Chinese Folktales

Chinese Folktales

Originally Published as Chinesische Märchen (Chinese Fairy Tales) Translated into German by Richard Wilhelm, 1958.

This English Selection Translated from the German by Ewald Osers, and Published by G. Bell & Sons Ltd., 1971.

Silkworm Grandmother

Empress Leizu discovered silkworms while having a midday tea, and a cocoon fell in her tea.

One day when empress Leizu was taking a stroll in the royal garden with the Yellow Emperor, she found silkworms eating the mulberry leaves and spinning cocoons. She collected some cocoons, then sat down to have some tea. While she was sipping a cup, she dropped a cocoon into the steaming water. The heat unwrapped the silk, a fine thread started to separate itself from the silkworm cocoon silk until it stretched across her entire garden. Leizu found that she could unwind this soft and lovely thread around her finger.

She then persuaded her husband to give her a grove of mulberry trees, where she could domesticate the worms that made these cocoons. She then invented the silk reel, which joins fine filaments into a thread strong enough for weaving. She also invented the first silk loom which weaves silk thread into fine cloth.

Leizu then shared her discoveries with others, and the knowledge became widespread in China. People remembered her as ‘Silkworm Mother’ or ‘Can Nainai’ till today.

The return of Second Sun

Planet X

Many people are talking about the returns of the Second Sun, or so called the planet X. In ancient Chinese books, many records of two or more suns appeared on the sky, the story Divine Archer Yi shot down Ten Sun might be not just a fanatic myth.

In Ancient Chinese myths, we had once ten suns instead of one. The suns were the sons of Emperor Di Jun, the God of the Eastern Sky. One day tens suns appeared on the sky together and scorched the earth, great drought after the water evaporated of the earth surface, vegetations became dried out, people hid in the cave. The great divine Archer Yi shot off nine suns, and the earth returned to normal.

There are many records in the ancient Chinese books, most of these are records of two sun appeared together, in some occasions, more than two suns, even as many as 10 suns; Other strange phenomenons like one sun appears at night, or two suns clashing each other, one big and one small.
Below are quotations from Chinese Classics and history annals, with a brief translation, to keep the original text for the purpose of authenticity, and waiting further research of Chinese historians and astronomers.
Year 1914 BC, Ten suns appeared together. This strange phenomenon also recorded in another book, Bamboo Annals.
Year 1042 BC, the 48th year of Emperor Xin of Yin (the notorious tyrant king Zhou) dynasty, two sun appeared together. 4 years later, the Martial King of Zhou began the punitive expedition against Yin.
Year 139 BC, the fourth month, a sun-like star appeared in the evening.
the first month of the fifth Year, three suns appeared on the sky.
Year 318, eleventh month, the sun rise up during the night, 3 Zhangs above the horizon.
Year 520, sun appeared on the eastern sky in the night, as bright as fire.
In year 809, the third month, beside sun appeared an object looks like a sun.
Yuan dynasty, year 1356, the third month, two sun clashing each other.
Year 1594, in the area of Jijiang, another sun under the sun, clashing many days then stopped.
Year 1621, in the area of Liao Yang, several suns appeared together.
The latest recorded in Qing dynasty, year 1651, at round 23PM-1AM, red sun appeared in the eastern sky, as big as Hu (a measure tool), at the midnight, the moon rose, then the sun disappeared.
A Chinese saying, No two suns on the sky, no two emperors on the earth, this might be wrong, and the return of the second sun, even the third, unto ten suns, the tens sun appeared on the sky might be not just a fantasy myth.

Hart Unicorn

Genghis Khan, having destroyed the Kingdom of Matena; and carried his Conquests to the Indies and Samarkand, they advanced to Tie men, that is, the Iron Gate, which was the Name of a Cittadel ; that in this Place their General was stopped by a Monster shaped like a Hart Unicorn, his Skin was green, and he had a Horn in his Forehead, and a Tail like a Horse. This Monster spoke to the Genghis Khan, and asked him if he was not satisfied with so much Blood and Slaughter, and if his Fury would have no Bounds? This so frighted the Genghis Khan, that he returned to his own Country, and sometime afterwards invaded China instead.

