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Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China As Retold by Ai-Ling Louie and Illustrated by Ed Young

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Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China (Not to be confused with Adeline Yen Mah's Chinese Cinderella)

Yeh-Shen the little orphan grew to girlhood in her stepmother’s home. She was a bright child and lovely too, with skin as smooth as ivory and dark pools for eyes. Her stepmother was jealous of all this beauty and goodness, for her own daughter was not pretty at all. So in her displeasure, she gave poor Yeh-Shen the heaviest and most unpleasant of chores. (p. 1)

I bought this book the same day that I bought Lon Po Po. It was only when I came home that day that I realized that both books were fractured tales from China—though ‘Chinese folktales’ seem to be the more politically correct term. In addition, both books were illustrated by Ed Young, and the illustrations in both books are testament to Ed Young’s artistic ability.

The Tale Behind the Tale

Records indicate that the oldest version of Cinderella was found to be an Italian fairy tale written in 1634 (Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, p. 119). However, as was described in the dedication page of the book, the story of Yeh-Shen appeared in The Miscellaneous Record of Yu Yang, a book which dates back from the T’ang dynasty in 618-907 A.D. The author was Tuan Ch’eng-Shih. Because Yeh-Shen’s story predates the Italian tale, Cinderella seemed to have traveled to Europe all the way from Asia.

The Storyline

An excerpt of the Yeh-Shen story is featured in this beautiful slideshow presentation by ohemmert87, using paperdolls and book pages as these appeared in the 1982 edition. Additional pictures were also included. The voice of the narrator was soothing and perfect for setting the mood of the story.

Although the text used in the video was not the same as the one in the book (at least the copy that I have), and the story not quite finished, it still captured the essence of the original Yeh-Shen story—primarily because of the inclusion of Ed Young’s original art.

Animal Spirits and the Dark Fate of ‘No-Gooders’

I have lived in a country where folktales are an essential part of a person’s life. Stories of the supernatural and the mystic forces have been handed down from generations to generations, and are continued to be reproduced and reinvented (as seen in Mary’s wonderful review of Budjette Tan’s Trese). The Yeh-Shen story is, I must say, one that is close to home.

The only friend that Yeh-Shen had to her name was a fish she had caught and raised. It was a beautiful fish with golden eyes, and every day it would come out of the water and rest its head on the bank of the pond, waiting for Yeh-Shen to feed it… [until it] grew to enormous size.

Enormous the fish was, indeed, for Ed Young’s artwork filled the page with varying shades of green, highlighting the great spectacle that was Yeh-Shen’s fish. But that great spectacle would soon vanish since fairy tales do not call stepmothers for no reason.

The stepmother, having hidden a dagger in her sleeve, stabbed the fish, wrapped it in her garments, and took it home to cook for dinner. […] Overcome with grief, [Yeh-Shen] collapsed on the ground and dropped her tears into the still waters of the pond.

As soon as Yeh-Shen did this, an old man was looking down at her with his hair flowing down over his shoulders. He told her that the bones of her fish are filled with a powerful spirit.

The fish in the book resembles that of a koi fish, which the Japanese consider as the most energetic of fishes. The koi’s ability to fight water current and swim upstream is symbolic of strength in time of adversity, which fits Yeh-Shen’s situation perfectly. She was able to overcome her obstacles and come out victorious.

The book, like other fairy tales, showed what happens to wicked people like the stepmother and her daughter. Unfortunately, they had a darker fate than the other wicked characters that we are familiar with. This is a tie-end for the unfinished narration from the video above.

Not long after this, Yeh-Shen was married to the king. But fate was not so gentle with her stepmother and stepsister. Since they had been unkind to his beloved, the king would not permit Yeh-Shen to bring them to his palace. They remained in their cave home, where one day, it is said, they were crushed to death in a shower of flying stones.

The Art of Yeh-Shen

The beauty and grace of the Yeh-Shen story are brought to life by Ed Young’s soft, light strokes. Each page is a reflection of ancient China, and each is represented by a color scheme that sets the mood of the narration.

The old man appearing before Yeh-Shen - believed to be the animal spirit of the fish
At the king's merrymaking, where Yeh-Shen turned many a head as she makes an appearance in the feast

Unlike the illustrations in Lon Po Po, the artwork in the Yeh-Shen story is less dark and less haunting but equally beautiful. It has a more mature approach to it, mainly attributed to the fact that the main character is older than the three sisters in Lon Po Po.

Tributes to Cinderella

The following videos are small tributes to a fairy tale classic that is revered around the world. The first video is a 4-minute presentation of the Walt Disney classic with Jim Brickman’s Beautiful as background music. (Thank you, waltdisney123.)

The second video is a compilation of the tracks from Broadway Asia Entertainment’s musical production of Cinderella featuring internationally-acclaimed, multitalented Filipina singer-actress-Broadway star Ms Lea Salonga as the title role and Brad Kane as Prince Charming.

The third video is presented by the Abbey Home Entertainment. This was based on Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, featuring original illustrations by Quentin Blake. Click here for the text version of Cinderella. (I decided to include this partly because Yeh-Shen has a more ‘adult’ taste to it as opposed to Lon Po Po, and partly because Ms Marjorie Coughlan of PaperTigers will find this a treat—I hope you do, too.)

Last, but definitely not the least, is an excerpt from a Japanese animation series, Cinderella, made in 1995 by Mondo TV and Tatsunoko. I remember watching ABS-CBN’s Tagalog-dubbed version of this back in the Philippines. Over time, we see how stories evolve and this version of Cinderella has gone a long way. Nevertheless, it is a nice treat for teens and the young-at-heart. If you can find the entire series in stores, I highly recommend that you buy a copy. (I especially remember having a crush on the Prince, who will make an appearance in this episode. Oh, the girly girl in me. Haha.)

We here at GatheringBooks hope you enjoyed yet another fractured tale featuring Ed Young. Have a wonderful day—or night, wherever in the world you may be right now! =)

Fats is the Assistant Manager for Circulation Services at the Wayne County Public Library in Wooster, Ohio. She considers herself a reader of all sorts, although she needs to work on her non-fiction reading. Fats likes a good mystery but is not too fond of thrillers. She takes book hoarding seriously and enjoys collecting bookmarks and tote bags. When she is not reading, Fats likes to shop pet apparel for her cat Penny (who absolutely loathes it).

7 comments on “Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China As Retold by Ai-Ling Louie and Illustrated by Ed Young

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