If you spend some time studying the western and eastern culture, you will find the two do have a lot in common.
bet you must know the rags-to-riches fairy tale of Cinderella. The
most popular version of this story is believed to be written by Charles
Perrault in 1697. But, you may not know that in 850 A.D. in China, the
first written Cinderella story named Ye Xian （叶限, also known as
Teh-Shen） already appeared in a book called Miscellaneous Morsels from
Youyang which was once quite famous for collecting a big number of
The Chinese version of Cinderella is very
similar with its European counterpart but a thousand years older than
it! And surprisingly, that’s not even the oldest one. According to some
experts, the story of Cinderella can date back to ancient
Greco-Egyptian times. It is thought that the story emerged sometime in
the first century.
Here’s the Chinese Cinderella story. Enjoy it.
Ye Xian: The Chinese Cinderella
Long, long time ago, there was a village
chief named Wu in south coast of China. He married two wives.
Unfortunately, One of them died after giving birth to a baby girl .
After growing into a young lady, the girl was extremely beautiful and
had a remarkable gift for embroidery and spinning. Chief Wu liked her
very much and named her Ye Xian. Before long, Chief Wu died too leaving
Ye Xian to be reared by her stepmother. The mean woman did not like Ye
Xian for she was prettier and smarter than her own daughter so she
treated her poorly. Apart from giving her the worst jobs like collecting
firewood and drawing water, she and her daughter often mock at her,
while Ye Xian always silently did her work without any complaint.
One day, while drawing water, Ye Xian found a lovely little fish with
big golden eyes and red fins. She loved it so much that she took it home
and put it into a big bowl. Though the young lady had little food for
herself, she was willing to share with the fish. Under her care, the
small fish grew up every day, soon being too big for a bowl. Ye Xian had
to move it to a pond nearby. Each time she approached to the pond, the
fish would come out of the water onto the bank to greet her. It became
her only friend companying her in her hard time.
stepmother heard about the fish. Angry that Ye Xian had found
happiness, she planed to kill the fish. She followed Ye Xian to the pond
and saw the fish from the distance. But as long as she came onto the
bank, the fish immediately sinked into the deep water. So the next day,
the malicious woman made Ye Xian go carry water from a new place far
away from their house, and then she put on her step daughter's clothes
and imitate her voice to call the fish. Unaware of this deadly trap, the
innocent creature floated up to greet its friend as usual. When it
clearly saw the dagger in the bad woman's hand, it was too late.
Xian's step mother cruelly killed the fish on the bank, cooked its
flesh and deeply buried its bones with rubbish. Ye Xian was distraught
when she learned of the fish’s death. But she could do nothing but cry
on the bank. As she was mourning for her friend, an old man wearing the
coarsest of clothes and with hair hanging down over his shoulders flew
down from the sky and landed by her side.
cry", he said, "I know where the fish bones were buried. You go there,
dig them out, keep them secretly. When you are in bad need, you could
pray to the bones which would give you what you want. But memorize,
don't be greedy, otherwise, you will be punished by the God." Then, the
old man leaded Ye Xian to a abandoned cellar, disappearing.
Xian retrieved her friend's remains there and hid them in a safe
place. Remembering the warning of the old man, Ye Xian rarely used the
magic bones until Cave Festival which was an important local festival
when the young people gathered in the village to meet one another and to
find husbands and wives. Every young girl was keen on going to the
festival in beautiful dress. Ye Xian was not an exception, but she knew
that her stepmother would not allow it because she feared that someone
would pick Ye Xian rather than her own daughter, which meant she would
lose her half property to pay her step daughter's dower. Moreover, Ye
Xian did not have any decent clothes.
the stepmother and her daughter left for the festival, desperate Ye
Xian asked the bones for clothes to wear to the festival. Suddenly she
was wearing a sumptuous gown of kingfisher feathers. On her feet were a
pair of shining golden shoe which were magically lighter than a feather
and did not make any noise while touching stone floor.
arrived at the festival and soon all were looking her way. Attracted by
her charm, young men circled her dancing and singing; shocked by her
beauty, young ladies looked at her from the distance with envy
complaining the stranger stole their thunder. Ye Xian's step sister was
one of them. After a while staring, she screamed to her mother: "Look!
mom, she just looks like my sister!" They both started moving towards
Ye Xian to have a clearer look. At the same time, Ye Xian too
recognized them in the crowd. Seeing that she would be found out, Ye
Xian dashed out of the festival leaving behind one of the golden shoes.
