As part of the “Cinderella Around the World” series, I have chosen to look at Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China. Yeh-Shen, (also known as Ye Xian 叶限) is one of the world’s first Cinderella stories, and was published in the 9th century (!!!!) in an anthology of stories called Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang. Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story From China is the adaptation of this ancient fairy tale, retold by Ai-Ling Louie and wonderfully illustrated by Ed Young. If you do not have access to the book, you can read the full text here.
It would be fun to have your kids illustrate the story, after listening to you read it (though I might skip the last line).
The main story has familiar themes and characters: a poor girl who works hard, a wicked stepmother,the ugly, mean stepsister, a magical helper (in this case a kind fish with big, golden eyes), royalty looking for a wife, and a lost, precious slipper. Yeh Shen is a kind girl, who shares her small handful of rice with a magical fish in a nearby pond. When her evil stepmother kills and eats the fish, he comes back to help prepare her for a festival where young, unmarried men and women find suitors. When she is in danger of being recognized, she dashes away, leaving behind a golden slipper. The king looks for the owner, though no women fit into the tiny shoe. Yeh Shen attempts to take the slipper at night, but she is caught. After trying on the slipper, her identity is revealed and she marries the king.
Cultural Notes from Yeh Shen
The story originally appeared in a book that was written during the Tang dynasty (6l8-907 AD). A sort of renaissance period in Chinese history, China benefited from strong rulers, magnificent poets, and printed books which all contributed to a more unified culture.
Yeh Shen’s father was a cave chief in China. There are still over 30 million people who live in cave dwellings, mostly in the middle and western regions of China. Check out this video about Chinese cave homes, and ask your kids if they would be interested in living in a cave.
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In the story, Yeh Shen catches a fish and keeps it in a pond. It is believed that people began to hold carp in ponds during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD- close to when this story was recorded). After some genetic mutation, some of these carps displayed a gold tint rather than a silver coloration. People began to breed the gold variety and would keep them in a body of water, such as a pond. According to Feng Shui, a fish represents wealth and prosperity because the word in Chinese for “fish,” yú 魚, is so close to the word for “abundance,” yù 裕.
Finally, the festival mentioned in the book is the New Year celebration (also known as the Spring festival). This important holiday brought families together, and was a place where young people could meet with the possibility of finding a spouse. Traditionally, the wife would move into the husband’s family, and in this case, Yeh Shen would be relieved of her evil stepmother.
Additional Resources to Learn about Yeh Shen:
Watch this older (1980’s), animated version of the Yeh Shen story, put together by CBS’s Storybreak.
Here’s a pdf to some great lesson plans for Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China
Available at the Kid World Citizen Teachers Pay Teachers Store, these units are an incredible collection of Common Core aligned reading, writing, math, and critical thinking activities, as well as craftivities and coloring sheets. Kids have fun doing word problems, scrambles, graphing, a maze- and they learn about Chinese culture. Go now! >
Check out all of our Cinderella Around the World stories, with links and activities!