Chinese folklore

Chinese folklore includes songs, dances, puppetry, and tales. It often tells stories of human nature, historical or legendary events, love, and the supernatural, or stories explaining natural phenomena and distinctive landmarks.[1]



The main influences on Chinese folk tales have been Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Some folk tales may have arrived from India or West Asia along with Buddhism; others have no known western counterparts, but are widespread throughout East Asia.[2] Chinese folk tales include a vast variety of forms such as myths, legends, fables, etc., and a number of folktale books such Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio now remain popular.

Well-known Chinese folk tales include:

  • The story of Qi Xi, also known as the Story of the Magpie Bridge or the Story of Cowherd and the Weaving Maid, which tells how the stars Altair and Vega came to their places in the sky.
  • The story of Hua Mulan, the female warrior who disguised herself as a man.
  • The story of Chang'e, the goddess of the moon.
  • The story of the Magic Paintbrush.
  • The story of Meng Jiangnü, the woman who sought her husband at the Great Wall.
  • The story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King - from the popular novel Journey to the West.

Influence of Folklore on Other Media

Chinese folklore has provided inspiration for Chinese writers and poets for centuries. Folk songs, which were originally partnered with dance and other styles of performing arts, provided inspiration for courtly poetry. Classical fiction began in the Han dynasty and was modeled after oral traditions, while Mongol and Ming dramatic plays were influenced by folk plays.[2]

Modern iterations of traditional Chinese stories can be found internationally as well as in native Chinese literature. Laurence Yep’s The Magic Paintbrush, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Walt Disney PicturesMulan all borrow from Chinese folklore traditions.

Study of Chinese Folklore in China

The Book of Songs (Shi Jing), the earliest known Chinese collection of poetry, contains 160 folk songs in addition to courtly songs and hymns. One tradition holds that Confucius himself collected these songs, while another says that an emperor compiled them as a means to gauge the mood of the people and the effectiveness of his rule.[3]

It is believed that Confucius did encourage his followers to study the songs contained in the Shi Jing, helping to secure the Shi Jing’s place among the Five Classics. After Confucian ideas became further entrenched in Chinese culture (after about 100 BCE), Confucius’ endorsement led many scholars to study the lyrics of the Shi Jing and interpret them as political allegories and commentaries.[4]

Around the 1910s, Chinese folklore began to gain popularity as an area of study with the beginnings of the movement to formally adopt Vernacular Chinese as the language of education and literature. Because Vernacular Chinese was the dialect in which most folklore was created, this movement brought to scholars’ attention the influences that Vernacular Chinese folklore had had upon classical literature. Hu Shi of the National Peking University, who had published several articles in support of the adoption of Vernacular Chinese, concluded that when Chinese writers drew their inspiration from folk traditions like traditional tales and songs, Chinese literature experienced a renaissance. When writers neglected these sources, they lost touch with the people of the nation. A new emphasis on the study of folklore, Hu concluded, could therefore usher in a new renaissance of Chinese literature.[2]

A rising sense of national identity was also partially responsible for spurring the new interest in traditional folklore. The first issue of the “Folk-Song Weekly,” a publication issued by the Folk-Song Research Society, stated that “Based on the folksongs, on the real feeling of the nation, a kind of new national poetry may be produced.”[2]

Some folklore enthusiasts also hoped to further social reforms by their work. To help improve the condition of the Chinese people, it was believed, it was necessary to understand their ideas, beliefs, and customs.[2]

Pre-Communist and Communist thinkers were especially energetic in this belief. In the time leading up to the founding of the Communist Party of China, many folk songs and stories were collected by Communist thinkers and scholars. Often, they were reinvented and reinterpreted to emphasize such themes as the virtue of the working commoner and the evil of aristocracy, while stories that expressed praise for the emperor were frequently left out of Communist collections. Some folk tales and folk plays that exist today may in fact have been deliberately written by Communist authors to emphasize particular social morals.[2]

Further reading

External links


  1. ^ Giskin, Howard. Chinese Folktales. (NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, 1997). ISBN 0-8442-5927-6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Eberhard, Wolfram, Folktales of China.(1965). University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965). University of Congress Catalog Card Number: 65-25440
  3. ^
  4. ^ /

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Chinese Ghouls and Goblins — is a book on the supernatural in Chinese folklore written by British author Gerald Willoughby Meade and published in London in 1928. (It was possibly published earlier in New York in 1926, but the records are so far indeterminate.) The book is… …   Wikipedia

  • Chinese demigods — are demigods that are half human, half god in Chinese mythology. They were said to be the children of Chinese gods such as the Jade Emperor or Guan Di, god of war for example. They were very good at combat. In some other Chinese folklore, Chinese …   Wikipedia

  • Folklore — For other uses, see Folklore (disambiguation). Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of… …   Wikipedia

  • Chinese culture — For culture in mainland China after 1949, see Culture of the People s Republic of China. A Chinese opera (Beijing opera) performance in Beijing. Chinese culture is one of the world s oldest and most complex.[1] …   Wikipedia

  • Chinese — refers to anything pertaining to the Chinese people. Chinese people, people of Chinese nationality, or one of several Chinese ethnicities Zhonghua minzu(中華民族), the supra ethnic Chinese nationality Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in… …   Wikipedia

  • Chinese swords — Ou Yezi making sword painting in Ou Yezi temple of Longquan City Swords have a long history in China. Stone swords were used in prehistoric times.[citation needed] Bronze swords have been tr …   Wikipedia

  • folklore — [[t]fo͟ʊklɔː(r)[/t]] N UNCOUNT Folklore is the traditional stories, customs, and habits of a particular community or nation. In Chinese folklore the bat is an emblem of good fortune …   English dictionary

  • Chinese dragon — Chinese name Traditional Chinese 龍 …   Wikipedia

  • Folklore (video game) — Folklore European cover art Developer(s) Game Republic Publisher(s) …   Wikipedia

  • Chinese Singaporean — 新加坡华人 新加坡華人 …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”