Fairy Tales in Different Cultures--Chinese Cinderella

In honor of the Chinese New Year, I thought I would share the Chinese Cinderella. Now, I have read in several sources that the oldest, written version of Cinderella came from China. It was recorded in Yu Yang Tsa Tsu (Miscellany of Forgotten Lore) written by Tuan Ch’ĂȘng-shih around 856-860 AD. (Source) I have found two slightly different versions to the story in picture books, but the main parts are the same. First we will look briefly at China.

China is the most populous country in the world and the second largest in land area. It is governed by a single political party, the Communist Party of China. Its capital is Beijing. The land and climate is diverse with deserts as well as mountains separating China from South and Central Asia. And it has subtropical forests along Southeast Asia and has the third and sixth-longest rivers (Yangtze and Yellow). It has 9,000 miles along the Pacific Ocean and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow, East and South China Seas.

View Larger Map

China boasts having one of the first ancient civilizations. For a millennia the Chinese political system was based on monarchies called dynasties. The first dynasty is somewhat mythological Xia Dynasty. Since 221 BC, the Qin Dynasty conquered several empires and expanded the China Empire. Since then the country has grown and decreased in size. In 1911, the Republic of China throw out the last Dynasty. In 1949 the People's Republic of China was established (post WW II). Since 1978, China has become the fastest growing major economy. China is a recognized nuclear weapon state and has the world's largest standing army.

China has some wonderful species of animals. An emblem of modern China is the giant panda bear. China is also home to horses, horse, camel, tapir, jerboa, various monkeys, apes, deer, antelope, bears, wolves, pigs and various rodents. It also has a large bamboo growth.

Now onto our books. The two books which retell the tale are Wishbones by Barbara Ker Wilson and Yeh-Shen by Ai-Ling Louie. In each book the main character has slightly different names (Wishbones is Yeh Hsien and in Yeh-Shen it is Yeh-Shen). One of the other main differences is that in Yeh-Shen her father dies and in Wishbones he is just afraid to speak up for his first daughter. The other major differences are how the main character dresses for the festival (spring festival or cave festival) and that in Wishbones the king sends his men out to try the slipper on all the young ladies in the kingdom. Here is a summary of Yeh-Shen.

In China a long time ago, a chief had two wives. Each wife gave birth to a daughter.  One of the wives became sick shortly after this and died. The chief died shortly after this as well. The remaining wife was stuck raising both daughters on her own. Her own daughter was not pretty and her stepdaughter, Yeh-Shen, was very pretty and kind.  The stepmother and stepsister were very jealous of Yeh-Shen and gave her the hardest and most unpleasant chores.
Yeh-Shen Doll

The only friend Yeh-Shen had was a fish that she caught and raised. It had beautiful golden eyes and would come out of the water and rest its head on the bank of the pond waiting for Yeh-Shen to feed it. Yeh-Shen shared the little bit of food her stepmother gave her with the fish.
Brian, Hazel's new fish

When the stepmother heard about the fish and Yeh-Shen feeding it, she became upset and went to try to catch it. The fish was smart and did not come to the surface. However the stepmother had a plan and went back to send Yeh-Shen to do an errand and told her to leave her old ragged coat behind so the neighbors would not see her in it. The stepmother put the coat on and went down to the pond and caught the fish and cooked it for supper. 

Yeh-Shen went to the pond and was overcome with grief when her friend did not come. As she cried into the pond a very old man came and told her what had become of her friend and what she needed to do to use the cruel act for her good. He told her to get the fishbones and keep them hidden since there is a powerful spirit inside them. Whenever she is in serious need of something she should kneel down before them and let them know her heart's desire. 

Yeh-Shen went and found the bones and hid them.  Often she asked the bones for food since she was hungry and stepmother did not give her enough to eat. Soon the spring festival time was approaching. This festival was where the young men and women hoped to meet  and to choose the person to whom they would marry. Yeh-Shen wanted to go, but her stepmother wanted to keep her home so the young men would not see the beautiful stepdaughter before seeing her not pretty daughter.

