Literature / Yeh-Shen

"Yeh-Shen" 叶限 (or "Ye Xian") is a Chinese Fairy Tale known to be one of the oldest variations of "Cinderella". The story first appears during the 9th Century in Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang.

Ye Xian (or Yeh-Shen) is the daughter of a scholar with two wives, when her mother and then her father die from a local plague, Ye Xian is forced to become a lowly servant and work for her father's other wife (Ye Xian's stepmother) and her half-sister. She is soon overjoyed to find her mother reincarnated as a large fish in a nearby lake watching over her, though learning of this the stepmother has the fish captured and served to herself and her own daughter.

Ye Xian collects the bones and is told by a spirit to place them at each foot of her bed, and she will be granted wishes if she requests them of the bones. Soon the Spring Festival begins, and Ye Xian is told to stay and clean by her stepmother. A spirit, however, tells her where to discover some clothes to wear to the festival. She goes to the festival and enjoys herself until she needs to leave to avoid discovery by her stepmother. She leaves behind a golden slipper which is discovered by a King who resolves to discover the owner. He eventually does so taking her as his wife to her joy, and leaving the stepmother and daughter behind.

Donna Jo Napoli's young adult novel Bound is a retelling of this story. The story later became familiar with modern audiences as an animated adaptation on CBS Storybreak. Titled "Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China," the story originally aired in April 1985 and was narrated – in its original airing – by Bob Keeshan (formerly Captain Kangaroo). Ten years later, The Puzzle Place retold the story in the episode "Going by the Book".

"Yen-Shen" features these tropes:

  • Alpha Bitch: Jin and Jun-Li, Yeh-Shen's stepmother and stepsister. Jin is a bitter woman whose physical appearance deteriorated through years of hard work; Jun-Li is completely spoiled and lazy, and her hateful jealously is fueled upon realizing she does not have the same gifts or virtues as Yeh-Shen.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Yeh-Shen.
    • Reversed with Jun-Li (who is said to be far less than beautiful and completely amoral).
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Many ways by Jin and Jun-Li. First, Jin — perhaps sensing that Yeh-Shen is more beautiful than Jun-Li, and thus will get the most desirable, richest man — banishes Yeh-Shen from going to the festival to meet a potential suitor, but it fails to stop Yeh-Shen from going. Later, when Yeh-Shen is revealed (in Jin's presence) to be the owner of the golden slipper (left behind at the festival), Jin appeals to the king that the slipper had been stolen from another maiden, but the king is neither fooled nor amused and has both Jin and Jun-Li banished from the kingdom. (In the end, these cheaters get their just deserts, being crushed to death when their cave is demolished in an earthquake.)
  • Death by Origin Story: Yeh-Shen's real parents.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The golden fish's bones, after Jin and Jun-Li butcher the Golden Fish (upon realizing it was advising Yeh-Shen).
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: "You are the most beautiful creature on earth," is what the King, enchanted by Yeh-Shen, tells her (at least on the CBS Storybreak animated version) while dancing with her at the Spring Ball.