Cinderella is one of the world’s best known and loved fairy tales. The story, which appears in various forms in many cultures, appears to have originated in China approximately 1000 years ago. The Chinese story, retold here by Dawn Casey, contains many of the elements of the more modern (European) versions that readers may be familiar with. Our clever and kind heroine Yeh-Hsien is orphaned and left to the care of her tyrannical stepmother and stepsister. She is dressed in rags, given “hardly a scrap to eat,” and is forced to do the hardest chores. Yeh-Hsien’s only friend is a fish she secretly has raised with “food and with love.” When her stepmother discovers Yeh-Hsien’s secret, she is consumed with desire to capture and eat the fish. Wearing one of Yeh-Hsien’s ragged robes, the stepmother lures the fish to her, and kills and eats Yeh-Hsien’s only friend. When Yeh-Hsien realizes that her friend is gone, she crumples to the ground weeping. Suddenly an old man floats down from the sky and reveals what happened to her friend. He tells her to fetch the fish bones, as they contain a powerful magic that will grant all her wishes. Soon spring arrives. Yeh-Hsien’s stepmother and stepsister head to the Spring Festival, ordering Yeh-Hsien to stay and guard the fruit trees. Yet Yeh-Hsien is determined to go. She uses the fish bones to wish for a robe of silk, a dazzling cloak of kingfisher feathers, and shoes of gold. She attends the festival, but when she is recognized by her stepmother, she flees, losing one of her slippers. The slipper is found and taken to the king, who vows to marry its owner. He leaves the shoe by the wayside where Yeh-Hsien finds it and carries it home. The king and his men follow her home, and in front of her disbelieving stepmother and stepsister, Yeh-Hsien goes to her hiding place, finds her beautiful clothing and returns with both golden shoes. Of course Yeh-Hsien becomes the king’s bride. The Chinese version of Cinderella is similar to, yet delightfully different from the more recognized European or Disney interpretations of the story. I found Yeh-Hsien to be a stronger character than the heroine in these other Cinderella tales. In the Chinese story, it is Yeh-Hsien herself who decides to go to the festival and makes it happen because she is “so determined.” I also enjoyed the beautiful descriptive language of the story - “looking as graceful as the willow that sways with the wind…” Although this book is recommended for children ages 4-8, older children who appreciate fairy tales also would find this version of Cinderella appealing.
- Maureen Barlow Pugh, Culture Connection Newsletter
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