Through a study of various Asian folktales, all of which are linked below on the Learning to Give website, learners will investigate everyday qualities and characteristics that influence society. They will study examples of wealth other than money, qualities needed by ancient leaders compared to modern leaders, competitive giving, frugality and thriftiness as vices, stubbornness as a weakness, and problems that occur when greed and envy replace neighborliness.
The learner will:
- use the geographic themes of location, place and human-environment relations to describe the setting and culture represented in the folktale.
- identify cultural aspects of a people as revealed in the stories.
- analyze what constitutes wealth other than money.
- describe what behavior traits are rewarded and encouraged in a society and what behavior is seen as negative.
- compare traits of generosity in characters in various stories.
- research historic personages and events in the folktales.
Learners will share the story "Aina-Kizz and the Black-Bearded Bai" with a member of their family. They will then discuss Aina-Kizz’s quote, "But, as wise folk say, a rich family's fortune is in its herds, a poor family's in its children," deciding whether or not they agree with it
- "Aina-Kizz and the Black-Bearded Bai." Riordan, James. The Woman in the Moon, and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, ©1984. pp. 42-46. Used with the permission of James Riordan.
- "The Clever Wife." Kendall, Carol. Sweet and Sour: Tales from China. New York: The Seabury Press: Clarion Books, ©1978. pp. 14-17. Used with the permission of Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Company. "'The Clever Wife' from SWEET AND SOUR: Tales From China, retold by Carol Kendall and Yao-wen Li. Text copyright ©1970 by Carol Kendall and Yao-wen Li. Illustrations copyright ©1978 by Shirley Felts. Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved." www.hmco.com
- Duong, Xuan. "Vietnamese New Year’s Celebrations in the Old Days." Vietnam Journal Home Page. Spring 2003, Volume 07.03. http://www.vietnamjournal.org/article.php?sid=139 (3 November 2005). This article describes the Vietnamese New Year's Festival, better known as TET.
- "Earth Cakes, Sky Cakes." Hanh, Thich Nhat. A Taste of Earth and Other Legends of Vietnam. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, ©1993. Used with the permission of Parallax Press. www.parallax.org "Reprinted from A Taste of Earth (1993) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California."
- "The King Who Was Fried." Originally published as Wide Awake Stories in 1884 by Trübner and Company. Tales of the Punjab. Steel, Flora Annie Webster. London & New York: MacMillan and Co., 1894.
- "Sayed’s Boots." Andrews, Jan. Illustrated by Simon Ng. Out of the Everywhere: Tales for a New World. Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre, ©2000. pp. 75-78. Used with the permission of Jan Andrews, Simon Ng, and Groundwood Books. www.groundwoodbooks.com
- "Stubborn Husband, Stubborn Wife." Chinen M.D., Allan B. Once Upon a Midlife: Classic Stories and Mythic Tales to Illuminate the Middle Years. New York: Jeremy P.I Tarcher/Perigree Books, ©1993. pp. 39-43. Used with the permission of Allan B. Chinen and Heacock Literary Agency.
"We gratefully acknowledge the permissions granted by the following authors, publishers, and authors’ representatives to reprint excerpts from their publications: Heacock Literary Agency, Inc., for "Stubborn Husband, Stubborn Wife, and "The Lute Player," from Once Upon a Midlife: Classic Stories and Mythic Tales to Illuminate the Middle Years by Allan B. Chinen, M.D.; New York: Jeremy P.I Tarcher/Perigree Books, 1993, copyright Allan B. Chinen. All rights reserved."
- Wittmeyer, Phillip. "The Stubbornness Feature." The Michael Teachings Homepage. https://www.michaelteachings.com/stubbornness.html.
- "The Woodcutter." Muhawi, Ibrahim and Sharif Kanaana. Speak Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales. Berkeley: University of California Press, ©1989. pp. 267-72. Used with the permission of University of California Press.
The themes of these folktales from Asia are universal in nature. Discuss the meaning of "universal themes."
