Beyond the Dragon’s Daughter and Other Lin Lan Fairy Tales

The lack of Chinese fairy tales in English translation has hampered not only academic studies of the fairy tale, but also cross-cultural understanding of Chinese traditions in general. As a folklorist, I strongly believe that translating a body of literature, whether it’s a fairy tale or another literary genre, can foster a positive public understanding of people and culture. .

The importance of the Brothers Grimm in collecting and publishing folk and fairy tales told by ordinary people has been well recognized for two centuries, as has the influence of the Grimms in countries around the world. Fewer in the West are aware of a set of magical Chinese tales that are now acclaimed as the “Grimms of China”. The birth of tales began in 1924, when an author, Li Xaiofeng, published a series of stories under the pseudonym Lin Lan, an alias that would eventually be shared by an editorial team. Due to Lin Lan’s deep and widespread impact in China, some of the tales Lin Lan published in the late 1920s and early 1930s were introduced to German and English speaking readers as early as the late 1930s. However, Lin Lan’s name and related context were not properly represented. Thus, reintroducing the critical role played by Lin Lan as “the Grimms of China” is one of the goals of The Dragon Maiden and Other Lin Lan Fairy Tales.

Over the past two centuries, various negative stereotypes regarding Chinese people and culture have emerged in popular culture (eg, folktales, jokes, and movies) and in Western media. Unfortunately, these images have resurfaced in recent years. Over a hundred years ago, the Chinese were frequently portrayed as the “yellow peril” “pigtailed” and “slant-eyed” stereotypes that eventually led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. More recently , during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese were portrayed as the bat eaters and the cause of disease.

One thing is clear: we know that when a large part of the public believes in the stereotypes created on othersit is because they do not have access to factual and complex information about others. We know that stereotypes are prevalent over many years of misleading propaganda and perpetuated by certain ideologies. We also know that such derogatory stereotypes against others will end up harming we everything.

One of the most effective ways to build and reinforce positive cross-cultural communication is to tell/read stories, for adults or children, whether through books or other art forms. After all, understanding others through systematic education and entertainment is not only vital, but also helpful in building a peaceful and just world. Unfortunately, thematic and updated Chinese fairy tales in English translation are so few that it is difficult to find such materials for teaching, or even for bedtime reading. Therefore, it is not surprising that negative images of 19th century Chinese are continually used in daily public life. I hope this collection can help readers understand that the impact of the “Brothers Grimm” in China was no less important than in Germany and throughout the West, and that the fairy tales of a culture not only maintain the tradition of a people but also connect people from different cultures around the world. I am grateful to Jack Zipes, who has always promoted such humanistic communication and understanding through fairy tale studies, for starting the Strangely Modern Fairy Tales series and for encouraging me to build this collection. . I hope my addition is meaningful in reconstructing public images of a people and their culture that are less familiar.

From a historical point of view, The dragon girl is a demonstration of the Brothers Grimm’s direct impact on Chinese culture at the turn of the 20th century, when China sought to build a modern nation to replace a semi-feudal dynasty and semi-colonialized state. From a current point of view, the collection and study of fairy tales have contributed to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, an effort to promote human cultural diversity through a series of conventions initiated by UNESCO over the last decades.

Although some collections of modern Chinese fairy tales are available, they are generally a collage of tales from classical and unsystematic Chinese literature, without relevant geographical, linguistic, and social contexts of the storytelling events, audience, and storytellers. On the other hand, The dragon girl provides not only thematic tales (the four themes are: love with a fairy; predestined love; hatred and love of siblings; other strange tales), but also their historical and social contexts. For those with specific interests in the study of fairy tales, this collection also provides information on types of tales based on the ATU system, bibliographical notes on original Chinese publications, biographical notes on collectors, contributors , publishers and publishers. He thus engages in the academic discourse on oral narratives in general and the fairy tale in particular. Readers of this volume can also see that these tales were not only told at the beginning of the 20th century, but go back to centuries earlier. (to see, Magical Love: Fairy Tales from 21st Century China Peter Lang, 2021).

Of the forty-two fairy tales in this collection, most have been translated into English for the first time. I hope this collection will connect readers to other aspects of Chinese culture they have experienced through various folk forms such as jokes, proverbs, cartoons, films and children’s picture books. , and will help them understand how stereotypes against Chinese people and culture have been created. Above all, I hope readers will see how common the fairy tale form is to express our human desire for a meaningful life, and how different cultural beliefs and values ​​are expressed in types of tales similar. Ultimately, I hope readers of this collection gain a new understanding of how we can coexist in harmony while celebrating our different cultures.


Juwen Zhang is Professor of Chinese Studies at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, Fellow of the American Folklore Society, and current President of the Western States Folklore Society. besides to its edited and translated collection of fairy tales from early 20th century China, The Dragon’s Daughter and Other Fairy Tales by Lin Lan, published by Princeton University Press (2022), he also edited and translated Magical Love: Fairy Tales from 21st Century China (Peter Lang, 2021) and Epidemics in Popular Memory: Tales and Poems from Chinese History (OJP, 2021), as well as its monograph Oral Traditions in Contemporary China: Healing a Nation (Lexington Books, 2021).

Also of interest

Oddly Modern Fairy Tales is a series devoted to the publication of quirky literary fairy tales produced primarily during the first half of the 20th century. International in scope, the series includes new translations, surprising and unexpected tales from well-known writers and artists, and bizarre tales from gifted but overlooked authors. Postmodern before their time, the tales of Oddly Modern Fairy Tales transformed the genre and still strike a chord.

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