Tag Archives: Chinese tales

The Little White Snake


AX: “This is very common. If you ask any Chinese person, they could tell you about it. So there’s this little white snake. My tale is… a long time ago, there was a little white snake, and she wanted to become a human and go to school. For context, I was a little girl who did not want to go to school, by the way. As she was slithering down the mountain, a hunter caught her and was about to kill her, but then the hunter’s apprentice, this little boy, was like no, she’s innocent, let’s just let her go! So the hunter released her, and she never forgot about this. So centuries pass by, and this little white snake has been training and learning to be a human forever, and then when she does it, she runs into the reincarnation of that apprentice, and they fall in love… happy story. They have a child. But then the monks found out she was actually a snake, so they locked her up under a tower. This little boy grows up, went to school trying to save his mother. He ended up being smart enough and gained enough credibility to force the tower to come down, and that’s how he freed his mother. There’s a lot of variations of it. I think in other variations, there’s no child, it’s just the snake falling in love with her lover, and in others, it’s not even a lover: she grows up and has a child with someone we don’t name, and she frees herself from the monks.”

Context: AX is a freshman at USC studying English—she’s a fellow student in the folklore class and knows the material well. She grew up in Chino, a small suburb outside of Los Angeles. She’s of Asian descent.

AX: “Now that I’m saying it out loud, it’s so obvious that my mom was trying to get me to go to school! I was like oh my God, I want to learn how to go to school and learn how to free snakes!”

Analysis: The informant acknowledges the existence of other versions, enforcing the fact that it’s a folk narrative with variation. It reflects both the individual and community—the story is very uniquely AX’s, drawn from her community but affected by her mother’s telling. As for the category, it’s a tale, primarily aimed at AX as a child, updated to reflect her need to go to school. On a separate note, the coloration of the snake is loaded with symbolism. Going back to Vaz da Silva’s examination of the chromatic symbolism, the snake was white at first, representing purity. On top of that, the snake is described as little, which reflects its age. It’s childlike in size, adding onto the white coloration to create the image of purity. However, when she grows up and reaches maturity, she loses the form of a white snake and thereafter gives birth, a symbolic loss of purity with sex. In this particular variation, the snake appears to have agency until after giving birth, after which her son makes the major choices in the story. Her loss of agency may reflect the patriarchy of society, where a matriarch is only in control of herself until she bears an heir, after which he takes control.

The Woman on the Moon

Background: My informant is a friend of mine of Chinese heritage, though she grew up in the United States. They are currently attending Duke University. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. 

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Wednesday night. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. During the call and in between our discussions of different folklore items, we talked about the finals that she had coming up. Thus, this conversation was relatively casual. The main piece is made up of a transcription of our call.

Main Piece: Uhm..The archer… it’s too hot on…like in China I guess. Because there’s 10 suns so the archer shoots down 9 suns. So there’s only one sun left. But then that sun is mad for is mad at the archer for killing all the brothers. And he…uhm…the sun god poisons his..uhm watchamacallit…his girlfriend, or like his lover or something. 

And she can’t recover from it. So then he like travels really far or something and gets medicine for it. And the medicine sends her to the moon.

Me: OK, so like how did you hear about this story?

It was in my elementary Chinese school. 

Thoughts: I found this really interesting because most individuals who are connected to Chinese folklore and culture hear about the archer shooting down ten suns, but do not learn about how the last sun is angry and poison’s the archer’s lover. I also find this item of folklore interesting because it was taught at a Chinese afterschool, and probably fits in with the folk stories that are taught in culture curriculums in high school language classes. In that way, it is distributed in formal outlets, though there is still multiplicity and variation.

Bear Granny

Bear Granny

Context: The informant is a Chinese student in USC. The collector interviewed the informant (as GL) for tales. The informant then presented a creepy story in English told by his grandfather as a bedtime story. His grandfather is from Chongqing, an inland city in China.



GL: Okay so, there were two kids. They wandered in the woods. And then they met their granny in the woods for some reason I can’t remember. So they came back home with their granny. And their granny was like, “Okay. You two should take a bath and then we can sleep together.”

Somewhere late at night, the elder sister woke up. She heard some cracking sounds. It came from their granny. So she asked, “Granny, what are you eating?”

Granny said: “I am eating candies.”

And then, you know, some ray of moonlight shone in. The girl saw a lot of bloody intestines and flesh and stuff laying on the bed.  It’s a creepy story. She figured out that her granny was eating her little sister.

So she asked: “Granny, do you want some candies of different flavor?”

Granny was like, “Sure.”

So the girl took a heated, some sort of claws (Collector’s note: he probably meant tongs) from the fire place. (Collector’s note: he probably meant that the girl used the tongs to attack her granny)

And then the girl was like, “Granny, do you want some water to cool down?” and Granny was like “Yeah Sure”. And the girl took some boiling water and killed the Bear Granny.


GL: I think it is a pretty prevalence story from where I came from to scare the kids.

Collector: What do you think is this story trying to tell kids? To respect their granny? (in a joking tone)

GL: I had really complicated feelings when I first heard the story. I guess the purpose my grandparents told this story was, you know, I kept asking for bedtime stories before going to sleep, so they wanted to scare me off so they could do their own stuff.

Collector: Do you think it is a typical Chinese story or just a story in Chongqing?

GL: I think it is not typically Chinese but a lot of people from that area (Chongqing) have heard of that story.

Collector: Have you ever told this story to other people before?

GL: Yeah, I told this story to one of the kids in elementary school because he thought I was weird.

Collector: How was the effect?

GL: He was freaked out. (laughing) Yeah, he was freaked out.


Collector’s thought:

It is weird that adults tell kids creepy stories as bedtime stories.

I think the story involves an archetype of evil old ladies. But unlike those evil witches in Western tales, this demonic old lady is the grandmother of the protagonist, a dear one in the family. The Bear Granny reminds me of what Professor Thompson said in class that there is a belief in Japan that old people in the family will turn into ghosts (monsters) when they are too old. Maybe this is something common in East Asia. But the tale also resembles the Little Red Riding Hood.

I searched for Bear Granny in Chinese, and saw some articles saying that Bear Granny is popular in Chongqing and Sichuan area. It is called “熊嘎婆 [Mandarin in pinyin: xíong gā pó, literally: Bear Granny]”