Chinese Folktales: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jaclyn Radtke

I am a second grade teacher. I have been teaching second grade for two years. I previously taught fifth grade. I work in an urban school district. I am also interesting in drama and dance, which is why I am currently an assistant director of our after school for the arts program and co-director/choreographer of our school productions. I have a bachelors and a masters degree in elementary education.

Chinese people are traditionally fond of stories. In this lesson, you will learn the meaning of a folktale and examine the meaning of a couple Chinese folktales.

What is a Folktale?

A folktale is a story that is passed down through multiple generations within a culture or people group. Because folktales are passed down orally and not usually written down, there are often many different versions! These stories are created for lots of reasons - to make sense of why the world is the way it is, to teach how to solve problems, and many other lessons.

While folktales are common in most cultures, the Chinese culture is well known for writing folktales that attempt to explain the wonders of the world. Although some of the details throughout a folktale can change as it gets passed down through the generations and different storytellers, the basis of each folktale remains the same. Let's take a look at a few examples!

Nian, The Horrible Monster

A long time ago, in a distant village in China, there was a monster named Nian. Each year, right around the time of the ringing in of the New Year, Nian would go into the village to scare the people.

One year, as Nian was going into the village, there was a villager dressed in a red robe. This frightened Nian and he began to run down the hill screaming. His screams also frightened the villager, who then dropped his bucket. The bucket began to roll down the hill, banging on the rocks and making quite a loud noise. This scared Nian even more and he ran faster.

When the villager reported this to the rest of his people, they prepared themselves for the next year, and when Nian arrived, they were all dressed in red, waving red banners and making loud banging and rattling noises. This scared Nian away and he never returned to the village again.

Because of this story, red is the color of luck in China. They believe that they were lucky to discover that the color red was what they needed to scare away the monster.

Each year on Chinese New Year's Eve, the villagers have a tradition. A tradition is something that is done by the same people every year, usually at the same time. In this case, the villagers make loud noises, have fireworks, and dress in red to symbolize their defeat of Nian and keep away any other monsters that may be lurking around them.

A costume of the monster Nian, used on Chinese New Year
Lion Dance Costume

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