Explain that it is important to understand people and their environment when studying folktales. These stories come from the expansive continent of Asia, specifically, China, Vietnam, India, Iran, Persia (now known as Iran), and Palestine. On a map, locate these areas’ absolute locations (longitude and latitude) and relative locations (general descriptors of where the place is located).
In a brainstorming session, have the learners describe these locations as a place by listing recognizable physical characteristics (landforms, water bodies, climate, soil, natural vegetation, animal life) and human characteristics (inhabitants, settlement patterns, languages, religions, how they make a living).
"Aina-Kizz and the Black-Bearded Bai" comes from China. Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story. The term "bai" is never defined. What do the learners think it means? Are there any clues to its meaning?
Early in the story, the following statement is made, "But, as wise folk say, a rich family's fortune is in its herds, a poor family's in its children." Does this statement give a hint of what is to come in the story? Likewise, at the end of the story, Aina-Kizz says to her father, "Father, where the rich keep their fortune, so the poor keep their cunning. A girl's wise head is better than a man's full purse." Is Aina-Kizz correct in saying that cunning is better than wealth? Is this the lesson that the folktale teaches?
Another story that comes from China is "The Clever Wife." Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.
"Fu-hsing was remarkably proud of his wife and often spoke of her as his ‘Incomparable Wisdom’, his ‘Matchless Wit’, or his ‘Dearest Capability’." What does this tell you about the two characters, their relationship and how they are perceived by the village folk? Why did the others in the village understand that the scrolls referred to Fu-hsing’s wife and not him but the magistrate did not know this? What do the magistrate’s actions throughout the story tell us about him? What titles could the village folk have given the magistrate?
Letting this folktale give the learners clues as to the culture of the people and area, what aspects of the culture are revealed? What behavior traits are rewarded and encouraged? What behavior is seen as negative?
Folktales often have themes that deal with opposites. Examples include:
- Good vs. evil
- Rich vs. poor
- Wise vs. foolish
- Age vs. youth
- Beauty vs. ugliness
- Stinginess vs. generosity
- Fairness vs. unfairness.
Ask the learners to determine which of these "opposites" are demonstrated and explain how this is done in the story.
On a Venn diagram, compare Aina-Kizz and Fu-hsing’s wife. What traits do they have in common? How are they different? How does their presence in their families emphasize the importance of strong families in society?
The Vietnamese story "Earth Cakes, Sky Cakes" reflects much of the culture of the country as it focuses on the Vietnamese New Year’s Festival, better known as Tet. Split the learners into two groups. Assign the first half the task of researching King Hung Vuong and the dynasty he began which lasted for 2622 years and had (at least) eighteen kings. Assign the other group the task of researching the Tet festival (see Bibliographical References). Let the groups report their findings.
Read "Earth Cakes, Sky Cakes" together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.
In this story, Lieu was the son of King Hung Vuong I. He was selected to inherit the throne based on his special dish offered at the ancestral altar on New Year’s Day. What clues does the author provide as to Lieu’s character and his later ability to rule his country? If Lieu had lived today, what characteristics would have been seen as important for him to be able to rule his country? Is there an overlap of any of these characteristics or are the characteristics that were important centuries ago now of no consequence? Should modern leaders have any of these characteristics?
Another folktale with a generous king is the story "The King Who Was Fried." In it are two historic kings from India. "Karan" in the story is King Karna who is usually seen as a despot. "King Bikramajit" is the legendary King Vikramaditya (Vikram) who is often seen as generous and wise. Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson(s) of the story.
Does the fact that King Karna had made a vow never to eat "until he had given away a hundredweight of gold in charity" reveal him as an extremely generous man? Does the way he earns the gold negate his charity or is it a selfless act? In what way does the author portray him and lead the reader/listener to view the king?
When King Karna heard the birds singing, "Glory to Bikramajit!" he said to himself, "Who is this whom even the birds praise? I let myself be fried and eaten every day in order that I may be able to give away a hundredweight of gold in charity, yet no swan sings my song!" Does his jealousy lessen his generosity or is it still a worthy act of giving?
