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.

China Daily (USA) - - BOOK | LIFE - Con­tact the writer at yangyangs@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

DA WEI / CFP

A young reader and his mother look at publi­ca­tions at a Bei­jing book fair.

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