Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The First Cinderella (Yeh-Shen Number One)

her friend, the fish
Once upon a time in China, there lived a Cave Chief by the name of Wu. Like many rich men he not only had a lot of money, he had two wives. Both of them delivered baby girls, but alas, one of the mothers soon died leaving her orphan baby girl, Yeh-Shen unloved. The child was fed and clothed - and put to work as soon as she was old enough to walk. Her early years were bitter: never enough to eat, a kind word or a warm bed at the end of each day of toil. She did make one friend: a little fish watched her from the pond. Its golden eyes were intelligent and the sweet girl shared with it some crumbs. Soon it rested its head on the bank and waited for the little girl every morning. This friendship sustained Yeh-Shen, who always shared her meager meals with the fish. But one terrible day, the cruel stepmother discovers the secret of the fish with the golden eyes. She sends Yeh-Shen out on an errand, disguises herself under the girl's coat and goes to see the fish. Horrid woman! She spears the fish, killing it, then eats it for dinner. Returning home, Yeh-Shen weeps with horror. But an old man appears, a Magical Kind Uncle. He tells her to retrieve the fish bones for they are filled with a powerful spirit who will grant wishes if she is in great need. She gets the bones, and uses them to wish for food when she is starving. In this way, she grows to become a young lady. Spring comes and a festival is announced. How Yeh-Shen longs to go! Her stepmother and sister will, of course, but she has nothing but dirty rags to wear. She makes a wish on her fish bones and is given " a gown of azure blue, with a cloak of kingfisher feathers" and for her tiny feet " slippers woven of golden threads...in a pattern like the scales  of a fish...with soles [made of] solid gold. "So, she has the outfit and goes to the festival. Of course the king falls in love with the beautiful stranger, who runs away rather than answer questions about her family. And of course she loses her shoe. So the king sets up a pavillion and calls for all young ladies to come try the golden slipper on. Yeh-Shen waits until the blackest part of the night before finding the courage to to to the pavillion, where she tries the shoe on and matches it to its mate. She is observed and followed home where the king puts the shoe on her. Her rags are transformed and " her lovliness made her seem a beavenly being". She becomes queen. As for her stepmother and sister? "They remained in their cave home, where one day, it is said, They were crushed to death in a shower of flying stones. " Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China [VHS] (Louie, A.I. 1982 Puffin Books).
This is one of the most ancient Cinderella stories around, appearing in The Miscellaneous Record of Yu Yang, T'ang Dyasty 618. It is interesting to note that the helper animal here is a fish, thought by Marie Louise von Franz to represent " the deeper, least available contents of the unconscious self" (p. 114 The Interpretation of Fairy Tales). Fish help Cinderella in Tam and Cam, The Vietnamese Cinderella, and a water spirit in the form of a mermaid helps her out in some West Afrcian tales. Birds are the helper animals in many European versions. Jung and von Franz believed that  birds, including doves, ravens and peacocks represent elements of the Self which are intuitive, creative. They can represent darkness (raven) or light and hope (dove). (p. 66, 75, 119 von Franz).

1 comment:

Gillian Bagwell said...

This is great, Rachel! Who knew there were so many Cinderella stories!!

When I took Alan Dundes's folklore class at U.C. Berkeley, he told us that shoes in folklore symbolize female genitalia. So that perfect fitting shoe... Hmm.

He cited the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, who had so many children she didn't know what to do.