Apr 06, 2020

Four Common Chinese Folktale Characters

Have you ever read any foreign folktale books to your children? How about Chinese folktales? Reading folktales from different cultures is a great way to expose your children to the diverse world we are living in. 

Chinese culture is famous for writing folktales that explain human nature and unfold historical or legendary events. The supernatural beings and animals turned into human forms are frequently encountered in Chinese folktales as well. 

So let’s dive into the world of Chinese folktales by learning four common Chinese folktale characters.

神 (God) + 仙 (Immortal) = 神仙 (Supernatural being) 

神仙 has various usages. Besides “supernatural being,” it can mean “God,” “celestial being” or “fairy.” You’ll often come across this word when reading Chinese folktales! 

神仙 pinyin: shén xiān; Supernatural being

仙 (Immortal) + 人 (Person)  = 仙人 (Celestial being/immortal) 

Immortals in Chinese folktales live happily, know how to entertain themselves in various ways and collectively represent long life. So unsurprisingly, the figures of immortals are often associated with birthday celebrations and still enjoy their popularity in the modern Chinese world. 

仙人 pinyin: xiān rén; Celestial being/immortal

白 (White) + 蛇 (Snake) = 白蛇 (White snake)

The Legend of the White Snake (白蛇傳/白蛇传) is a Chinese folktale about a white-snake fairy who flees down to the human world and falls in love with a man called Xu Xuan. The white-snake spirit transformed itself into a beauty (美人) and married the man Xu Xuan. However, their relationship turned sour after Xu Xuan discovered his wife’s secret.

白蛇 pinyin: bái shé; white snake

龜 (Turtle) + 兔 (Rabbit) = 龜兔 (The tortoise and the hare)

“The Tortoise and the Hare” is a well-known story among adults and children around the world, and China is no exception. The Chinese title of the story is translated into 龜兔賽跑 (turtle + rabbit + race) and the outcome of the race as you may already know – the tortoise won! 

龜兔/龟兔 pinyin: guī tù; The tortoise and the hare



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