What convinces King Karna that King Bikramajit is more generous? Does King Karna’s competitive motivation make any difference to his giving? In what real life situations is charity given in a competitive way? Is giving, motivated by competition, of less value?
In what ways are King Hung Vuong II and King Bikramajit similar? How are they different?
The next two folktales come from Iran (ancient Persia). In the first one, "Sayed’s Boots," a man who was very poor moves to a new country and makes a good living for himself. The one thing he cannot change about his life is his unwillingness to spend money on necessities, which are symbolized by his old boots in this story. Read "Sayed’s Boots" together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.
When Sayed leaves the mosque, he believes that God has chosen to reward him by leaving him a beautiful new pair of boots. Although Sayed was stingy with his resources, to others and himself, he believed that God would reward such actions. Why would he believe he was doing a good thing by being stingy? Was Sayed’s stinginess based on "thriftiness" or "love of money"?
By giving away nothing that he owned, Sayed may have believed that he was being frugal and no one was being harmed. Was this true? Can frugality or thriftiness masquerade as stinginess or selfishness where one is unwilling to give away possessions?
What is the opposite of selfishness and how can it improve both the giver and receiver? Was Sayed happier after changing his life and was the community better off for his change? What did he gain by giving up some of his possessions?
The next folktale, "Stubborn Husband, Stubborn Wife," is also from Persia (Iran). It deals with a husband and wife who are so stubborn that it almost leads to tragic circumstances. Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.
Swiss theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater once said that "stubbornness is the strength of the weak." What did he mean by that? Can stubbornness also be seen as a way to resist future change?
Put a T-chart on the board. Label one side "positive features" and the other side "negative features". Using various resources, make a list on the board of the synonyms for "stubborn" putting each term under its appropriate category heading. (Note: As an example, "determined" would be placed under the positive heading and "mulish" would be placed under the negative heading.) Give examples from life of persons acting in a stubborn way and categorize them as positive or negative. Select one or two of the descriptors from the list that demonstrate how the husband and wife acted in the story. Was this a good or bad feature for a person to want to copy?
Where was the "generosity of spirit" in this story?
Although "Sayed’s Boots" and "Stubborn Husband, Stubborn Wife" are set in the Persian culture, they seem to have universal truths for everyone who reads them. What are these ideas that we can all understand?
The last story, "The Woodcutter," is a Palestinian/Arab tale which looks at the relationship between a poor woodcutter who gains a small measure of wealth and his greedy neighbors. Before reading the story, have the learners discuss briefly what constitutes neighborliness. Have them give examples of neighborliness in everyday life. Is neighborliness natural or does it depend on who is the neighbor?
Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.
The neighbors are shown taking advantage of the foolishness of the woodcutter. What does this say about their values of helping others in distress, honesty and fair dealing? How is society damaged when greed and envy replace neighborliness?
Looking at the Asian folktales that have been studied in this lesson, what aspects of the culture are revealed:
- values and customs;
- virtuous behavior and how it is rewarded;
- admired and respected traits;
- behavior viewed by the culture as negative?
Split the learners into research teams. Using the Internet or other available sources, have the learners research generosity/giving in the Asian American community. Allow the groups time to report their findings. If a group of interest is available from the community, invite a representative to speak to the class. If the nonprofit organization is of enough interest to the learners, assist them in determining what type of fund-raiser would allow them to make a contribution to the organization. Giving of their time and talent as volunteers is another option.
Ask the learners to each select one of the stories that appealed to them the most and design a graphic representation (poster) that highlights the lesson they learned from studying that story. It should also represent the culture in some way and clearly emphasize what quality it emphasized.
Learners will research generosity/giving in the Asian American community. They will invite a representative of a nonprofit to speak to the class and determine if they wish to volunteer their time, talent or funds.
Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
Benchmark HS.1 Discuss the role of family life in shaping a democratic society.
Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.