before 1950. Glad to see it has survived.


  2. 15andmeowing February 4, 2018 / 10:25 pm

    Great review Jack. I don’t like books being banned, I am glad you tell us about them.


  3. Timmy Tomcat February 7, 2018 / 9:52 am

    Jack Dad says he read this when he was little and really liked the story. The brothers each had a magical power that they used to fool the executioner. Life was different back in the 50s and 60s. Much simpler but with its own issues. Purrs
    Timmy and Dad


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