Emperor Wu of Han and the Immortal Liquor

Emperor Wu ti of Han dynasty was esteemed one of the greatest Emperor of China, but he had the Weakness to give ear to Impostors, who promised him an Elixir which should render him immortal.

One Day one of these Chemists brought him a Cup full of this immortal Liquor, and desired him to drink it for an Experiment ; one of his Ministers, who was advising him not to hearken to such Cheats, took the Cup and drank it himself ; the Emperor being very angry that his Minister had deprived him of Immortality, revolved to punish him with Death for it ; to which the Minister replyed with a Smile :–

If this Drinks, Sir, has made me immortal, how can you put me to Death? But if you can put me to Death, how doth this frivolous theft deserve it?

This Answer soften’d the Emperor, who praised the Wisdom of his Minister, but was not thoroughly cured of that Weakness. (Du Halde)

Another similar version of the story:

The Elixir of Death

How to extort the confession of a prisoner

A magistrate, who after several hearings had failed to discover, among a gang accused of murder, what was essential to the completion of the case, namely, the actual hand which struck the fatal blow, notified the prisoners that he was about to invoke the assistance of the spirits, with a view to elicit the truth.

Accordingly, he caused the accused men, dressed in the black clothes of criminals, to be led into a large barn, and arranged around it, face to the wall. Having then told them that an accusing angel would shortly come among them, and mark the back of the guilty man, he went outside and had the door shut, and the place darkened.

After a short interval, when the door was thrown open, and the men were summoned to come forth, it was seen directly that one of the number had a white mark on his back. This man, in order to make all secure, had turned his back to the wall, not knowing, what the magistrate well knew, that the wall had been newly white-washed.


The story of Chopsticks

When the first English Seaman set his foot on the beach of the Yangtze River near Shanghai, he saw some Chinese fisherman having their lunch. Those fishermen invited him to join in, and gave him a bowl of boiled rice and a pair of bamboo sticks, and they shared a pot of chicken stew.

When the English seaman was watching interestingly how those Chinese fishermen pick up rice and chicken from the pot using a pair of bamboo sticks. Those fishermen waved their chopsticks, saying: “Chop, Chop. “(Eat, eat!) Then they showed him how to pluck chicken meat off the bone by the chopsticks. What they meant actually was to encourage the seaman to start eating, but the English seaman mistook it as the name of bamboo sticks. So he wrote in his sea diary: Chinese don’t eat with forks and knives, they use chopsticks instead!

That’s how this English word chopsticks has been invented. Actually, the Chinese word for Chopsticks was “Zhu”, which sounds similar to the word “stop”, so it became a taboo among the superstitious fishermen on the ship. They wish their boat sailing quickly, so they call chopsticks “Kuai”, which means “quick”. As such “Kuai zi” eventually replaced the original word “zhu”.

Ying C Compestine invented a story for the origin of chopsticks in her book, and said “all Chinese people ate with their hands”, and she gives credit for the invention of chopsticks to a hungry boy named “Kuai zi”, who “pulled two sticks from the kindling pile and used them to spear chunks of hot food.”

I wonder why Mrs. Compestine invents this story which is neither witty nor humorous, nor lacks of culture meaning. Actually, why do we need a human brain to use a stick to fish out food from a hot pot? The world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees, Dr. Goodall observed that even a chimpanzee can  use thin sticks to fish termites out of a termite mound, and they even use sticks to measure the depth of water and as “walking sticks” to support their posture when crossing.

