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For a country which has more than five thousand years of history and a rich culture, folktales are China’s earliest literature. They often include stories of human nature, historical or legendary events, love, and the supernatural, or stories explaining natural phenomena and distinctive landmarks.

Some folktales are beautiful and touching. Some are entertaining and comforting, and some educational. The same as western fairy tales, many Chinese folktales have deep morals for the children to learn and inculcate in themselves. The mentalities and values conveyed in Chinese folktales have impacted many aspects of Chinese culture and personal belief patterns (see Fairy tales for children, now in Chinese).

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One common theme of Chinese folktales is love. In old times in China, marriages were arranged, with little or no consent by the parties to be wed, it is not surprising that relationships based exclusively on love were rare.

Yet the persistence of the theme of true love suggests that, despite the harsh constrains of traditional Chinese society made romantic love a distant dream for most, people still cherish this dream secretly in their hearts.

Although the results of romance are often tragic in Chinese folktales, lovers are sometimes allowed the happiness they desire, as shown by this atypical Chinese folktale The Snail Girl (Giskin, 1997).

Once upon a time, there lived a young farmer named Xie Duan whose parents had died years before. Although everyone regarded him as a great hard-working, decent, and loyal neighbor and friend, Xie Duan was all alone by himself, since he had no money and, hence, no wife.

One evening, on his way back from the rice paddy, he spied a particularly big river snail lying on the side of the road. He picked up the snail and took it home, and put it into a vat with water.

The very next night, when Xie Duan came back home, he discovered his little house had been cleanly swept and that a very fine, still hot meal was awaiting him on his table!

“How kind my neighbors are. ” said Xie Duan. But when he asked his closest neighbors to thank those who have been kind, none had any knowledge of the incident.

Strangely, the same thing happened on the second day, then on the third, fourth and fifth day. At last, Xie Duan decided to find out who was his benefactor.

One afternoon, Xie Duan came back home especially early. Crouching down, he peered into the window, and to his great astonishment, he saw a pretty girl cooking at the stove.

He rushed to the var and found hat the giant snail was missing; only an empty shell remained.

“Who are you?” he asked. “Why are you caring for my house?”

The girl told him she was the snail he saved. She found him to be a kind-hearted man and wanted to do a favor for him to thank him.

Soon Xie Duan and the girl got married. They both loved each other deeply, and they lived happily ever after.

The story of The Snail Girl was adapted by Shanghai Animation Film Studio to produce an animated feature film, Golden Conch. In the movie Golden Conch (1963), the river snail girl becomes a sea conch fairy named Hailuo, and the farmer Xie Duan becomes a fisherman named Aniu.

The fairy watches the young fisherman rowing the boat, fishing and singing. Out of admiration, she transforms herself into a golden conch and intentionally lets the young man catch her and take her home.

The film Golden Conch adopts the expressive forms of Chinese shadow puppet and ancient Chinese art of paper cutouts. It expresses traditional Chinese folk arts as being bright and colorful, with strong nationalistic style. The film won the Lumumba Prize at the Asia-Africa International Film Festival in 1964.

Giskin, H. (1997): Chinese Folktales, Lincolnwood: NTC Publishing Group.

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