On reaching home she quickly change back into her rags and
pretended to be sleeping under a tree in the yard. When her step mother
and sister came back, they found nothing unusual.
Ye Xian's lost shoe was found by a merchant and a few months later sold
to the king of Tuo Han (陀汗), a strong kingdom of tens of islands,
covering thousands of miles.
Fascinated by the delicate ladies
shoe, the young king could not resisted yearning for its owner. He
ordered his ministers to travel round the kingdom with the shoe and
bring back any lady who could fit in it. But no one was found, because
the shoe could magically change its size. No matter how tiny a girl's
foot was, the shoe was always a inch shorter than it. The eager king
called in the merchant again for inquiring of the spot where the shoe
was found, only to know it was somewhere near a mountain in mainland.
king himself sailed off to the mountain right away. To his
disappointed, it was a remote and poor area. He could not believed that
the owner of the golden shoe could live there. But he still had his men
search every house of the neighbor villages for the other shoe.
Finally, they found it and the gown that Ye Xian had worn to the
festival in her bed-drawer.
Ye Xian was taken to the king.
Pretty as she was, the king yet doubted that the village girl in rags
would be the one he had been longing for day and night. So he asked her
to try on the shoes and clothes. After a while, from the shabby
cottage was walking out a lady beautiful like a fairy. A charming smile
was shining on her angelic face, the splendid gown was wrapping her
appealing body, and the golden shoes were the perfect fitting for her
feet. At the moment, the king realized that she was the one for him.
The step mother and sister begged for forgiveness, and Ye Xian forgave them for their cruelties.
The king took Ye Xian back to his kingdom where they married and lived happily ever after.
Background and Writer Comment:
Do you like this story? I'll be very happy if you do. :) But
I have to tell you that this story was not finished yet. In order not
to destroy the classic fairy tale theme of Cinderella, I made up a happy
ending for it. In fact, the original ending is quite boring and
superfluous. Just like a old Chinese idiom going: " Paint a snake with
feet (gild the lily)", it ruins the story. Yet, to present you a
complete story, I added it here.
The step mother and sister were
left and continued to live in their village until the day they were
killed in a shower of flying stones from nowhere. The local who felt
sorry for them buried them in a stone pit and called it the tomb of
regretful women (懊女冢, ao nu zhong).
Some year after returning his
kingdom, the king were greedy for treasure. Praying to the fish bones,
he obtained a lot of gems. But next year when he did it again, the bones
seemed to lose its magic power. Now He buried them with many pearls in a
secret place and made a mark with a block of gold. A couple of years
later, some soldiers revolted against him. The king wanted to dig the
pearls out to award his loyal army. But one night before he did that,
the sea flooded the hidden treasure spot, so the bones and the pearls
It isn't a good ending, is it? But Why? Didn't the author want his story sound beautiful?
To answer it, I have to talk a little about how a modern, classic folklore comes into being.
all know that folklores are passed down from old generations. Thus,
they are "their" (I mean old generations) stories not ours. They tends
to contain some things easy appreciated by "them" but hard by us.
Furthermore, due to the shortage of processing of professional writers,
they are often badly organized and even incomplete. These can be seen in
many classic folklores.
