Different Versions of Cinderella Around the World

Instructor: Erin Burke

Erin has taught college level english courses and has a master's degree in english.

This lesson will look at the Cinderella story throughout history. From China to England, we will explore different versions of the tale from around the world.

Beyond Disney

Quick, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Cinderella? Chances are your answer has something to do with a dainty blonde cartoon girl wearing glass slippers. But there is so much more to the Cinderella story. Throughout history, and in many countries around the world, this tale has been told and reimagined. The common denominator in these varied stories is the triumph of good over evil. It is well worth your time to go beyond the familiar and explore the many different versions of Cinderella.


While Disney's Cinderella is from 1950, the actual origins of the tale stretch back much further. The oldest known version of this story comes from the first century B.C.E. in ancient Greece. A Greek historian wrote it down, recounting a story from ancient Egypt. Another version popped up in China around 860 B.C.E. The Medieval era saw the Arabian Knights tales in the Middle East. These included several stories dealing with younger siblings being treated badly by elder siblings.

The earliest appearance of the Cinderella tale in Europe was in a 1634 collection of Italian fairy tales. It was this version that provided the basis for the Brothers Grimm German adaptation, as well as the French version by Charles Perrault in 1697. Perrault's rendering of the tale is the closest version to the Disney one we know today.

Cinderella Around the World


The Chinese have the story of Yeh-Shen, a girl raised by a nasty stepmother. Yeh-Shen's only friend is a fish whom the stepmother kills (told you she was nasty). An old man tells Yeh-Shen to gather the bones of the fish and make a wish, so she wishes to attend the spring festival. Her wish is granted, along with a gorgeous outfit and some golden slippers. Yeh-Shen loses one slipper, and the King finds it and starts searching for its owner. When Yeh-Shen tries it on, her clothes are transformed into the beautiful outfit from the festival. The King proposes, and they live happily ever after. Sounds familiar, but the story ends with the stepmother and stepsister being stoned to death for their cruelty. Not exactly a Disney ending!


The West-African contribution to the Cinderella story involves a girl named Chinye. Chinye's stepmother sends her into the forest to get water. Chinye meets an old woman who instructs her to go to a hut with gourds all over the floor and to pick the tiniest, most humble gourd. She is to bring it home and break it. When Chinye does so, treasures spill out of the gourd. Seeing this, the greedy stepsister runs over to the gourd-house and picks the biggest one she can find. When she breaks it open, the result is a terrible storm, not treasure. The stepfamily loses everything and is too proud to ask for help. They leave, and Chinye remains to help her fellow villagers with her wealth.


The Brits named their version of Cinderella Tattercoats. (Maybe not quite as pretty a name!) Tattercoats has a cruel grandfather instead of a stepmother. He blames the girl for her mother's death in childbirth and forces her to wear rags and beg. A wealthy young man, who turns out to be the prince, meets Tattercoats and falls in love with her. She goes to the ball to meet him at midnight, and everyone laughs at her ragged clothing. The prince reveals his identity and proposes marriage, and Tattercoats' clothes magically become beautiful.

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