Sunday, January 20, 2013

Early Cinderella: Yeh-hsien

From my book, Cinderella Tales From Around the World:

The story of Yeh-hsien, also known as Yeh-Shen and Sheh Hsien, is the oldest known Cinderella tale recorded in the Orient. It appears in Yu Yang Tsa Tsu (Miscellany of Forgotten Lore) written by Tuan Ch’êng-shih around 856-860 AD/CE. A full English translation of the tale appears in two sources, “Cinderella in China” by R. D. Jameson and “The Chinese Cinderella Story” by Arthur Waley, although neither were available for reprinting here. Waley’s translation and commentary are generally considered to be more accurate. I have retold the tale, deriving the story from both translations of the old text. 

The story was provided by Li Shih-yüan, a longtime servant to Tuan Ch’êng-shih’s family. He originally came from the caves of Yung-Chou and remembered many strange tales from the southern region.

Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China is the picture book version of the tale, adapted from the original as stated above. The picture book also provides an image of the Chinese text.

Overall, this is a fascinating version of Cinderella--and it is recognizably a Cinderella tale--with a mistreated heroine, a lost shoe, royal marriage, etc. It isn't quite the way we know it, since as in many Asian versions of Cinderella, the magical helper is a fish. The original is also a little meaner with a king who threatens death upon his servants and a stepmother and stepsister who are crushed by stones as their punishment. You can read a plot summary--which isn't much longer than the tale--on Wikipedia.

Also, depending on who you ask, this is considered the earliest known Cinderella. As I said in my entry about Rhodopis, that's up to interpretation. But this is the earliest, easily recognizable Cinderella. All of the elements of a Cinderella tale are there, and there's not much stretching the tale to fit the guidelines.

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