For example, in the early version of
Little Red Cap, the story ended right after the little girl was
swallowed by the wolf. There was neither good hunter rescuing her and
her grandmother nor the bad wolf drowning in the well. Similarly, in the
early version of Cinderella, generous forgiveness and friendly
reconciliation were replaced by cruel revenge -- the two step sisters
were pecked to blindness by birds instead of being forgiven and marrying
two lords as depicted in the modern version.
This story was
translated from the most original version of Ye Xian written in
classical Chinese. In other words, it is at least 1,100 years old and
therefore inevitably has the above issues. Besides, the book that
collected Ye Xian was a collection of novel stories. According to
Chinese writing tradition, the authors of this kind of books would
rather loyally recorded the stories that they heard of than artistically
If you like the modern version of this story
which may be more suitable for the taste of people today, please click
here to the modern version of The Chinese Cinderella.
Other Versions of Cinderella
Cinderella Ye Xian was originally produced by Zhuang people, a Chinese
minority in south coast of China where many different nations living
together such as Miao (苗), Zhuang (壮), Dai (傣), Bai (白) and so on.
late Tang dynasty, a government official named Duan Cheng Shi (段成式
803-863AD) heard of this story from his servant Li Shi Yuan (李士元) from
the south coast of China and recorded it in his book .
Shi, a son of a prime minister, was a famous poet and writer at that
time, but his most remarkable contribution to Chinese culture was his
book --Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang (酉阳杂俎, you yang za zu). When
he was a child, his biggest ambition was to know everything in the
world. So through his whole life, he had been collecting and learning
all kinds of knowledge. All who knew him thought that he was the most
knowledgeable scholar in Tang dynasty.
Miscellaneous Morsels from
Youyang was the result of his decades of collection. Youyang refers to
the south slope of Mount You, a small hill located in what is now
Huaihua, Hunan provicne. The book was written in the 9th century, and is
divided in to 30 volumes, containing unusually varied content, like
historical events, novel stories, scientific findings and various
knowledge about astronomy, geography, architecture, religion, music, and
jewelry, in over thirteen hundred entries that describe the world that
Duan Chengshi heard about, read of, or personally observed.
Xian was in Chapter 21 of the book. The story was allegedly told by his
servant Li Shi Yuan (李士元) , a native from the south coast of China. The
exact location is unknown, but the most likely candidate is Nanning, the
capital of Guangxi province of China.
Source of The Chinese Cinderella
There are two different opinions on source of The Chinese Cinderella in China.
Some scholars argued that the south coast of China is the only source of this story. They mainly have two points:
According to the local customs, hand-sewed shoes are a kind of important pledge of love that a girl gives to her lover.
In ancient time, magic fish worship was popular in the south coast of China.
other scholars think that the most original inspiration of Ye Xian was
from the tale of Rhodopis recorded by Greek historian Strabo
(Geographica Book 17, 1.33) in the 1st century BC. They too have two
The ways in which a king found the lost ladies shoe are very similar in the two stories.
The south coast of China had a close business association with other
countries even in ancient time. It is highly possible that the tale of
Rhodopis was transmitted into China by some businessmen or sailors.
In recent years, growing evidences have supported the second opinion.
since the tale of Rhodopis does have some basic plots that a complete
story of Cinderella theme should include, like a wicked step mother and
step sisters, a party, magical transformations etc, they both agree that
Ye Xian is technically the first written and complete version of
Cinderella theme story.
The Original Version of The Tale Of Rhodopis
Ancient Egypt, a Greco-Egyptian girl Rhodopis, "rosy-cheeked", lived in
the Greek colony of Naucratis. One day, when she was bathing, an eagle
snatched one of her sandals from her maid and carried it to Memphis. The
eagle, when it arrived above the head of the king who was administering
justice in the open air, flung the sandal into his lap. And the king,
stirred both by the beautiful shape of the sandal and by the strangeness
of the occurrence, sent men in all directions into the country in quest
of the woman who wore the sandal. Finally they found Rhodopis in the
city of Naucratis. She was brought up to Memphis, became the wife of the