"Seven Chinese Brothers" as written by and Peter Buck Bill Berry....
This mellow, sweet, short-haired boy, woman offers pull up a seat
Take in one symphony now, we've just begun to battle
Wrap your heel in bones of steel, turn the leg, a twist of color
Autumn waited hold it to you in the colored come another

Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean
Seven thousand years to sleep away the pain
She will return, she will return

This mellow, sweet, short-haired boy, woman offers pull up a seat
Take in one symphony now, we've just begun to battle
Wrap your heel in bones of steel, turn the leg, a twist of color
Autumn waited hold it to you in the colored come another

Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean
Seven thousand years to sleep away the pain
She will return, she will return

This mellow, sweet, short-haired boy, woman offers pull up a chair
Take in one symphony now, I guess we lost that battle
Wrap your heel in bones of steel, turn the leg, a twist of color
Autumn waded seven seas swimming colored come

Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean
Seven thousand years the Communi did reign
She will return, she will return


Lyrics submitted by xpankfrisst

"Seven Chinese Brothers" as written by Peter Buck Bill Berry

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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Seven Chinese Brothers song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentMichael had this to say about the song in the April 08 issue of Spin magazine:

    "There are songs I wrote in the past that were gender-specific. 7 Chinese Bros. was about me breaking up a couple – and then dating both of them, a man and a woman, which is a terrible thing to do, but I was young and stupid.”

    In addition I read this interesting take on the song, below, from a site called Pop Songs 07-08:

    "In Bishop’s story (The Five Chinese Brothers)- which is based upon a Chinese folk tale – one of the brothers is able to hold the entire ocean in his mouth, and does so for a boy who wants to gather fish. The boy turns out to be greedy, and does not return to shore when he is beckoned. The brother is unable to breathe and is forced to let the ocean out, which in turn drowns the boy. The brother is later sentenced to death by the townsfolk.

    It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see why Stipe would relate his sordid scenario to this tale – it’s pretty clear now that he’s the selfish little boy in this story."
    Lantaon September 03, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti'm not sure what this song is about but i think it has to have something to do with the children's book "seven chinese brothers" which is similar to the story of "five chinese brothers" that i remember reading in grade school (the book itself was written in 1938). Each of the brother had a remarkable power. One brother could literally "swallow the ocean".
    toxicwasteon January 20, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMichael mentioned something in a recent SPIN article about this being about him breaking up a boy-girl couple and dating them both. And that south central rain was also about the same thing.
    randyl20on April 21, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis seems to describe a boy's first love affair (he is a boy, she is a woman). Things go awry ("turn the leg", "I guess we lost that battle"), but the boy, or the narrator, have confidence that she will return (to him). The seven (yes, five) Chinese brothers ultimately cannot fall prey to any harm: whatever comes of this affair or its loss, the boy will be fine. The "she" who returns may even be a different woman.
    rikdadon August 22, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI always thought of the Five Chinese Brothers story, which I had read in grade school as well, although I thought there were other more political nuances as well (although the "Communi" did not reign for 7,000 years).
    I felt the "boy" and "girl" were more metaphoric than literal.
    Major Valoron September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHmmm...always thought the line was, "The smell of sweet, short-haired boy-woman offers, 'Pull up a seat'" which I recognize isn't grammatical, but for Stipe that wouldn't be unusual. It makes sense in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way, packing two thoughts into one sentence.

    If "boy-woman" is actually intended, presumably it refers to a boyish-looking woman. Ambiguous gender seems a recurring theme for Stipe; in "Pretty Persuasion" on the same LP, "he" and "she" are used interchangeably. (Which makes you wonder whether the line "God damn your confusion" was Michael reproaching himself.)

    The verses begin by describing a chance meeting: in a manner almost straightforward, compared to the extreme obscurity of most of Stipe's lyrics during this period. Though this is followed by what appear to be superbly poetic descriptions of a series of visual impressions, skipping from one to the next in cinematic jump-cut fashion (which may be a far more accurate evocation of the way we perceive the world around us, compared to more conventional narrative).

    This song resists literal analysis, particularly given the jarring disconnect between the verses and chorus. Most of us have heard one or another version of the "Chinese brothers" story--and we can speculate endlessly as to what may be Stipe's metaphorical purpose(s) in employing it--but how is this in any way related to the rest of the song? Damned if I know.

    Never ever imagined "Communi"...I thought maybe "calm the united rain," which is likely a mondegreen but with early R.E.M. lyrics how could you know?
    foreverdroneon July 17, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThere's a reference to Achilles here, as his heel was his only vulnerable point ('wrap your heel in bones of steel').
    lucid42dayon December 21, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYeah, I heard that before (Stipe breaking up the couple), and since then the song's meaning has become somewhat more clear, but not by much. I think Stipe was simply using this as the basis for the song, and the song's imagery itself stems from the original idea in a stream-of-conscious sort of way. The "swallowing the ocean" part and the title were dead giveaways that this song is Stipe connecting the story of the Five Chinese Brothers to his situation, for whatever reason. I agree with the idea of him representing the selfish boy in this analogy. It would make the most sense. As for "South Central Rain" being about the same thing, I don't recall reading that in the interview, and I have a very different interpretation of that song's lyrics. I might be wrong, but I'm pretty positive that one has a completely different meaning. I can't see how the lyrics would make much sense with that interpretation at all.
    HyperBullyon February 25, 2011   Link

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