Chinese Culture At the time of “Yeh-Shen”
Chinese culture • “It is time for this heroine’s Asian identity to be recognized and the evocative story motifs understood in their Asian contexts” • (Beauchamp 1) What was the culture of Yeh-Shen, also known as Yexian?
Dynasties! • Ch’in and Han dynasties: 221 B.C.E.-220 C.E. • Saw the end of feudalism and the development of the imperial system • Focused on the practice of rites and ceremonies for the spirits • First Cinderella story written down in 950 A.D. but set during this time period
Family life at the time • Children were sometimes used as slaves • “Polygamy was practiced among the Zhuang [ancient Chinese people] in the late Tang Dynasty, and children were supposed to be treated equally” (Beauchamp 14). • Women enjoyed high status because of their ability to weave. • Freedom came with this status; they could pick their own husband!
Family of Yeh-Shen • According to Beauchamp, “Yexian’s father was a leader to his group, the family appears marginalized economically, and Yexian’s menial work seems a harsh extension of a child’s workload” and then, “the story rewards Yexian by making her the first wife of a king, but it seems ambivalent about the founding of a divinely sanctioned royal line, and it does not value hierarchy, obedience, and duty” (472).
Island Kingdoms • “Tuohan was an island country that sent embassies to Tang China in 645 and 648” (Jameson 1932:77-78). • The island could be modern day Sumatra. Note how far it is from mainland China! Map image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2e/LocationSumatra.svg/800px-LocationSumatra.svg.png
Fish in the Chinese Culture • Fish have long been symbols of “abundance and wealth” in the Chinese culture The fish in the story is believed to be a red carp with golden eyes.
Caves • In a specific area of China, there are literally thousands of caves! • “inscriptions in the caves date from the Tang Dynasty” (Beauchamp 456). • Some scholars believe that “cave” in Chinese could simply mean a “sheltered location” (456).
Festivals… • Many of the Chinese subcultures had festivals where young men and women would mingle to find their mates…
Wise old man from the sky… • Some researchers believe this being symbolizes ancestor worship • He could also represent either the dead father or the dead mother • His long hair? Symbol of a WITCH! (Beauchamp 456) • Can also be seen as a guardian figure
Pavilion • “Chinese pavilions are covered structures without surrounding walls and are a traditional part of Chinese architecture” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_pavilion). Central watchtower, architectural model, Eastern Han dynasty (25–220), 1st–early 3rd centuryChina Source; http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1984.397
Tiny feet as a symbol of beauty • “Foot binding was seen as a sign of beauty and attractiveness” (Mao). • “also a symbol of identity and virtue” (Mao). • Small feet were considered beautiful. Source: http://www.ispub.com/journal/the-internet-journal-of-biological-anthropology/volume-1-number-2/foot-binding-beauty-and-torture.html
What is a kingfisher? “Kingfishers are native to watery Southwest China, including the Nanning area, and to Southeast Asia, where they were hunted in Cambodia to supply a Chinese market with feathers for jewelry” (Beauchamp 457). Photo source: World Book Encyclopedia
The shoes! • How can a shoe with soles of solid gold enable her to walk “lighter than air”? • The answer: TRANSLATION ISSUES! The shoes were most likely embroidered with gold colored silk threads on the soles and heels.
Culture and “Yeh-Shen” • Questions to think about: • How big of a role does the culture play in this story? • How could the story change for other cultures based on your understanding of cultural elements?
Works cited Animal Symbolism - Chinese Customs: www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese.../animals_symbolism.htm Beauchamp, Fay. "Asian Origins of Cinderella:TheZhuang Storyteller of Guangxi." Oral Tradition 25.2 (2010): 447-96. www.journal.oraltradition.org. Web. http://journal.oraltradition.org/files/articles/25ii/10_25.2.pdf . Bolen, Eric G. "Kingfisher." World Book Student. World Book, 2012. Web. 19 July 2012. “From Classic to Tradition: Ch’in and Han Dynasties”: http://www.npm.gov.tw/exh95/chinhan/brief_en.html Mao, J. “Foot Binding: Beauty And Torture. “The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology. 2008 Volume 1 Number 2. DOI: 10.5580/11bb