During work one day, I was inside the home of one of our customers when I saw something a bit surprising. In the section of the home with the children’s toys, I saw a book entitled “The Seven Chinese Brothers”. In the past I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. It sparked my interest this time though because of the topics we have discussed in class. My first thought was “Is this racist?” I was not able to actually read the entire story, however I read through various reviews and previewed the first 10 pages or so. Most of the reviews were positive; however they all seemed to come from users who appeared to be middle class Americans. So I decided to spend some time evaluating the contents myself as well as evaluating the reviews.
The story is said to be based off a Chinese folktale about a Chinese family with seven brothers. Each of the brothers had a special power. One had super ears that could hear anything from far away. Another had amazing eyesight, and could see for hundreds of miles. Other powers included super strength, immunity to heat, etc. The main plot involves the evil emperor imprisoning the strong brother feeling he is a potential threat to his kingdom. The brothers use all of their powers to outsmart the emperor and save their brother’s life.
Based off the story itself, there was a slight portrayal of Yellow Peril as we have the dominant image of the “evil emperor” who is a tyrant and scourge to all the land. This is lessoned since the other characters are still Chinese as well. However if we think of the affects on the minds of the children reading this story, I personally feel that it begins to build the conceptual maps the media portrays. This means that after reading this book, would it not be easier for them to accept the same images in future media images? I was glad to see though that although the author herself was not Chinese or Asian, the illustrator was. Several reviews I read contrasted this version of the story to past versions that had incorrect depictions of Chinese lifestyle and culture. So this means that some improvement is being made to show reality.
The cover of the book is perhaps what caught my attention the most (since it was the first thing I saw). Although it is intended for them to be brothers, it was unnerving that all of them look nearly the exact same. This only expands on the ASIAN idea that everyone in these races looks identical. Could they have tried to make some variety such as hair style, color tone, or something else? Another review did say that not all of the characters looked the same, so I am assuming that further along in the book we see more characters giving a wider range of physical features.
In concluding my analysis, I decided that I don’t think the book itself is racist, and it actually does an effective job of simply portraying this folktale for the audience of young children. My only concern is that it can become enlarged due to the media racial hegemony in our society. By seeing some truths in history/culture, the media can shape readers while they are young by choosing what characteristics (such as in a book like this one) to emphasize on. If a child sees identical brothers and an evil ruler in a Chinese book, the media can convince them that it applies to all Chinese people, the ultimate attribution error. Or they start framing the map that leads them to accept these images that limit Asians’ roles in society.