Teaching Chinese folktales is a challenging but ultimately rewarding activity that can be a way to teach students core cultural beliefs and practices of the Chinese people. Teaching folk literature, however, presents some special challenges to the instructor, since folk literature differs in some crucial ways from more familiar forms of literature such as poetry, fiction and non-fiction narrative, novels and drama. Perhaps one of the key areas of difficulty when using folktales is that they are sometimes constructed in a way that makes them seem transparent. Often students will say that they enjoy a story, but just can’t seem to find much to say about it, and on other occasions students have been less generous upon their initial contact with Chinese folktales. My evolving response is one of patience in the knowledge that if given the opportunity students will warm up to Chinese folk literature, and not merely enjoy it but have something to say about it as well. The following, then, is a brief attempt to retrace some of my steps in learning how to better meet students’ needs when discussing Chinese folktales, followed by a folktale I have used in several classes, along with the type of analysis that might be used to shed light on the tale.
Using Chinese Folktales in the Classroom