The Five Chinese Brothers

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The Five Chinese Brothers
Five chinese brothers.jpg
AuthorClaire Huchet Bishop
Cover artistKurt Wiese
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's books, picture books
Publication date

The Five Chinese Brothers is an American children's book written by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by Kurt Wiese. It was originally published in 1938 by Coward-McCann. The book is a retelling of a Chinese folk tale, Ten Brothers.


Long ago in China, there lived a family with five brothers who resembled each other very closely. They each possessed a special talent: the first one can swallow the sea; the second one had an iron neck that could not be cut by any swords; the third one can stretch his legs; the fourth one can survive fire without being burned; and the fifth one can hold his breath forever. When one of the brothers, a very successful fisherman, agrees to let a young boy accompany him on his fishing trip, trouble results. He holds the entire sea in his mouth so that the boy can retrieve fish and treasures. When he can no longer hold in the sea, he frantically signals to the boy, but the boy ignores him and drowns when the man releases the water.

The man is accused of murder and sentenced to death. However, one by one, his four brothers assume his place when subjected to execution and each uses his own superhuman ability to survive beheading, drowning, burning and suffocation. The judge decrees that the accused one must have been innocent the whole time, since he could not be executed, and the five brothers return home to their mother and they all lived happily together for many years.

Reception and controversy[edit]

Though often considered a classic of children's literature, The Five Chinese Brothers has been accused of promoting ethnic stereotypes about the Chinese, particularly through its illustrations,[1][2][3] and many teachers have removed the book from their classrooms.[4] However, the book has had some defenders. In a 1977 School Library Journal article, Selma G. Lanes described the illustrations as "cheerful and highly appealing", characterizing Wiese's "broad cartoon style" as "well suited to the folk-tale, a genre which deals in broad truths". She added, "I cannot remember a tale during my childhood that gave me a cozier sense of all being right with the world."[5]

Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schwarz, Albert V. (1977). "The Five Chinese Brothers: Time to Retire". Interracial Books for Children Bulletin. 8 (3): 3–7.
  2. ^ Klein, Gillian (1990). Reading into Racism: Bias in Children's Literature and Learning Materials. Routledge. p. 55.
  3. ^ Kinchloe, Joe L. (1998). How Do We Tell the Workers?: The Socioeconomic Foundations of Work. Westview Press. p. 289.
  4. ^ McCaskell, Tim (2005). Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational Inequality. Between the Lines. p. 102.
  5. ^ Lanes, Selma G. (October 1977). "A Case for the Five Chinese Brothers". School Library Journal. 24 (2): 90–1. Republished as: Lanes, Selma G. (2006). "A Case for The Five Chinese Brothers". Through the Looking Glass: Further Adventures & Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature. David R. Godine. pp. 185–9. ISBN 978-1-56792-318-6.
  6. ^ "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". National Education Association. 2007. Retrieved August 19, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Zaniello, Thomas A. (1974). "Heroic Quintuplets: A Look at Some Chinese Children's Literature". Children's Literature. 3 (1): 36–42. doi:10.1353/chl.0.0441.