Western people don’t know how to use chopsticks, because they have been evolved too far away from their ancestor, and totally forgot how Adam and Eve ate with a pair of sticks, for there is no records in the Bible. But Chinese people continue to use chopsticks generation after generation, and they decorate the chopsticks with delicate calligraphy, pictures of dragons and phoenixes, and images of Chinese opera and landscapes. We use different materials such as wood, bamboo, silver, gold and ivory. We turn chopsticks into wonderful artworks, a pair of chopsticks are not only just eating tools, but also collectible art which bears five thousand years of culture and history.

It’s said that the tyrant King Chou of Shang dynasty first ordered his craftsman to make chopsticks out of ivory, but we now know that there are no elephants around the Yellow River basin in the North China. Archeologists develops a theory of climate change on Central Kingdom, where once was a very warm area such as India. But most of the historians belive that the ivories which King Chou used had been tributed by nations from the south.

Ancient forensic also used silver needle to detect poisons such as arsenic, so it’s wide spread belief that that silver chopsticks can detect poison for they may turn their silver colour into black when they came in contact with poisonous food. The fact was that the arsenic was not pure due to poor refinery technology, which contains traces of sulphur or sulphide which can produce a layer of silver suphide by chemical reaction, so that change the colour of silver.

Chopsticks is also a lethal weapon as deadly as knives and forks in the hands of Chinese kungfu master. I am not kidding, and it’s one of real hidden weapons, and even more difficult to defense because the kungfu master don’t have to take out flying darts, he simply shoots out his chopsticks while he’s feasting with his enemy. A normal bamboo chopstick can penetrate a metal washing basin, you can imagine how it may happen when it hit human flesh!

We all know that you can easily break one chopsticks, but it’s quite difficult to break a bunch of chopsticks. This is so called “unity is strength”, and this story has been handed down generation after generation. Once upon a time, an ancient King who had twenty sons, every one of them has one merit or another, but they always fought against each other. One day, the King was lying in his deathbed, he summoned all his sons to his room, and gave one chopstick each, and ordered them to break it. The sons did easily. Then he gave them each a bunch of chopsticks, and again asked them to break it. But the sons found it was very difficult to do so, almost impossible. The King looked at them meaningfully, and breathed his last. The princes understood what their father was trying to teach them, and they stopped fighting each other, and worked together to create a powerful dynasty.


In Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), in the land of Tao-chou (now in county Tao in Hunan Province), many of the people are dwarfs; The tallest of them never grow to more than three feet. They were sold in the market as dwarf slaves and yearly sent to Court; Described as “an offering of natural products from the land of Tao-chou.”

That custom of tribute dwarfish slave to the court has been in existence before Tang dynasty, and the local governor made a great profit of it, but the people suffered great, because that parted men from those they loved, never to meet again! Old men — weeping for their grandsons ; mothers for their children !

One day — Yang Ch’eng came to govern the land as the governor; He refused to send up dwarf slaves in spite of incessant mandates. He replied to the Emperor, “All people of Tao-chou are short, I don’t which to chose and send to the court,” and he also quoted from the ancient Sacred Books, and said, ” Your servant finds in the Six Canonical Books ‘ In offering products, one must offer what is there, and not what isn’t there ‘ On the waters and lands of Tao-chou, among all the things that live I only find dwarfish people ; no dwarfish slaves.”

The Emperor’s heart was deeply moved and he sealed and sent a scroll “The yearly tribute of dwarfish slaves is henceforth annulled.”

The people of Tao-chou, old ones and young ones, how great their joy! Father with son and brother with brother henceforward kept together; From that day for ever more they lived as free men. The people of Tao-chou still enjoyed the great gift of their governor. When they speak of the Governor. tears start to their eyes. And lest their children and their children’s children should forget the Governor’s name, when boys are born the syllable “Yang” is often used in their forename.

The people of Tao-chou also set up temples to remember Yang-cheng, and called him the God of Happiness, which was of the three gods: — the god of  fortune, the god of longevity and the god of happiness.

Three son-in-laws

There was once a Chang family, three daughters were all very beautiful and filial, but unfortunately all their husbands had little ailments. The eldest son-in-law had leprosy body, the second had scalp disease, and the third had red eyes disease. Though the affected places were different, they were all itchy scratchy.

