|She saw a pretty little fish with red fins and golden eyes.|
Note: contains violence. Once upon a time, in China, "there lived a cave-master called Wu. People called the place the Wu Cave." The cave-master had two wives, and each bore a baby girl. Sadly, one wife died. Now the second wife had two baby girls to care for and she did not appreciate this one bit. Since this second little girl, whose name was Yeh-hsien, turned out to be "intelligent and good at making pottery on the wheel", the stepmother especially resented her. But Yeh-hsien's father loved her, and saw to it that she had all she needed for comfort. This changed the day he died. Alas for poor Yeh-hsien, she was left alone with a step mother who plotted to be rid of her. It became the woman's custom to "always order her to collect fire wood in dangerous places and draw water from deep pools." Once, while the girl was filling her water jugs, she "caught a fish about two inches long with red fins and golden eyes". She took the little thing home, fed it some rice, and kept it in a dish of water. The next morning, the fish had doubled in size. Yeh-hsien found a bigger bowl. Carefully, she filled it with fresh water and sprinkled a bit of rice for the fish over it. The next morning, the fish had doubled in size again! Now Yeh-hsien knew that she must return the fish to the pool. The girl did this, and came every day to that place to fill her jugs. Every time she arrived, the fish was waiting for her, "its head on the bank". Now the stepmother became jealous of the time Yeh-hsien spent at the pool. She spied on the girl, and observed the fish, which was now nearly ten feet long! The next day, "she tricked the girl, saying,'Haven't you been working hard! I am going to give you a new dress." And she took her stepdaughter's ragged cloak and gave her a new silk gown. Then she sent the child "to get water from a spring that was very far away." As soon as she was gone, the stepmother disguised herself in Yeh-hsien's old cloak and went to the pond. The moment the big fish put its head on the bank, the wicked woman chopped its head off with the knife she had brought. Then she carried it home and cooked it and "when she had served it up, it tasted twice as good as any ordinary fish. She hid the bones under the dung hill." When Yeh-hsien went to the pond the next morning, no fish appeared. Realizing what must have happened, she was beside herself with grief. "Suddenly, there appeared a man with his hair loose over his shoulders, dressed in coarse clothes. He descended from the sky, and he consoled her saying,'Don't cry so! Your stepmother has killed the fish and its bones are under the dung-heap. Go back, take the fish's bones and hide them in your room. Whatever you want, you have only to ask the fishes bones for it." So the girl did this, and "from then on she was able to provide herself with gold, pearls, dresses, and food whenever she wanted them." Now every year, there was a cave festival. All the villagers dressed in their finest and went to celebrate, but Yeh-hsien was left at home, "to keep watch over the fruit trees in the garden". And then she went to the bones, and wished for finery to wear to the festival. She received " a cloak of material spun from kingfisher feathers, and shoes of gold." At the festival, Yeh-hsien watched acrobats and dancers, and enjoyed herself tremendously. But then her stepmother and sister passed by, and kept staring at her. She was afraid that they recognized her! Yeh-hsien ran all the way home, and in her haste, she lost one of her golden shoes. "When her stepmother got home, she found the girl fast asleep, with her arms round one of the trees in the garden, and thought no more about it. The cave was near an island in the sea, and on this island was a kingdom called T'o-han. " Now, when Yeh-hsien had lost her shoe, a man picked it up. It was such a pretty thing, the man was sure that he could sell it for a few pieces of gold. This he did, and the shoe changed hands several times, until finally, "it was brought before the king." He was determined to find out where the dainty thing had come from, and desired greatly to see the girl who could wear it. " He ordered all the women of the court to put it on, but it was too small for even the one among them that had the smallest foot." The king was not discouraged. He commanded that every female in his kingdom try the shoe on. The shoe seemed to have taken some magical hold over the ruler, and he could not rest. "It was as light as down, and made no noise even when treading on stone." At last, the king and the golden shoe arrived at the home of Yeh-hsien. Of course her sister demanded the right to try it on first, and her stepmother tried to dissuade the king from letting her stepdaughter try it on at all, but he would not listen. Now Yeh-hsien slipped into the shoe, and "it fitted her perfectly. She put on the other shoe, and her cape of feathers, and she was as beautiful as as a heavenly being." And so the king married her, and she took the magic fish bones with her. All went well at first, but then the king became greedy. He asked the bones for "jade and pearls wtihout limit. The next year, the fish bones no longer granted his requests. He buried them by the sea shore and covered them with a hundred bushels of pearls, and after a while, they were washed away by the tide." As for the stepmother and her daughter, they "were struck by flying rocks, and died. The cave people buried them in a stone pit, which was called the Tomb of the Two Women." Young men in love came there and prayed, and left offerings. And, if they were very lucky, the girl they prayed for would become their wife."
From The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series: Cinderella. Sierra, J. (1992)Cinderella (The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series); see also Multicultural Folktales for the Feltboard and Readers' Theater; Beauties and Beasts: (The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series)
Notes: This author has also done a lovely retelling of The Gift of the Crocodile, a Cinderella story from the Spice Islands. The Oryx volume contains twenty five Cinderella stories, each with notes. It is a fabulous resource!
Montessori Connection: History/Timeline of People/Ancient Cultures/China
1. Learn that this story dates to the first century of the Common Era.
2. Learn about the languages of China and the development of writing:History of Writing or Learning with Lulu-Chinese Mandarin Level 1 & CD (Learning with Lulu) or Hippocrene Children's Illustrated Chinese (Mandarin) Dictionary: English-Chinese/Chinese-English (Hippocrene Children's Illustrated Foreign Language Dictionaries)
3. Learn about the history of China:The Ancient Chinese (People of the Ancient World) or Chinese Art & Culture (World Art & Culture)
4. Read a modern story about a girl who faces very hard times alone: Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society by Adeline Yen Mah