When the day arrived the stepmother told Yeh-Shen she must watch the fruit trees to make sure no one stole their fruit while she and her daughter were at the festival.  After they left, Yeh-Shen kneeled to the bones of her fish and told them how she longed to go to the festival, but she had nothing to wear. Instantly she found herself in a blue gown and a cloak of kingfisher feathers draped upon her shoulders and on her feet were the most beautiful golden slippers she had ever seen.  The spirit of the bones warned her not to lose her slippers.

Yeh-Shen turned many heads as she came to the festival. No one recognized her at first, but then she overheard her stepsister and stepmother commenting on how she looked a bit like Yeh-Shen. At that she ran away before they could get a closer look. Upon running she lost one slipper. Immediately she was back in previous old clothes except with one of the golden slipper s still on her foot. She ran home and kneeled before the bones trying to explain about the lost slipper, but the spirit did not speak to her. She was all alone again. She vowed to get the lost slipper back. Upset she went out to the fruit trees and cried and fell asleep. The stepmother had returned to check on her and found her sleeping under the fruit tree and decided there was no way the mysterious woman could have been her. 
Brian--Different view

Meanwhile the lost slipper was found by a villager who sold it to a merchant who recognized its worth and brought it to the king. The king became entranced by the slipper  that was made of pure gold, yet made no sound when it touched stone. He decided he must fine the woman to whom it belonged.
Yeh Hsien Doll

A search was started first with the ladies of his own kingdom, but no lady could fit into the tiny slipper. He decided he needed to start searching the neighboring villages where people lived in caves. This could take years to do, but he came up with a plan to make the woman come to him. He set up a pavilion where the slipper had been found and sent word about trying to return it to its rightful owner. Then he and his men hid watching as the woman of the village came to try it on. Yeh-Shen did not go near the pavilion during the day, but waited to the darkest part of the night. Then she looked at the slipper closely to make sure it was her lost slipper and started to make away with it.  The king was about to have his men seize her and throw her into prison but when he saw her face he was struck by the sweet harmony of her features.  He signaled to his men to let her go, and to follow her. 

Yeh-Shen was completely unaware of the king and his men. She went home and hid both slippers in her bedding. Then she heard a pounding on the door and she opened it to see the king. The king asked her to try on the slipper and she did as she was told. Putting both slippers on her feet and she once more was in the azure dress and feathered cloak. The king fell in love with her instantly. 

The king and Yeh-Shen were married. The king would not permit Yeh-Shen to bring her stepmother and stepsister with her to the palace. They remained in their cave home where they were crushed to death in a shower of flying stones.

In Wishbones the ending was more along the lines of while the stepmother and stepsister watched, Yeh Hsien  put on her fine blue and purple robe and the matching violet slipper and when with the messengers back to the palace. She brought her fish bones with her and the king wished for so much jade, jewelry and silk and gold in their first year of marriage that the fish bones refused to grant anymore wishes. They buried them by the sea and they were washed away. 

Our activities to go with these books were to get Hazel her own pet fish which she is mostly responsible for (she feeds it, but I clean the aquarium with her help). She loves going to check on him even when we are in the middle of doing something. And the name Brian is after her Pop. He thinks it is great.

We also made felt fish bones with the red head and tail and golden eyes like in both books. I thought of making them smaller to be bookmarks, but since she does not use book marks yet, I figured she could play with these. 

Here is my comparison paper for the different versions. I put both versions on this one.

Next week, I will share a Cinderella story on Sunday since the Virtual Book Club is on Monday. Oh, and this month's author is Dr. Seuss! 


  1. How neat to see "Cinderella" but for a different culture. Thanks for linking up at Family Fun Friday at Happy and Blessed Home!

    In His Grip,

  2. Love this version of Cinderella and the wonderful activities you have to go along with it. Thanks for celebrating Multicultural Children's Book Day with us.


I love to hear your comments and ideas. Thank you for reading and contributing!