Chinese Folktales

Sun Wu Kung, the Monkey King.

Finally, the day came when the Bodhisattva's chosen one, Monk Tang Sanzang, arrived at Wuxing Mountain. (Image: via Shen Yun Performing Arts)

Chinese folktales are some of the most colorful and varied stories ever written. For thousands of years, China has produced an unparalleled treasure house of fables, myths, and anecdotes passed down through generations. 

The traditional Chinese culture has an enigmatic history and rich, colorful folklore. Written during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 CE), Lu Shang’s collection of 104 tales is a testament to the cultural wealth and richness at that time. 

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The role of folktales in Chinese society

Chinese folklore is a part of the country’s culture and is passed down through generations. Folktales are used to teach the noble characteristics of individuals. It includes stories about spirits and deities, including the legendary Chinese dragons. 

Children and adults love these stories as they teach valuable lessons and reinforce values such as purity, good manners, and generosity. Through these folktales and their analogies, you can see China’s traditions and culture through the lens of a traditional storyteller.

What are the characteristics of Chinese folktales?

Folktales are a unique expression of Chinese culture and history. These are often stories that focus on a particular situation. They tell real-life stories with a moral lesson or use animals to represent humans.  

Generally, Chinese folklore includes various stories, songs, and poems believed to have been handed down through generations. The supernatural is a frequent theme; such tales often explain natural phenomena and distinctive landmarks in China. Commonly known for being inventive, creative, and vibrant, Chinese folktales have a way of telling old stories in new ways.

Great folktales from China include 'Tale of the White Snake.'
Image from the Summer Palace, Beijing, China, depicts the ‘Tale of the White Snake,’ one of China’s great folktales. (Image: Public Domain)

What lessons do Chinese folktales teach?

Chinese folktales teach people valuable moral lessons, such as the value of perseverance, being honest and trustworthy, being respectful, and doing what is right. In addition, the stories leave many visual images reflecting your life and making you think about how you live.

How many Chinese folktales are there?

The Chinese civilization was one of the earliest societies, and they are famous for their frugality, great wisdom, and distinctive culture. Their folktales include actual events and mythological creatures, reflecting their values and customs in daily life. Over 104 folktales form a fascinating work that all lovers of folklore will enjoy.

Famous Chinese Folktales

‘Tale of the White Snake’

The story begins with the youngest of Great Emperor Fu Xi’s eight sons, Lu Dong-bin, a brash and arrogant man forced by his father to remain in Xian. After starving, Lu Dong-bin disguises himself as a typical street vendor selling Tangyuan and meets a boy named Xu Xian. Not long after, Xu Xian buys some unusual pills from him and later realizes they are enchanted elixirs that could make him immortal.

'Legend of Confucius' retells the Chinese philosopher's life by his great-grandson, further expanding the country's most venerated sage into a 21st-century hero.
‘Legend of Confucius’ retells the Chinese philosopher’s life by his great-grandson, further expanding the country’s most venerated sage into a 21st-century hero. (Image: Pierre Jean Durieu via Dreamstime)

‘Legend of Confucius’

Legend of Confucius retells the Chinese philosopher’s life by his great-grandson, further expanding the country’s most venerated sage into a 21st-century hero. The story traces his roots in China and his many adventures, travels, and the secrets he kept. Among these are how he was betrayed by two benevolent emissaries sent by a rival nation and how he rallied his son Jiarong to seize back control of the country.

‘The Ape Sun Wu Kung’

The Monkey King, Sun Wu Kung, was a powerful man in ancient China. He was born from a peach and belonged to the celestial Jade Dynasty. Eventually, he became the leader of his people and gained several wives and children. In addition, it is said that the Monkey King used his magical powers to protect himself from enemies and even travel through space-time to visit other worlds.

‘The Spirit of Wu-Lian Mountain’

The Spirit of Wu-Lian Mountain is a brilliant meditation on love and the perils of extreme isolation. In Chen Yi-min’s haunting novella, two young lovers are lost in a mountain village, facing an enemy more terrifying than any other: themselves.

Conclusion

If you are interested in folk stories and fables, you should make Chinese folktale books a part of your life. They’re short enough to read in one sitting, repetitive enough that you can enjoy hearing them repeatedly, and many are out there. Plus, they can open up a whole new world for you!

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