Episode 115: Chinese Cinderella

Click here to listen

Everyone knows about the story Cinderella and besides Disney most people probably know it from the German story called Aschenputtel from Brother Grimm published in 1812. There is a story in Chinese mythology from the 9th century almost 90% similar to the Cinderella. Today we will talk about this version.

Even this Chinese version of Cinderella came centuries earlier than the version from Brother Grimm, it is still not the earliest version. According to Marian Rolte Cox, there are more than 340 variations of this story from all over the world including Europe and Asia. Some historians think since in the Chinese version of the story mentioned was from a person from GuangXi province 广西, in the southwest border of China, this story was likely from overseas. Especially there is a version from Africa that mentioned the ancient city Memphis, so some historians think the earliest version probably originated before the century.

Today we will talk about the Chinese version of Cinderella from the book 酉阳杂 俎 Miscellaneous Morsels from YouYang from around the year 803~863 during the Tang dynasty 唐朝.

It says, long before the Qing dynasty 秦朝 and Han dynasty 汉朝, there was a community of cave-dwellers called WuDong 吴洞. The head of the community Mr. Wu had two wives. One of his wives died who had a daughter called YeXian 叶限.


She was a smart girl and was gifted in skills like panning gold. He loved the daughter very much until he died.


YeXian was raised by her stepmother who treated her poorly that she was ordered to cut woods in the dangerous forests or get water from the deep well.



One day, YeXian got a fish around 7 cm long with golden eyes and red scales. She kept it in a bowl of water. Day after day, the fish was too big for the bowl that she moved the fish to the pool. Whenever, she got extra food, she would feed it all to the fish. Every time YeXian walked passed the pool, the fish would stick the head out of the water which never happened to anyone else.


One day, the stepmother found out about the fish and tried to feed the fish however the fish still didn’t show up. She lied to YeXian that, “you worked so hard and must be tried. I made a new shirt for you. ” So she got YeXian’s old shirt. Then she ordered YeXian to get water from miles away. Wearing YeXian’s shirt with a sharp knife, the stepmother walked next to the pool and this time the fish thought it was YeXian and stuck head out of the water while the stepmother killed the fish. The fish was as long as 3 meters and the stepmother cooked the fish. The taste was so uniquely amazing. Then she buried the fish bone in the dunghill.


The next day, YeXian went to pool to check the fish and the fish didn’t come out to greet her. She felt worried and started to weep when someone wearing all white linen came from the sky and told her, “please don’t cry. Your fish was killed and eaten by your stepmother! The fish bone is buried in the dunghill. You can get the fish bone and hide in the room. If you ever need anything, just pray to it, it will fulfill all your wishes. ” YeXian followed the words and got gold and food whenever she wished for.



On a festival, the stepmother joined the celebration with her own daughters and forced YeXian to stay at home. YeXian waited at home for a while after her stepmother left, and put on gorgeous clothing made of feathers and golden shoes and joined the celebration as well. Her stepdaughter saw her at the party and told her stepmother that there was a girl looked like YeXian. Her Stepmother got suspicious as well. So YeXian left the party in a rush accidentally leaving behind a golden shoe. The golden shoe was picked up by a local peasant When her stepmother returned home from the party and found YeXian fell asleep under a tree. So She thought it was impossible that YeXian was in the party.


The community they lived was next to an island, on which there was a kingdom called TuoHan 陀汗. The kingdom has a strong army that they are in charge of many other islands. The person who picked up the golden shoe sold the shoe to someone in the kingdom TuoHan and in the end it went to the king.

The king first let people in the palace to try on the shoe and it was small even for the person with the smallest feet. Then he let every woman in his kingdom try on the shoe and nobody fit. The shoe was as light as a feather and doesn’t make any sound when you step on rocks. So in this version the shoe was a golden shoe instead of the well-known glass shoe. Some people think it might a mistake when it was translated from French to English. The shoe could be related to feathers cause in French it was made of vair meaning feathers and could be mistaken as verre meaning glass. The king arrested the man who sold the shoe and threatened him however he didn’t know where the shoe was from either.


The king thought maybe someonst the shoe and searched every house. In the end, they found YeXian and it perfectly fit her. YeXian put on her clothing made of feathers and golden shoes looking like a fairy. She told everything happened to her to the king. The king brought YeXian and the fish bone back to his kingdom and married YeXian as the queen. Of course, the stepmother and her daughters got punished by stoning. People buried them and called it “the Tomb of the Regretful Women ”.


One year, the king was kind of greedy and prayed to the fish bone, he got tons of gold. The next year, he prayed again and got nothing. The King buried the fish bone on the seaside and planned to pay for army in the future. However, only one night, the place was under the sea.



Miscellaneous Morsels from YouYang 酉阳杂 俎

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s