PoC Status Update: 7 of 9
When Fats mentioned that she would be writing something related to a Chinese version of Red Riding Hood, I was overjoyed when I saw this in the library: The Dragon Prince – A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale, perfect for our Chinese New Year Special and another entry to our PoC Reading Challenge.
The Hardworking and Kind-Hearted Seven and the Poor Farmer with the Barren Land. The narrative begins with a description of a poor farmer with seven daughters. While all the six daughters help out in the farm, the youngest and prettiest, Seven, cooks and cleans and stays at home since she is able to:
weave the finest silk and embroider the fanciest stitchery. Under her needle, unicorns, dragons, and other magical beasts came to life. Her work was famous among the noble families of the province.
Seven also has a kind heart. This is shown by her saving a water serpent from Three’s hoe, and leaving it outside their fields instead as seen in the beautiful art work here:
It turns out that the “little water serpent” was actually a powerful dragon who seized the farmer while he was on his way home. The powerful dragon demanded one of the farmer’s daughters as a wife in exchange for his life. All the daughters refused to marry the Dragon except for the youngest one, Seven.
Here, we can see parallels with the Disney Beauty and the Beast with Belle’s father being trapped in the dungeon. When Beauty chanced upon the castle, looking for her father, the Beast demanded that she stays in exchange for her father’s life. One of the key differences is that Maurice and Belle accidentally ran into the Beast’s Castle while the Dragon Prince took on the shape of the water serpent to search for someone who is “brave and kind and true as well as beautiful.”
Seeing with One’s Heart rather than One’s Eye. Instead of being reasonably scared by the dragon, Seven seemed drawn to the mythical being:
“Aren’t you frightened? I could crush you like a twig.”
For a moment, Seven stood utterly still in his paws, gazing up at the dragon’s face. His scales gleamed like jewels in a golden net, and his eyes shone like twin suns. It was a face of terror and a face of beauty. It was a face of magic.
Slowly, she stretched out her arm, and for a moment his large head flinched from her tiny hand.
“I know the loom and stove and many ordinary things,” she said, “but my hand has never touched wonder.”
I found that moving and beautiful. Then Seven stated:
“The eye sees what it will, but the heart sees what it should. If you had meant to harm me, you would have done so already.”
It also reminds me of The Little Prince’s “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Homesickness, Betrayal and Tragedy. Similar to Belle’s story, Seven longed for her family the moment that she has settled in her new home (Dragon turned out to be a Prince, no surprises there).
The Prince granted her wish – not realizing that heartache, betrayal, and ill feelings would await her. Whether or not the Dragon Prince would find Seven, his Beauty, yet again, I shall leave for you to discover.
Endnotes. The strength of this book lies in its beautiful blend of Chinese mythology with the classic Beauty and the Beast tale. Children would have a fun time deciphering which elements diverge from the Disney tale that they know and what are the parallelisms between the two beautiful tales.
Laurence Yep is a Chinese-American who was born in San Francisco. His works are said to mostly deal with multicultural issues, racial conflict, cultural alienation – essentially his life experiences as he was growing up in San Francisco. He is said to have taught writing and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Barbara (infosource: click here).
Kam Mak is a Chinese-American illustrator who was born in Hong Kong but grew up in New York’s Chinatown. He is the recipient of various awards including the Oppenheim Platinum Medal for best children’s picture book, and the Gold and Silver Awards from the Society of Illustrators among others.