A Story From: China
Read Time: ["3 to 5mins"]
For Ages: 5 to 7yrs., 8 to 10yrs.

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The Young Head of the Household-Short Story for Kids


There was once a family consisting of a father, his four sons, and his three daughters-in-law. The three daughters-in-law, that is, the wives of the three elder sons, were recently brought into the house, and were all from one village a few miles away. Having no mother-in-law with them in their new home, and being lonesome and homesick for their former families, they constantly bothered the old man by asking permission to visit their former village.

Vexed by these continual pleas, he set himself to invent a method of putting an end to them, and at last gave the young women permission in this way: "You are always begging me to allow you to go and visit your mothers, and thinking that I am very hard-hearted because I do not let you go. Now you may go, but only upon condition that when you come back you will each bring me something I want. One of you shall bring me some fire wrapped in paper, the other shall bring me some wind in a paper, and the third shall bring me some music in wind. Unless you promise to bring me these, you are never to ask me to let you go home; and if you go and fail to get these for me, you are never to come back."

The old man did not suppose that these conditions would be accepted, as they were difficult to understand, much less to fulfill, but the girls were young and thoughtless, and in their anxiety to get away did not consider any of that. So they made ready with speed, and in great glee started off on foot to visit their mothers. After they had walked a long distance; chatting about what they should do and whom they should see in their native village, the high heel of one of them slipped from under her foot, and she fell down. Owing to this mishap they all stopped to adjust the misplaced footgear, and while doing this the conditions under which alone they could return to their husbands came to mind, and they began to cry.

While they sat there crying by the roadside a young girl came riding along on a water buffalo. She stopped and asked them what was the matter, and whether she could help them. They told her she could do them no good; but she persisted in offering her sympathy and inviting their confidence, till at last they told her their story. At once, she said that if they would go home with her she would show them a way out of their trouble. Their case seemed so hopeless, and the girl on the water buffalo seemed so sure of her own power to help them, that they finally went with her to her father's house, where she showed them how to comply with their father-in-law's demand.


How can the first daughter-in-law bring back fire wrapped in paper?
How can the second daughter-in-law bring back wind in a paper?
How can the third daughter-in-law bring back music in wind?

For the first, a paper lantern would do. When lighted, it would be a fire, and its paper surface would encompass the blaze, so that it would truly be "some fire wrapped in paper." For the second, a paper fan would suffice. When flapped, wind would issue from it, and the "wind wrapped in paper" could thus be carried to the old man. For the third, a set of chimes would provide music in the wind.

The three young women thanked the wise child, and went on their way rejoicing. After a pleasant visit to their home village, they took a paper lantern, a fan and a set of chimes, and returned to their father-in-law's house. As soon as he saw them approach he began to vent his anger at their light regard for his commands, but they assured him that they had perfectly obeyed him, and showed him that what they had brought fulfilled the conditions required. Much astonished, he inquired how it was that they had suddenly become so clever, and they told him the story of their journey, and of the girl that had so fortunately come to their relief. He inquired whether the girl was already betrothed, and finding that she was not, he engaged a go-between to see if he could arrange for the girl on the water buffalo to marry his youngest son.

Having succeeded in securing the girl as a daughter-in-law, he brought her home. The father told all the rest of the family that as there was no mother in the house, and as this girl had shown herself to be possessed of extraordinary wisdom, that she should be the head of the household.

Some happy and prosperous years passed, the young wife bore many children, and all fared very well in the household.




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"The Young Head of the Family" is based on a story of the same name from Chinese Fairy Tales by Adele M. Fielde (G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1893) pp.60-69.

Adapted by Elaine Lindy. ©1998. All rights reserved.


Adele M. Field, author of "The Young Head of the Family", wrote the following description of a Chinese woman's role at the turn of the 19th century: "A Chinese woman was like a hen in a coop; though she ran ever so fast, she never reached a point from which she could see more than was visible from behind the bars of her prison. The best that could be hoped for, for any girl, was that she might naturally be endowed with such gifts as would give her a commanding position within her husband's house, as was the case with the girl who became the 'young head of the household.'"