Cinderella around the world: from China to Medieval Europe and further

Tijana Radeska
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Cinderella

No, it’s not Disney. Neither are the Brothers Grimm. The story of Cinderella is much older and almost every nation has it. She is classified in the Arne-Thompson system as “the persecuted heroine.”

So, it’s the story of a beautiful but harassed girl who obeys her mean stepmother and stepsisters but later her fortune changes and she becomes a princess.

The fairy tale of Cinderella. Drawing by Adrian Ludwig Richter

The fairy tale of Cinderella. Drawing by Adrian Ludwig Richter

 

Illustration by Anne Anderson

Illustration by Anne Anderson

Of course, not every culture has named the protagonist as Cinderella . For example, in the Albanian culture there is the story of Hirushja; Askungen in Swedish; Unsgeljin in Mongolian; Zolushka in Russian; Pelenė in Lithuanian; Cendrillon in French; Aschenbrödel in German etc.

 

Illustration from 1867, by Gustave Doré.

Illustration from 1867, by Gustave Doré

 

"He seated Cinderella slipper and approaching her little foot, he saw that there came easily, and she was there just like wax." Gustave Doré illustration from 1867

“He seated Cinderella slipper and approaching her little foot, he saw that there came easily, and she was there just like wax.” Gustave Doré illustration from 1867

One of the oldest documented versions of the story appeared in China, around 860. In that version, Ye Xian is incredibly beautiful, kind and gentle girl, who is gifted in many skills such as pottery and poetry. She befriends a fish which embodies the spirit of her mother, but Ye Xian’s stepmother kills the fish.

Ye Xian saves the bones of the fish which are magical and create her a gown for the New Year Festival where she is recognized by her stepmother and stepsister. While running away from them, she loses her slipper. The king finds the slipper, falls in love with Ye Xian and saves her from the cruelty she lives in.

Alexander Zick illustrated Cinderella with the doves, inspired by the Grimms' version

Alexander Zick illustrated Cinderella with the doves, inspired by the Grimms’ version

 

Cinderella on the French popular prints of the XIX century

Cinderella on the French popular print from XIX century

There are also few interesting versions of the story from Iran and the Middle East. One of them is titled as the “Maah Pishànih” which means “The Girl With The Moon On Her Forehead.” These versions have a different beginning of the story – Cinderella kills her mother so that her father could marry the Quran observer in the neighborhood. But her new stepmother is very cruel and her stepsister is stupid and mean.

She is harassed and lonely, so she befriends either a cow (her mother’s spirit/reincarnation), a fish (sent by her mother or Allah) or a 1000-year-old, underground female demon which becomes her helper. After working hard for her stepmother, she is rewarded with a moon- shaped jewel on her forehead (and a star on her chin or a long golden hair).

Then, one day, respectively to the culture, the Sultan, eventually the King, or the Emperor sees her face at a celebration .She escapes as she feels embarrassed (Islamic women should hide their face and stay reserved in front of men) but the King falls in love with her. The plot is pretty similar to the familiar story.

Cinderella tries on the golden slipper. German illustration from the 19th century

Cinderella tries on the golden slipper. German illustration from the 19th century

 

Oliver Herford illustrated Cinderella with the Fairy Godmother, inspired by Perrault's version

Oliver Herford illustrated Cinderella with the Fairy Godmother, inspired by Perrault’s version

Also, there are some elements of the story that vary in the different versions and make it creepy and frightening. For example, Disney’s motion picture from 1950 is based on the Brothers Grimm version but the original Grimm’s story is bloodier than the movie.

In this version, Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their toes so the golden slipper would fit their feet. Also, instead of a godmother, there is a wishing tree next to her mother’s grave.

German stamp - Cinderella can be helped by pigeons while reading the lenses

German stamp – Cinderella is helped by pigeons while reading the lenses

Cinderella receives her ball dress from a tree

Cinderella receives her ball gown from a tree

 

 Cinderella leaves the castle and loses a shoe

Cinderella leaves the castle and loses a shoe

 

The prince leads Cinderella as his bride

The prince leads Cinderella as his bride

Considering Cinderella’s father, in some versions, he stands with his wife (Cinderella’s stepmother) and humiliates his daughter.In other, he isn’t aware of the situation or he’s presented as being away on a trip or as deceased.

There are versions of the story where the stepmother doesn’t appear at all and Cinderella is harassed by her stepsisters. Sometimes the antagonist is rather a stepfather who oppresses her because he wants to enlarge the dowry of his daughters on account of Cinderella’s belongings.

Cinderella sculpture in fairy tale fountain in Volkspark Friedrichshain from 1913

Cinderella sculpture in fairy tale fountain in Volkspark Friedrichshain from 1913

 

Cinderella Sculpture at the Märchenbrunnen in the Schulenburgpark by Katharina Szelinski-Singer (1970). Photo credit

Cinderella Sculpture at the Märchenbrunnen in the Schulenburgpark by Katharina Szelinski-Singer (1970). Photo credit

Cinderella Shoe at the castle ruin in Polle. Photo credit

Cinderella Shoe at the ruined castle in Polle. Photo credit

We have another  fairy tale  for you: The Earliest, folk versions of Little Red Riding Hood are horrifying, violent & grotesque

Is “Cinderella” a story for children? Cinderella who kills her mother or Cinderella’s sisters who cut off their toes? What about Cinderella who is harassed by her stepfather because of obscure reasons? One thing is definitely sure- the world certainly has a vivid imagination and an interesting folklore.