Robin Redbreast

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cinderella #42 Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society (2005)

Map used by the Secret Dragon Society.

Note: Contains violence. Once upon a time in China, in the year 1942, there lived a nine year old girl named Ye Xian.  She lived in the city of Shanghai with her father, and his new wife.  Ye Xian’s mother had died, and today, the girl was on her way home from school. This is how her story begins: It was a sunny afternoon in early spring when I set off after school to Big Aunt’s place for my daily English lesson.  I was thinking about a kung fu novel I was reading, about a warrior monk with an iron hand as I hopped off the tram near the Du Mei Gardens, opposite my aunt’s apartment. “ She is delayed on her way by the sight and sound  of a large crowd gathering in the park.  There is a troop of acrobats performing, boys of eleven and twelve years old.  She stops to watch, and accepts a card from one of them.  It reads: 
        Martial Arts Academy. Plaza in Du Mei Gardens and 2200 Avenue Pétain, Shanghai
“We help the oppressed and downtrodden. We show the tao— way—to those who are
         lost. Martial Arts, Judo, Karate, Boxing, Kickboxing, Acrobatics. Chinese Classics. Poetry.                         
         Calligraphy. Brush Painting. Music. 
When Ye Xian arrives, she finds that her aunt has company.  At first she is not pleased but the gentleman, Master Wu, soon shows his kindness, and the three of them enjoy speaking English together.   He kindly asked how her life was at home, after Big Aunt told the story of her mother’s death.  Ye Xian told of her stepmother, who was cold and cruel.  Her father had ordered her to call the woman Niang, “another term for mama”.  As they talked, Big Aunt and Master Wu feel deeper concern for the girl, especially under the circumstances of war.  “ From outside came the sound of hammering as workers erected wooden arches for the parade to celebrate the Japanese takeover of Singapore. ‘ History will repeat itself, just like the Cinderella story in the English version, Chinese version, or any version. ‘ ’ Many of my friends tell me its fashionable to have an English name as well as a Chinese name nowadays.’ I said, changing the subject.  ‘I’d love to have an English name!’.  ‘I think Cinderella is perfect for you’ Master Wu said, ‘ It’s the English equivalent of your Chinese name, Ye Xian!’ ‘Yes,’Big Aunt agreed, ‘ Chinese Cinderella—but that’s such a mouthful.  Why don’t we just use the initials and call you C.C?’ And that is how I got my English name, C.C.”  That evening she phones her father, who gives her permission to stay the night with Big Aunt.  But the next day when C.C. Gets home from school, her step-Niang is waiting for her.  “ Come here.’ she commanded.  I approached her gingerly, trembling with fear.  Without getting up, she extender her arm and slapped my cheek.  It was so hard I almost fell.  “Why did you slap me? What did I do wrong?’ ‘Shut up!’she shrieked, slappiing me again.  ‘This is for staying out all night without permission. ‘ ‘That’s not true’ I cried. ‘ I did get permission.’ ‘What about me? think I am nobody, don’t you? You and that slut aunt of yours.’ ‘Don’t call my aunt a slut!’ ‘ Who are you to tell me what to call your aunt? You miserable nuisance! I’ll call her whatever I want!’’If anyone is a slut,’ I said recklessly, ‘it’s you!’.  This time Niang did not slap me but placed her cold hands around my throat.  I felt her long, sharp nails digging into my as she squeezed with all her might.  Desperate for air, I wriggled and kicked in a furious attempt to get free.  I was certain that she was going to kill me.  I had a crazy vision of my limp and lifeless body lying in a child’s coffin...with one desperate effort, I opened my mouth wide, pulled wildly at her hair and sank my teeth into her arm.” Because of this, Ye Xian’s father, alerted by the noise, says, “ How dare you bite your mother? Obvioiusly, you’re not happy living here. ‘ ‘She was choking me to death’ protests C.C, but her father answers,’ You are the child and she is your Niang! She has every right to punish you in whatever way she wishes. ‘ ‘Even if she kills me?’ ‘ Don’t be ridiculous! dare you! Get out of my house this minute and never come back!’ He was in such a rage that he grabbed the back of my school uniform and lifted me off the floor as if I were a kitten.  Then he marched to the back door, dumped me outside and slammed the door behind me.  On the streets of Shanghai, Japanese soldiers were everywhere...”  Now C.C. Remembers the card in her pocket, and goes to the address listed for the Dragon Society of Wandering Knights.   She is taken in and fed, and watches while fortunes are read.  “ The sight of the fortune teller reminded me of my own misfortune and desperate future.  Terrified of spending the night alone on the streets of Shanghai, I dropped to my knees in front of Grandma Wu. ‘Please don’t send me back to my stepmother,’ I pleaded. ‘ Take me home with you and let me join your society.’ This does come to pass.   C.C. Settles into the society’s routine.  “ The morning continued with the boys doing a series of exercises and drills: kicking, footwork, punches, knife-hand thrusts, and speed drills.   She trains and slowly learns their moves.  Meanwhile, she becomes friends with them and learns their stories. Each of them is of mixed race, reviled, and called “ The insults weren’t as bad as the jokes, ‘ Sam continued bitterly. ‘I would go to school in the mornings wondering what awful prank my classmates were going to pull next...then, on November ninth, 1938, the Gestapo came in the middle of the night and took Papa away.  That night is called Krystallnacht by us Jews... [it] means ‘night of shattered glass’.  That was the night when the Nazis broke into Jewish homes and smashed the windows of Jewish stores all through Germany.  All night long, I kept hearing screams...”   The months pass, and C.C. Continues training with the boys, going to school, and learning to cook.  She and the boys go along with Grandma Wu on a mission to Nan Tian Island, a cause for celebration. “ My heart leaped!  Big Aunt was at Nan Tian Island! Perhaps I would see her again.  Grandma Wu turned to Dr. Chen and said, ‘I’ll write a note to Agent 0958 ...Please send it off by pigeon post immediately! Let’s keep in touch the same way.’  C.C. Is reunited with her aunt, who calls out, “ My precious little treasure!” over and over when she sees her.  But they cannot stay together.  There is an air raid on Tokyo planned.  It will be led by Jimmy Doolittle and the Doolittle Raiders.  (see historic notes) and the Dragon Society will safeguard pilots who crash land.  When the time comes to make a detailed plan, C.C. Is left alone to brief the other agents.  “ What a sweet moment! I knew then that I had well and truly earned my place in the Dragon Society of Wandering Knights.  We were about to face our biggest challenge together.”  They must free the pilots being held in barbaric conditions after capture, and the plan takes advantage of chaos in the streets during the Dragon Boat Festival.  “At precisely 10:15 a.m. Four emaciated men clambered awkwardly over the rear wall of Bridge House and slid down a rope, one after another.”  Yet there are terrible repercussions for some of C.C.’s companions as they complete the rescue.  She and her friends have all lost so much, and now they are beginning to lose themselves to bitterness.  Master Wu counsels them, “  The Tao of Heaven is the Source of our Conscience.  It manifests itself through kindness, morality, and clarity of judgement.  When people acquire the Tao of Heaven, it becomes part of their nature.  They become virtuous and happy.”   Later, when C.C. weeps uncontrollably, all three boys, David, Sam, and Marat approach her, and David tells her, “ Remember, you are our Xiao Mei, little sister, a fellow member of the Dragon Society of Wandering Knights.  Besides, we need you for future missions.  This is just the beginning. ‘...Sam nodded and took out his  piece of yellow silk [which his mother had given him].  The four of us held hands and chanted in one voice:  We are in China at this moment in history for a reason.  We are here to make a difference.  We are children of destiny who will unite East and West and change the world.  The future belongs to us!”
Yen Mah, Adeline (2005). New York: HarperCollins. 
Notes: Due to realistic violence I recommend this book for ages 10+.  It is a genuine Cinderella story, marked by the following characters: 
  • cruel stepmother
  • cowardly/unloving father
  • assistance by birds (pigeon post)
  • assistance by other animals ( dolphin, Giant Panda)
  • rags to riches aspect, in this case, C.C's family has treated her like a rag, and when she is taken into the Dragon Society, she becomes rich with love and companionship.  
The animals that help them, the dolphin and panda are native to China.  Dolphins have a long history of serving as helpers to human beings who are drowning in the ocean and appear in fables and legends of many countries.  This book has a glossary of phrases and Chinese characters.  
Montessori Connection 10-12: An Education for Peace/Window Into War
Maria Montessori was an advocate of peace and a survivor of war.  She wrote,"Upon peace the very life of the world depends, perhaps even the progress or decay of our entire civilization.  How strange that there exists  no science of peace - no science comparable to the development of armaments and strategies in the science of war. " (1989. Peace and Education).  
Many Montessori schools follow her curriculum for teaching peace in a variety of ways.  Yet the concept of peace is meaningless without an understanding of war.  This book provides a window into the lives of children during wartime.  I recommend it for children ages 10+.  Other titles for learning about war includeAnne Frank - The Diary of a Young GirlI Dream of Peace: Images of War by Children of Former YugoslaviaZlata's Diary: A Child's Life in SarajevoGirl of Kosovo