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Short Story Wednesday, Stories from Asia (part 2)

July 20, 2011

Update: This started as a Saturday project but due to other commitments on Kailana’s side we are rescheduling to Wednesdays. Expect further posts on the tales from this book on Wednesdays.

Title: Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters
Author: Ragan, Kathleen

A definitive sourcebook of folk tales and fairy tales and the first of its kind to feature a variety of multicultural heroines, this book of 100 stories celebrates strong female heroines across time and space.

Kailana of The Written World and I are, as you may have seen, reviewing the stories in this collection in bunches each Saturday until we finish. Do feel free to pick up the book and join us!

See earlier posts: Introduction, Stories from Europe part 1, Stories from Europe part 2, Stories from Americaa quick note, Stories from Asia part 1.

And Kailana’s earlier posts: IntroductionStories from Europe part 1Stories from Europe part 2, Stories from America, Stories from Asia part 1.

Stories Read This Week:
‘The Tiger and the Coal Peddler’s Wife’ (Korea)
‘The Plucky Maiden’ (Korea)
‘The Phoenix and Her City’ (Hui People, China)
‘Sailimai’s Four Precious Things’ (Hui People, China)
‘A Woman’s Love’ (Uighur People, China)
‘Maiden Liu, the Songster’ (Yao People, China)
‘The Festival of Pouring Water’ (Yunnan, China)
‘A Polite Idiosyncrasy’ (Kwangtung, China)
‘The Young Head of the Family’ (Kwangtung, China)
‘Altyn-Aryg’ (Altaian People, Siberia)
‘The Wife Who Stole a Heart’ (Kalmuck People, Siberia)


1. We both were getting frustrated with the stories recently because they are starting to fall into certain stereotypes. Do you feel they got better or worse this week and why? If anything I found things got worse – the stories stayed about the same but the analysis Ragan provided of them just made me so angry in a few ways, as I will discuss more below!

2. In ‘The Plucky Maiden’ the plucky maiden really just looks out for herself – what did you think of this in terms of an empowering tale? Do you think it is truly feminist? I don’t find it very empowering at all actually. A corrupt Governor hears of a beautiful woman and decides she must be his concubine, she tells her father that it is fine, then convinces the Governor to marry her instead. However, rules say that time permit only one wife and so although the Governor loves her over his first wife and other concubines she has no rights. She ends up petitioning the King who gives her rights. This story completely disregards all the other women in the Governors life as well as all other women in this situation. This one woman is given preference and status but no one else is helped. To me stories like this show why women need to band together and think of each other.

3. Starting with ‘The Phoenix and Her City’ and then again in a few more of the stories Ragan specifically compares the events of the story to a ‘Western’ feminist, what did you think of this? Why do you think it only came up now in this section and do you think this is a good thing? This was actually my favorite story this week because in it the Phoenix gives herself to the city to keep it prosperous despite all struggles. When corrupt officials want to take over they know that they have to dismantle the good that she has done (like education) – this shows how corruption and good can’t go together. The story also showed a woman (in this case the Phoenix) who does all she can to help others.

But then Ragan’s analysis for some reason requires the story to get a more ‘relevant’ explanation for those of us who live in North America? It was frustrating that unlike the European and North American tales she felt these Asian tales needed a North American lens added to them. So in this case the Phoenix can be compared to, say, Mary McDowell. I thought it was unnecessary and not a good thing. I think the stories should be able to stand on their own without comparison as the others did.

4. Following on the answer above, in ‘Maiden Liu, the Songster’ Ragan in the note area compares Liu to people like Jane Goodall who also studied and worked with ‘another group’. What did you think of this message and comparison? Wow the racism implied in that comparison nearly did me in. I don’t think crossing a social boundary to live with and work with another ethnic group is comparable to working with primates, and implied in this is a comparison of the Yao people to primates! Yes I suppose in a way “these women are protesting their own people’s oppression of another group.” but that doesn’t mean that comparing a group of people to animals is helpful in any way? Not impressed at all.

5. Did you like the way relationships were portrayed in ‘A Polite Idiosyncrasy’? Do you see this as a fairy tale? While I didn’t see it as a fairy tale, I did like the story. In it a woman thinks she is talking to her daughter but is actually talking to her Mother-In-Law. The mother apologizes by saying that when the lights go out she babbles, the mother-in-law replies that when the lights go out she goes deaf. I liked how this showed the importance of compassion and effort in friendships and families.

6. In ‘The Young Head of the Family’ Ragan points out how stereotypical behavior can hurt women, what do you think of this? Did you see the tale as subversive in that sense?  While the story wasn’t a favorite for me, the way the young woman stood up to the Mandarin was quite impressive. I loved how it was pointed out how standing up for yourself despite being taught to always be submissive is a good and useful thing. I think that children are done a disservice being taught to always be polite and obey rather than think critically.

7. What did you think of the way ‘The Wife Who Stole a Heart’ begins? Do you think this story is really feminist and helps women or does the women against woman aspect of it hurt? While the woman went through a lot of feats to prove herself and regain the Khan, the way the story started was offensive to me. The Khan is married but to a woman he doesn’t love, so he makes another woman pregnant. The other woman sends the wife home (and we have no idea what her thoughts are on this) and becomes the new wife and works to bring the Khan back. We need more tales where women learn that we aren’t the enemies and that we ought to work together. Playing on the woman against women anger and jealousy and just dismissing his cheating and infidelity as well as the first wife’s feelings and life seems callous and just wrong.

Make sure you check out Kailana’s responses to the questions she asked this week as well!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2011 9:17 am

    I have barely read stories from countries like China, Korea, etc. and so reading these stories looks like a whole great new adventure. Interesting responses as always.

  2. July 20, 2011 9:55 am

    Wow, it sounds like Ragan had a lot of contentious things to say in this part of the book. I am also surprised that she compared working and living with a different ethnic group to working and living with primates! That’s some serious cheek, or possibly something even worse! I find these conversations that you two are having about this book fascinating, and will be sad when they end.

    • July 22, 2011 12:15 pm

      Yes, isn’t it… eeck? Sigh. I’m just not loving this collection as much as I’d hoped I would sadly zibilee.


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