Bear Grandma (熊家婆), A Chinese Little Red Riding Hood


Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Jinhua (金花, meaning “Golden Flower”), who lived in the mountains with her mother and younger brother. One day, the mom set off to visit the children’s aunt. Before she went, she entrusted Jinhua with the responsibility of taking care of her younger brother and said that she had asked her mom, the children’s grandma, to stay for the night. 

At sunset, Jinhua finished a day’s labor. She raised her voice to call for grandma, who lived in the neighboring mountain and would normally respond quickly. To her surprise, no matter how many times and how loud she called for grandma, grandma did not answer. Jinhua had to return home alone, locked the door, and told her brother that they would spend the night alone. Fortunately, Jinhua had always been a brave and bright young girl, so she ensured her brother that nothing would happen to them.

As Jinhua comforted her brother with bedtime stories, she heard someone knocking on their door, then a low voice murmured: “Grandma is here!” 

Her brother was so excited that grandma finally arrived and urged Jinhua to open the door. The low voice told Jinhua: “Grandma’s eyes are sensitive to light, blow off the candles then let me in.” 

Jinhua then blew off the candles and welcomed grandma in. It was so dark inside that she couldn’t see grandma’s face. Grandma sat on a wooden stool, but the stool broke, so Jinhua had to ask grandma to sit on their pottery jar. However, when Jinhua kneeled down to tend to the fire, she saw a pair of furry feet. She realized that this was not their grandma, but Bear Grandma in disguise, a bear known to the local people for sneaking into local households and eating their children. Jinhua tried to calm herself down and started to plot. 

Jinhua first took her brother to a different room, patted him to sleep and locked the room up. Then she asked if she can sleep with grandma, and Bear Grandma happily agreed. As Bear Grandma salivated, Jinhua said she had to defecate and went outside. To prevent Jinhua from running away, Bear Grandma tied Jinhua’s wrist with its own with a twisted manila rope. Bear Grandma pulled the rope gently every once in a while to make sure Jinhua hadn’t run away, but Jinhua did not return. Bear Grandma then pulled harder and only heard the sound of jars breaking.

Bear Grandma angrily chased outside and saw a broken pottery jar on the ground, certainly no sign of Jinhua. Bear Grandma exited the house and saw Jinhua in the pond. However, every time Bear Grandma lowered itself to grab in the water, Jinhua disappeared. Jinhua burst out in laughter. Bear Grandma looked up and found Jinhua hiding high up in a pear tree near the pond, and it was only her reflection in the water. Bear Grandma tried to climb up the tree, but the trunk had became slippery because Jinhua had poured tung oil on the trunk earlier. No matter how angry it was, Bear Grandma had no way but to wait on the ground.

Jinhua asked: “Grandma, would you like to eat some pears instead? Bring me the darts stored inside the house and I can shoot down some pears.”

Having already lost its mind, Bear Grandma happily obeyed and passed the darts up to Jinhua. Bear Grandma opened its mouth and waited for the pears Jinhua shot down to fall in its mouth.

Jinhua said: “Grandma, open your mouth wider because this one’s big!”

Bear Grandma opened its mouth wide, but instead of pears, a dart fell into its mouth. After a painful moan, Bear Grandma collapsed.

When the sun came up again, Jinhua’s brother woke up after a long night’s sleep and was not aware of what happened last night. Their mom arrived home and rewarded Jinhua for guarding their household heroically.


The story of Jinhua and the Bear Grandma was first known to me as one of the bedtime stories my maternal grandmother told me when I was a toddler. When collecting folk narratives for this project, I asked her again for details. My grandmother was from Sichuan, and correspondingly the story of Bear Grandma is a Sichuan local story and was originally told in Sichuan dialect.


Personally, I have always considered Bear Grandma as the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood as a coming-of-age story that involves a girl as the protagonist, a beast as the villain, and the plot of having the villain disguised as grandma. However, instead of venturing out into the woods, Bear Grandma is about guarding the girl’s household. Therefore, unlike Little Red Riding Hood which touches on the theme of lost innocence, Bear Grandma highlights the girl’s wit and taking up adult responsibility to defend herself and her younger brother. In addition, Bear Grandma shares another similarity with a version of Little Red Riding Hood shown in class, which involves the villain tying itself with the girl to stop her from escaping. Despite all these structural similarities, the two stories deliver different coming-of-age messages.

As it appears to me, the story of Bear Grandma is notably local besides it being told in Sichuan dialect. The story being set in the mountains matches Sichuan’s geography in reality, and Bear Grandma symbolizing dangers from the wild was once indeed a daily theme of life in Sichuan before industrialization. In addition, local folk objects can be found in the narrative, including the pottery jar which is used to store Sichuan pickles, twisted manila rope which used to be a common handcraft, and the darts local people used to hunt and fish. Active and passive bearers of the story, like my grandmother, would likely be reminded of their Sichuan origin and even become nostalgic every time they tell or hear about Bear Grandma.