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Chinese folklore encompasses the folklore of China, and includes songs, poetry, 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] Along with Chinese mythology it forms an important element in Chinese popular religion.

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FolktalesEdit

 
The reunion of The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. Artwork in the Summer Palace in Beijing.

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

Chinese folklore contains many symbolic folk meanings for the objects and animals within the folktales. One example of this is the symbolic meaning behind frogs and toads. In the "Chinese myth of the Moon Goddess, Chang E", frogs and toads are a symbol of wealth and prosperity as well as symbolize fertility, regeneration, yin, and immortality. Each Chinese folktale includes this kind of representation of various objects and animals and uses symbolic messages through its characters and usually strives to convey a message that instills the reader with some sort of virtuous insight. These messages are vital to Chinese culture and through these folktales, they will be passed down to future generations to also learn from.[3]


Influence of folklore on other mediaEdit

 
The Journey to eternal life of Lady Dai (Xin Chui). Mawangdui, Hunan Province, about 168 before the Common Era.

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 Yuan and Ming era dramatic plays were influenced by folk plays.[2]

Chinese folklore has provided inspiration for visual imagery by Chinese weavers, painters and watercolorists, florists. One of the most striking examples is a silk funerary banner (circa 168 BC) that contains a number of stories from early China.[4]

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 Pictures' Mulan all borrow from Chinese folklore traditions.

Study of Chinese folkloreEdit

The Classic of Poetry, 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.[5]

It is believed that Confucius did encourage his followers to study the songs contained in the Classic of Poetry, helping to secure the Classic of Poetry's place among the Five Classics. After Confucian ideas became further entrenched in Chinese culture (after about 100 BCE), Confucius's endorsement led many scholars to study the lyrics of the Classic of Poetry and interpret them as political allegories and commentaries.[6]

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 upon classical literature. Hu Shih of the 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 such as 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]

The Folksong Studies Movement became a key contributor to establishing Chinese Folklore as a modern academic discipline. This movement was founded by students and professors at Peking University in 1918. They were successful in creating a field of study that focused on literature pertaining to Chinese folklore and attempted to bring to light the early traditions and culture of Chinese folklore in order to reestablish China's national spirit.[7]

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 folk songs, 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] After China emerged from the Maoist period in the late 1970s, the state had an increasingly more accepting position toward academic research on China’s cultural traditions and folklore. Forbidden traditions and practices in early Chinese history were at this point in time becoming more relevant and accepted within the Chinese culture.[8]

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]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  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. ^ Shanshan, Y. (2016). Frogs and Toads in Chinese Myths, Legends, and Folklore. Chinese America: History & Perspectives, 77.
  4. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=cuddgTWyx50C&dq=hare+and+toad+on+the+moon&source=gbs_navlinks_s Chinese Myths, by Anne Birrell. University of Texas Press, Sep 15, 2000 - Literary Criticism - 80 pages
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1998-01-15. Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1998-01-15. Retrieved 2009-02-12.  /
  7. ^ AN, D., & YANG, L. (2015). Chinese Folklore Since the Late 1970s. Asian Ethnology, 74(2), 273-290.
  8. ^ AN, D., & YANG, L. (2015). Chinese Folklore Since the Late 1970s. Asian Ethnology, 74(2), 273-290.

Further readingEdit

  • Lou Tsu-k'uang (ed.), Asian Folklore and Social Life - 2 vols. (Orient Cultural Service, Taiwan, 1975).
  • Women of China (firm), Women in Chinese Folklore. (Chinese Publications Centre, Beijing, 1983)

External linksEdit