Ye Xian (Simplified Chinese: 叶限; Traditional Chinese: 葉限; pinyin: Yè Xiàn) or in the southern part, Yeh-Shen is a Chinese fairy tale that resembles the European Cinderella story (but about a millennium older). It is one of the oldest known variants of Cinderella, first published in the 9th-century compilation Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang.
A scholar named Wu, who is chieftain of a community of cave-dwellers, had two wives and a daughter by each of them. Yeh-Shen is Wu's beautiful daughter of one wife, and she is intelligent, artistic and gifted in many skills such as pottery and poetry. In contrast her half-sister, Jun-li, is spoiled, self-interested and lazy.
When her mother and then her father die from a local plague, Yeh-Shen is forced to become a lowly servant and work for her father's other wife, named Jin (Yeh's evil stepmother) and her daughter, Jun-li. Despite living a life burdened with chores and housework, and suffering endless abuse at her stepmother's hands, she finds solace when she ends up befriending a beautiful, 10-foot-long (3.0 m) fish in the lake. With golden eyes and scales, the fish is the reincarnation of her mother, who now watches out for her.
Angry that Yeh-Shen has found happiness, Jin kills the fish and serves it for dinner for herself and her daughter. Yeh-Shen is devastated until a spirit appears and tells her to bury the bones of the fish in pots at each corner of her bed. The spirit also tells her that whatever she needs will be granted if she talks to the bones.
The local spring festival takes place, where many young women will have the opportunity to meet potential suitors. Not wishing to spoil her own daughter's chances, Jin forces her stepdaughter to remain home and clean their cave-house. After her stepfamily has left, Yeh-Shen is visited by her mother's spirit again. Her mother tells her to dig up the pots containing the fish bones and Yeh-Shen finds fine clothes, including a cloak of kingfisher feathers, jewellery, and a pair of golden slippers to wear to the festival.
Yeh-Shen dons the clothes and goes to the festival by foot. She stays and enjoys herself until she realizes her stepmother may have recognized her and leaves, accidentally leaving behind a golden slipper. When she arrives home, she hides the clothes in the pots beneath her bed again. When her stepfamily returns, they discuss Jun-li's marriage prospects and also mention a mysterious maiden who appeared. They are unaware that it is Yeh-Shen they are speaking of.
The golden slipper is found and traded by various people until it reaches the hands of a nearby King. Fascinated by the shoe's small size, he issues a search to find the maiden whose foot will fit into the shoe and proclaims he will marry that girl. The shoe eventually reaches the cave-house of Yeh-Shen, Jun-li and her mother try to put on the shoe and fail. The shoe ends up fitting Yeh-Shen's foot perfectly.
In an attempt to dissuade the King from marrying Yeh-Shen, Jin declares that it was impossible for Yeh-Shen to have been at the festival. She saw the maiden who owns the golden slipper at the festival, the fine clothes she wore, and also mentions that Yeh-Shen was at home the entire time. Yeh-Shen proves her wrong by bringing out and putting the clothes she wore at the festival and the other golden slipper and the King, awed by Yeh-Shen's beauty, affirms that he will marry her, and she will become his chief wife in his palace. Jin makes a final attempt to dissuade the King from marrying her stepdaughter by accusing Yeh-Shen of stealing the maiden's golden shoe, but however, the King caught on and her evil plan was exposed. To punish Yeh-Shen's stepfamily for their cruelty and dishonesty, he forbids Yeh-Shen from bringing them to live with her. Jin and Jun-li were banished to a cave, where they spend the rest of their lives together until they are crushed to death by a shower of flying stones.
The novel Bound by Donna Jo Napoli is a retelling of this fairy tale.
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China retold by Ai-Ling Louie and illustrated by Ed Young is well-known children's picture book adaptation of the fairy tale.
Yeh-Shen was also animated for the CBS Saturday Morning show, CBS Storybreak.
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