Once upon a time, "in Southern China, so the old scrolls say, there lived a girl named Yeh-Hsien. Even as a child, she was clever and kind. As she grew up, she knew great sorrow, for her mother died, and then her father too. Yeh-Hsien.was left in the care of her stepmother." Now, this woman had a girl of her own, and two mouths ate more than one. If only, she thought to herself, little Yeh-Hsien.had an accident. So she made her do the hardest chores, and sent her "to collect firewood from the most dangerous forests and draw water from the deepest pools." But in spite of this, Yeh-Hsien.managed to remain cheerful, for she had a secret friend. He was a tiny red fish, "with golden eyes". Once she had discovered him, she began saving grains of her rice, and feeding them to the pretty creature. Now it bobbed to the surface when it saw her, splashing over as close to the bank as it could come. It grew to a wonderful size. Of course, the stepmother and her daughter wanted to know how that wretched girl could stay happy, no matter how they treated her. So when they began to suspect that Yeh-Hsien.had a secret, the stepmother said to her daughter,"Why don't you follow her, and find out?' This the girl did, and so learned the secret. So the stepmother made a nasty plot: she tricked Yeh-Hsien.into taking off her ragged dress by giving her a new one. Then, when the girl had been sent out to play, as a treat for her hard work. the stepmother "pulled on the ragged dress, and hurried to the pond. Hidden up her sleeve, she carried a knife. The fish saw Yeh-Hsien's dress and in a moment, raised his head out of the water. In the next, the stepmother plunged in her dagger. The huge body flapped onto the bank. Dead."Then she went home, built up the fire, and roasted the fish. She declared that it was delicious, and "between them, the stepmother and her daughter ate up every last bit of Yeh-Hsien's friend." When Yeh-Hsien.came home from her wandering, she went straight to the pond to show her friend her new gown, and tell him of her delightul day. He was gone. When she realized what must have happend, Yeh-Hsien.sobbed uncontrollably. "She did not notice the old man floating down from the sky....His hair was loose and his clothes were coarse but his eyes were full of compassion. 'Don't cry.'he said gently. 'Your stepmother killed your fish and hid the bones in the dung heap. Go fetch the bones. They contain powerful magic. Whatever you wish for, they will grant it." So Yeh-Hsien.followed his directions, and in this way, she began to have enough food to eat, and shoes to wear, and clothing to keep her warm. When she held the bones, "they felf smooth and cool and heavy in her hands." They reminded her of her friend. Soon the season of the Plum Blossoms came, and the Spring Festival. It was the time to honor one's ancestors, and for young people to make new friends. Oh, how Yeh-Hsien.wished she could go! But her stepmother forbade it, saying, "You must stay here to guard the fruit trees." Well, they could not stop her wishing! As soon as they were gone, she took out her friend's bones, and wished. In an instant "she was clothed in a robe of silk, and her cloak was crafted from kingfisher feathers....On her feet were shoes of gold." Now Yeh-Hsien. ran to the festival. There she "could smell tender meats sizzling and warm, spiced wine. She could hear music, singing, laughter. " Such a joyful time! Many, many people wondered who this lovely new-comer could be. But her stepmother grew suspicious. Yeh-Hsien.could feel the malevolence of her eyes,and began to run. But she was in such a state of nervousness that, without knowing it, she lost one of her golden slippers. Once home, she changed back into her rags, flopped down on the grass, and embraced a tree as though it were a friend. That is how her stepmother found her. "And what happened to the golden shoe? It lay hidden in the long grass, washed by rain and beaded by dew." It caught the eye of someone walking one day, and this person sent it to the king, as a gift. He said, "This slipper is exquisite. If I can find the woman who fits such a shoe, I will have found a wife." And he gave orders that every single woman in his kingdom, beginning with those in his own household, must try on the shoe. Many tried, but none could wear it. Finally, the king had an idea. He laid the shoe along a country path, and set spies to watch for anyone who picked it up. When a raggedy girl did, and took it into her hut, the king's men followed her, and banged on the door. They made her open up and searched the house. They found the shoe, and made the girl try it on. "The stepmother and stepsister watched with mouths agape as Yeh-Hsien.went to her hiding place . She returned wearing her cloak of feathers and both her golden shoes. She was as beautiful as a heavenly being. And the king knew that he had found his love." So they were married, and "there were lanterns and banners, gongs and drums, and the most delicious delicacies. The celebrations lasted for seven days." Now that all of her wishes had come true, Yeh-Hsien.asked her husband to come with her to honor her fish friend. They floated the bones out on the tide, and "the spirit of the fish was free to swim in sun-sparkled seas forever."
From: Yeh-Hsien, a Chinese Cinderella Retold by Casey, D. & Holland, R. (2006)Yeh-Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella (Folk Tales) (Chinese Edition)Yeh-Hsien a Chinese Cinderella in French and English (Folk Tales) (English and French Edition) Yeh-Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella (Folk Tales) (Vietnamese Edition)
London: Mantra Lingua Ltd. Vietnamese/English bilingual
Montessori Connection: Geography/Asia/China/Vietnam
1. Read this story and compare it to Yeh-Shen, by Ail Ling Luie.
2. Do both stories take place in China?
3. Why do you think this book is bilingual in Vietnamese instead of Chinese?