Asian Folktales

9, 10, 11, 12

Wealth may be measured in something other than money. We may feel wealthy if we have a loving family or good health. Community wealth may be in relationships, respectful leaders, and good places to visit. 

PrintTwo or three 45-Minute Sessions

The learner will:

  • identify the historical and geographic settings of folktales.
  • identify the message and connections to philanthropy.
  • analyze what constitutes wealth other than money.
  • describe behavior traits that are rewarded and encouraged in civil society.

Youth access to these folktales (Learning to Give has permission to make these folktales available online to readers):

Teacher Preparation 

Invite a representative of a Asian American nonprofit to speak to the group and explain their mission. Ask about their focus related to local, national and international giving. If the learners wish to support this group or another, a fund-raiser may be planned. 

  • "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." 
  • "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.  "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. 
  • "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
  • "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.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Define "universal themes" as ideas that apply across cultures or disciplines. Folktales often explore universal themes in opposites, such as selfishness vs selflessness or wealth vs poverty. 

  2. 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). Describe physical characteristics and human characteristics.

  3. "Aina-Kizz and the Black-Bearded Bai" comes from China. Read the story together aand discuss the message and connection to philanthropy.

    • 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." 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." Discuss the idea of wealth other than financial wealth. 
  4. Another story that comes from China is "The Clever Wife." Read the story together and discuss the message and connection to philanthropy.

    • "Fu-hsing was remarkably proud of his wife and spoke of her as his "Incomparable Wisdom" and his "Matchless Wit." How they are perceived by the village folk? What do the magistrate’s actions throughout the story tell us about him, and what titles might he have?
    • What behavior traits are rewarded and encouraged? What behavior is seen as negative?
  5. Folktales often have themes that deal with opposites. Which of these show up in this folk tale and the other Asian folktales? 

    • Good vs. evil
    • Rich vs. poor
    • Wise vs. foolish
    • Age vs. youth
    • Beauty vs. ugliness
    • Stinginess vs. generosity
    • Fairness vs. unfairness.
  6. The Vietnamese story "Earth Cakes, Sky Cakes" focuses on the Vietnamese New Year’s Festival, Tet. Read the story together and discuss the message and connection to philanthropy.

    • For what traits was Lieu selected to be king? Was he a good leader? Would traits do you think are important for a leader? 
  7. Read "The King Who Was Friedtogether and discuss the message and connection to philanthropy. 

    • Compare the kings and identify the opposites from the list above.
    • What traits make a generous king?
    • Is King Karna's vow to never to eat "until he had given away a hundredweight of gold in charity" a generous action? What is his motivation and how does he earn the gold? What is the message of the folktale?
    • When King Karna heard the birds singing, he is jealous of Bikramajit. Does his jealousy change how you think about his generosity or is it still a worthy act of giving?
    • In what real life situations is philanthropy given in a competitive way? Is giving that is motivated by competition of less value?
  8. The next two folktales come from Iran (ancient Persia). Read "Sayed’s Boots" together and discuss the message and connection to philanthropy.

    • Was Sayed's unwillingness to give up anything he owned an example of frugality or selfishness? Why do you think that?
    • What did he (and the community) gain by giving up some of his possessions?
  9. Read the Persian "Stubborn Husband, Stubborn Wife" together and discuss the message and connection to philanthropy. 

    • 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?
    • Make a T-chart with the word Stubborn at the top. Label one side of the T "positive features" and the other side "negative features." Write positive and negative synonyms for "stubborn" on the chart. (i.e., determined and mulish) Think about how the husband and wife acted in the story. 
    • Where was the "generosity of spirit" in this story?
  10. "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. Discuss the meaning of neighborliness

  11. Read the story together and discuss the message and connection to philanthropy.

    • 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?
  12. Looking at the Asian folktales in this lesson, discuss examples of the following aspects of culture:

    • values and customs
    • virtuous behavior and how it is rewarded
    • admired and respected character traits

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Discuss the role of family life in shaping a democratic society.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.