Three son-in-laws met together, it was quite a spectacular scene. They just couldn’t keep themselves still, especially during the feast, they couldn’t sit still and eat a proper meal, scratching, rubbing or wiggling, until their father was so disgusted and totally lost appetite.

Another Chinese New Year festival, according to the customs, their daughters and son-in-laws came to pay visit on the Second Day in the First Moon. They were drinking, eating, merry-making, everything went well except that their father couldn’t tolerate their never stopping scratch, so he warned them that nobody would scratch at the dinner, or else they had to leave, and never allowed to enter his door. Three son-in-laws promised they would have good table manner.

They went into the dinner hall, which had the large door and windows opening to the garden and over garden were a green hill covered all kinds of woods and vagitations. They sat at the Eight-Immortal tables, all kinds of delicacies were put on the table. After several urging and declining that were according to the ancient propriety rules, they started to eat, and soon they began to wiggle, gradually they seemed couldn’t bear any longer, but they had promised their father not to scratch. At last, the eldest son-in-law had an idea. He lifted up his head and watched out of the windows, exclaiming: “Look, there is a deer over there!”

They all looked out of the window, but nobody saw any deer. They asked simultaneously, “Where?”

“It’s over the hill, behind the big pine tree! See, the deer with beautiful spots all over her body,” he started to rub his body, arms and legs,  “and on his arms and legs too!”

Immediately the second son-in-law took the hint, and said, “Oh, yeah, I see. Let’s catch it. I will hit his head like this,” he patted his head several times, fiercely hard, you can see dust and dandruff dropping off on the table and flying into the dishes.

The third son-in-law was a bit slow, but at that time he knew what was going on, and said, “If I catch him, I will scoop out his eyes like this!” He rubbed his eyes with both point fingers.

Woodcutter and the Silver Cave

There was once a woodcutter named Chang, he went to the South Mountain every day to cut wood, and burn charcoal. His father was a charcoal seller, he started to cut wood and burn charcoal with his father when he was a boy, now his hair had turn to grey, his face stained with dust and ashes, his ten fingers are black. He transport charcoal in an ox-drawn cart and sold in the market for the price of a silver coin, which was just enough to clothe his limbs and put food in his mouth. Although he worked very hard, he was still very poor.

One morning, he took a break as usual; he sat down under a huge pine tree beside a spring, ate his stale bread, drank water from the spring, and sighed: “Oh, the Spirit of the South Mountain, why I work so hard, I am still very poor. Is it my fate? ” Just then he noticed a hole in the precipice behind the pine tree, a beautiful golden bird standing at the edge of the entrance, look left and right cautiously, then flew away.

“That was a strange bird I have ever seen,” he said to himself, “I wonder if I could find some eggs in its nest.”

He climbed up the precipice, and put his hands in the hole. There were no eggs, but he could felt something that seemed like metal. He grabbed it out, and looked, it was a silver coin! He put his hand inside the hole again, hoped to find another one, but nothing more.

The next day, he went there cut wood as usual, and tried his luck again at the morning break. To his surprise, he found another silver coin! And the same thing happened the day after that.

“I can only earn a silver coin everyday at my best.” The woodcutter thought, now I needn’t to cut wood anymore.

So he went to the mountain every day, and got his silver coin, and felt very happy. But soon he was not satisfied by only one coin a day. “I wish I could get more silver coins a day instead of one, I would blow up the hole, and find more treasure at one, and need not come here every day, “ he thought, “and then I could buy a house, and become rich.”

So the next day he brought a chisel, a hammer, and some dynamite. He made a bigger hold in the precipice, and stuffed the hole with dynamite, light it, and “bang!” He blew down the precipice. What would you expect the ending? Did he find nothing, not even one silver coin, just like the man who owned the golden goose in Aesop’s tale? No! The wood cutter found a huge silver mine!