Chinese Fairy Tales

A topic I thought would be interesting to review, with relation to China’s innovativeness is: Chinese fairy tales and how their style of writing and illustration differs from that of the fairy tales in the western world. I firstly discovered Chinese fairy tales when I was asked to illustrate one of a number of fairy tales for a client. The one I chose was called “The Tearful Gaze”  If you are interested in hearing the story, you can just type “The Tearful Gaze” into google and it should be the first link. Below are some examples of etchings and an embossing I made to illustrate key scenes from the story.

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The writings of stories such as these first began in the Wei and Jin Dynasties.  Buddhist superstitions were the inspiration behind the invention of stories of ghosts and Gods. Some of them show a fascination the Chinese had for the human language. Fairy tales were later on continued in the Southern and Northern Dynasties. Chinese fairy tales are certainly not short anecdote like stories. They are structurally well thought out with vivid characters and interesting plots.

Following my earlier research of the subject I discovered just how beautifully illustrated some of these wonderful stories are. It was then my challenge to produce a series of good illustrations in an appropriate media. In the end I chose etching, as it is a very beautiful old technique that produces the line I needed to fully express the emotion of the tale.

What I like the most about Chinese fairy tales is their ability to take your imagination to places it has never been. With British fairy tales the stories are always very similar. The Prince goes on a quest to save the damsel in distress and usually they end up happily ever after.

Subsequently, another form of Chinese storytelling I find Intriguing and worth discussing is, Chinese folktales. Post being recorded in writing, many folktales were so well known that they became proverbs (popular short sayings with teaching values). Some of these proverbs are extremely short stories with just the title and a few words, easy to recite and remember. In school, children are taught to remember them and recite them back to their teacher. Everyone in China knows these stories well, that you find they will often quote them in their writing and/or conversations. How did folktales take form?

“In ancient China, common folk did not understand science, such as the workings of nature and the causes of disasters or weather changes. Thus, it became natural for them to imagine causes for everything that affected their lives. So they made up stories, expressing their frustrations and hoping their lives would be better.”

The stories all portrayed a positive message whether they were about morals, spirits and ghosts with mortals, or combined history and mythology, it really doesn’t matter. They were all written to teach China’s important values and beliefs.

The most common theme of Chinese folktales is ‘Filial piety’, which means that it is the duty of the children to respect and obey their parents, and to take care of their parents when they grow old. This is not the theme of my illustrated fairy tale. However, it is a vital part of Chinese society. My fairy tale conveyed the importance of loving someone for who they are. Not just from their outside appearance. Other common teaching themes include; loyalty, justice, morality and conscience. I would suggest that you find a Chinese fairy tale that you like, see what category it comes under and learn from the message in the tale.

Due to the fact that folk tales have been written over a number of centuries, they reflect different times and different areas of the lives of the Chinese. Thus, they have much historical value. They are entertaining and educational. That is why they have survived for so many years and have such an important role in Chinese culture.


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