I’ve always wondered why Cinderella is such a popular fairy tale the world over. According to Cinderella: A Cross Culture Story, the original Cinderella dates back to China as early as 850 A.D with Yeh-Shen. The oldest European version was from Italy in 1634, traveling from China.
The elements of all the Cinderella fairy tales make for a good story: good wins over evil, rags to riches is possible, and, of course, the happily ever after ending. There’s also the widowed and sometimes hapless father who seems totally unaware of his bad marital choice, the conniving new step relatives, and the heroine who is rewarded for her goodness by a magical element rather than through her own fortitude.
It makes me wonder if a Cinderella narrative is good for girls? Maybe this is why the Wonder Woman movie is making such waves with Amazons who don’t need men, and are strong and fierce warriors who, frankly, make the men they battle look wimpy.
Today, I thought I’d survey the Asian Cinderella folk tales, which I’ve organized alphabetically by country.
What do you think? Are you Team Cinderella or Team Wonder Woman?
8 Asian Cinderella Picture Books
Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella by
Angkat appeared in an 18th century French essay while the author was researching Khmer folklore. The story, of course, is much older than that, but the exact age is not known. You can see the story’s roots from the Chinese version, Yeh-Shen, with the same element of magical fish.
Life changes for a lonely fisherman and his daughter when he meets a widow with her daughter across the fish ponds. Family discord centers around who will be called Number One Daughter. Traditionally, it should be Angkat, as the daughter of the father, but the stepmother schemes to get this title for her own daughter. The Number Two daughter’s role is that of family servant, and Angkat is tricked into this position through a rigged fishing contest. Angkat ends up releasing her fish into the fish pond, and caring for it as a pet. Her stepsister finds out and cruelly cooks the fish.
A Spirit of Virtue tells Angkat that her fish’s bones are magical, and finds two golden slippers in its place. Following the Spirit’s advice, she places on slipper on the open window sill and hides the other. A black bird carries the slipper to the crown prince, who searches for the mate, wanting to marry her.
The story has the traditional shoe finding element, but then the story departs from the typical ending. Her father, stepsister and stepfather are overcome with jealousy at her happiness. They kill her to get the stepsister into the palace. Where Angkat was killed, a banana tree has sprouted up. When it’s cut down, bamboo takes it place. The prince finds this bamboo grove and is able to reunited with Angkat, with the help of the Spirit of Virtue. Angkat’s family is banished from the land, and she becomes the rightful queen. [fairy tale picture book, ages 6 and up]