Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Dark Fairy Tales" Being Published for Chinese Children

Garri Bardin’s The Ugly Duckling (Russian animation 2010)
What's so new about these trends you ask? Isn't everything getting a dark make-over these days?

Not quite in this manner. This has popped up quite a few times in the past week or so with the fairy tale pages spreading far and wide through Chinese social media so I thought it was worth a full post rather than just the darkly retold fairy tale pages link I put on Facebook last week.

Ugly Duckling by Beleleu
This time we're talking about children's books - LITTLE children's books. Children's books with death, torture and revenge for the end of the story and no "happily ever after "anywhere in sight.
Netizens expressed disbelief over the dark ending of these children’s stories, which the online media Shanghaiist calls a “very Chinese twist.” (Source)

Although around 90% of children's books in China are imported (with their happily ever afters intact) the 10% published there showing a new trend of telling a different sort of story - on two levels:

From Offbeat China:
If what a person reads and learns in his childhood does have an impact on who he will grow into, then the story may shed some light on…well…a hell lot of why China is what it is today.
The Ugly Duckling by Andrew J. Purcell

From Global Times:
"And they lived happily ever after," is how a kid's fairy tale usually ends, but a number of classic fairy tales have been adapted here in China with different endings: the ugly duckling does not grow up into a swan but gets caught by a peasant woman and made into a dish; Cinderella is burnt to death as a burial object of the prince; and the sleeping beauty turns out to be a witch who takes revenge on the prince that gave up on trying to save her.  
Such adapted fairy tales also include The Little MermaidSnow WhiteLittle Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast. Compared with the original versions of these classics, they contain more of the dark side of life that occurs in modern-day society. And because they have such dark endings, they have been dubbed "dark fairy tales" by Chinese netizens. 
(See the post on FB earlier in the week, showing The Ugly Duckling pages HERE.)
By emersontung
While these "new" stories are widely spread online and from printed books, they raise controversial discussions on whether they are appropriate for children.  
... (Some children's book publishers do not think) the new adaptations are good enough to exceed the classics. "Having been handed down for centuries, the classics contain meaningful educational benefits. [If there is no good cause,] I don't think the later generation should carelessly adapt them." 
...Yet, there are opposing opinions both among professionals and common people.  
Disney: Lilo & Stitch
A staff member surnamed Zhao at Blossom Press, one of the publishers of the adapted The Ugly Duckingstory, told reporters from Shanghai Morning Post that they were made aware of the controversy around the story and reread the piece several times but did not think there was anything inappropriate. 
"It is a fairy tale that is down-to-earth," she said, adding that there's no single writer for the new version of the story, but that it was adapted by a group and was examined carefully before being published.  
Also, some supporters argue that dark fairy tales can help raise children's awareness of possible bad things they might come across in daily life, especially since recent years have seen more and more violence against children in China.  
Ugly Duckling by Fernl
In a reader's opinion column in the Southern Metropolis Daily, an opinion holder with the name Wang Pan took the "dark version" of The Ugly Duckling as one example and wrote, "In real life, many children, [just like the duckling,] are rebellious. They do not listen to parents' warnings and leave home alone, and later meet some accidents." Wang believes it is more meaningful to warn the children than make them daydream of becoming a swan.  
...while disapproving of the "dark versions," Yang (Hongying, a popular children's author in China,)  believes that adaptations have appeared in the market because the foreign classics are no longer applicable to the lives of modern Chinese children.  
"So some people can make a selling point by adding in something more relevant to the society. But those made under the guise of a classic can do more harm."
And here's how The Ugly Duckling ends:
Chinese "Dark Fairy Tale": The Ugly Duckling
“At home, the lady prepared to kill the ugly duckling. The ugly duckling struggled like crazy. He cried: ‘Please don’t! I’m a swan!’ The lady didn’t understand a single word. She pressed him hard and killed him. ‘This is the most difficult duck I’ve ever handled,’ she murmured. Then, using her excellent cooking skills, she made the ugly duckling into a wonderful dish.”
“The darkest thing about this story is that it teaches kids not to be themselves and to follow the masses,” one netizen wrote... (Source)
You can read the whole article HERE and there's an interesting discussion on Reddit HERE. All the Ugly Duckling pages can be found HERE

(Note: Unfortunately, in order to get more information on any other stories I need to have an account for a Chinese social media site so I'm unable to find sources, images or more details about the other stories right now. If anyone does, please do leave a link or extra info in the comments. I'm sure we'd all like to learn more.)

Additional sources: Offbeat China, Reddit, EpochTimes


  1. Not that into cutesy stuff for kids, but this is sad, disordered, and Ugly for sure

  2. Interesting... Sweden did something similar with children's books for quite a while as well. I'd be curious to see if there is any research on the impact of this, and perhaps the reasons for it as well.