Tapping into a rich past
Chinese writers are now increasingly using tradition, folk stories and legends as sources of inspiration to create material for young readers. Yang Yang reports.
Yang Chenxi, an 8-year-old from Zhejiang province’s Huzhou, recently spent half of her summer holidays with her grandparents in the countryside in Suqian, Jiangsu province.
Every night before bed, the girl, a fan of Disney cartoons and My Little Pony, begged her grandmother, Li Yuehua, to tell her a story.
“I told her stories about how bad people who mistreated good people were punished, and stories about illiterate but cocky peoplewhomade mistakes when they tried to read Chinese characters. My granddaughter loved the stories and laughed a lot,” says Li.
Thankfully, for Chinese children like Yang, Western fairy tales like The Little Mermaid and Cinderella are not the only options when it comes to bedtime stories.
In recent years, Chinese writers have been using tradition, folk stories and legends to create books for children.
Wang Quangen, a professor of children’s literature at Beijing Normal University, is currently working on a series of six books based on stories from such Chinese classics as In Search of the Supernatural from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317-420), Classic ofMountains and Seas from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and Strange Stories from a Studio from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
For the series, calledChineseFairy Tales Passed on From Generation to Generation, Wang has chosen 217 stories and is rendering them into language children easily understand.
“We need to pick stories that will not only interest children today, but also cater to current tastes and values. Through these books, children should be able to see the virtues and the wisdom of the ancient Chinese,” saysWang.
Onthe cover of one of the books is an illustration from a story titled Maid Yexian, a tale similar to Cinderella.
It is a story from Miscellaneous Morsels fromYouyang about amaid named Yexian, who can make clothes using gold thread.
After her parents die, her treats her badly.
One day, she loses her shoe on her way back from a party, which leads to her encounter with her Prince Charming.
The tale, however, does not end like Cinderella.
The tale of the maid Yexian existed at least 800 years before Cinderella, but few Chinese know the story.
“From this perspective, series promotes classic tales stepmother this that have been forgotten,” saysWang.
Wang Lin, who has aPhDin children’s literature and is a promoter of children’s reading, says that in a globalized world — where language does not indicate nationality — the cultural genes of a nation are represented by the songs people sing, the books they read and the stories they listen to when they are young.
Last year, a set of three books based on mythical creatures in the Forbidden City (also known as the Palace Museum) was released and became very popular with children.
The series, called Mythical Creatures in the Forbidden City, features an 11-year-old girl called Li Xiaoyu whose mother worked in the Forbidden City; a white cat called Lihua that’s said to be a descendant of the cats raised by the emperors’ concubines; andmythical creatures that people see in the old palace, such as the stone statues on the roofs.
The writer, 37-year-old Chang Yi, lived near the palace as a child, and she grew up listening to tales and legends of the Forbidden City.
For her, the ancient palace was a big amusement park full of fabled beings.
Chang says she often went to the palace with her grandfather to look at the creatures.
But she finds are not so that today’s children interested in the Two popular series Forbidden City. They see it as a boring place full of buildings, or an attraction to which parents take their children to look for places they sawin a TV series.
She says she once heard a grandfather telling his grandson that the creature on the giant door of the palace was a lion. She corrected him.
“It’s called Jiao Tu, whose body is actually like that of a snail. It dislikes other creatures entering its den and always guards against any casual entry. So people put its head on doors,” she told the man and the boy.
Speaking about the characters featured in her books, Chang says that, in order to better understand and present the characteristics of the creatures, she referred to such works as The Classic of Mountains and Seas and In Search of the Supernatural.
She also created new plots for these mythical creatures to make the old legends and tales more acceptable for a modern readership.
The books have sold more than 240,000 copies.
Chang hopes that they can provide a reason for children to visit and learn about the Palace Museum.
are inspired by Chinese folk tales and legends.
A young reader and his mother look at publications at a Beijing book fair.