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Yeh Hsien - Earliest Cinderella Story

Updated on September 30, 2013

The story of Yeh Hsien is believed by many people to be the original telling of Cinderella. In China, Cinderella is known as Yeh Hsien, this story was told about 800 years (in the 9th century) before European created Cinderella.

The Story

Once upon a time, there lived a girl named Ye Xian (or Yeh Hsien) in Southern China. Her father had two wives and a daughter by each of them. Unfortunately, Yeh Hsien’s mother died while she was still a baby. Therefore she was raised by her cruel stepmother who didnt like her because Yeh Hsien was more beautiful than her own daughter. The stepmother treated her poorly, she was dressed in rags and was forced to do the hardest chores.

The only friend Yeh Hsien had was a beautiful fish, 3 m (10 feet) long with big golden eyes. The fish was a guardian spirit sent to Yeh Hsien by her own mother. Yeh Hsien loved the fish, she talked to it and fed it every day. However, her stepmother knew about the fish so she caught the fish, killed it, cooked it and ate it.

When Yeh Hsien realized that her only friend is gone, she crumpled to the ground weeping. Not long after she cried, suddenly an old man floated down from the sky and told Yeh Hsien that she should find the fish bones as they are filled with a powerful spirit. Whatever she wished for, the bones would grant it, but she was warned not to waste their gifts. Yeh Hsien went to find the fish bones and kept them in a box.

One day, Yeh Hsien wished that she could go to the village festival party. This is also the perfect time for the young maidens to meet potential husbands. However, her stepmother did not allow Yeh Hsien to go to the party so the stepmother and her own daughter instead left for the festival leaving Yeh Hsien behind. The fish bones knew that Yeh Hsien desperately want to attend to the festival so the bones gave her a surprise. Suddenly Yeh Hsien found herself wearing a beautiful gown with a dazzling cloak of kingfisher feathers, and a pair of golden cloth shoes. Since the festival only celebrated once a year, so the fish bones strongly suggested Yeh Hsien to go for the party.

Finally, Yeh Hsien went to the festival. When she walked she felt lighter than air. Not surprising that all the people were looking at her at the party. Being worried that her stepmother and sister could recognise her, Yeh Hsien went back home much earlier but she left one shoe at the fetival in a hurry to run home. Unfortunately, Yeh Hsien could no longer talk to the bones as the other half was missing, so she has to find it.

The golden shoe was found by a trader who then sold it with big price. The shoe was then passed on to various people until it finally reached the hands of a king. Fascinated by the shoe’s small size, the king issued a search to find the actual owner of the shoe. He proclaimed that he would marry the girl whose foot can fit into the shoe.

Right: Yeh Hsien's golden shoes in Chinese Cinderella version
Right: Yeh Hsien's golden shoes in Chinese Cinderella version

All the women came to try on the shoe but no ones foot in the whole kingdom could fit in that tiny shoe. Despondent that he could not find the owner, the king made a pavilion and placed the shoe there on display. One dark night, Yeh Hsien slipped very quietly across the pavilion and took the golden shoe but soon the king’s men rushed out and arrested her. Yeh Hsien was mistaken as a thief and she was brought before the king.

Yeh Hsien explained to the king about her life, her lost friend, her stepmother, everything. As he looked closer at her face, the king was struck by her beauty and he noticed that Yeh Hsien had the tiniest feet.

The king and his men followed Yeh Hsien to her home where she produced the other shoe. Now the king believed that Yeh Hsien was the actual owner of the golden shoes. They got married and lived happily ever after.

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