Did you know that the Monkey King has a connection to Cinderella?! In this brief article, I will summarize some of the findings laid out in Beauchamp (n.d.), which highlights the presence of the Cinderella story cycle in the ethnic folklore of China, a world famous India epic, and even Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592).
I. Egypt and Greece
Before I continue, I want to briefly mention one of the oldest Western variants of the Cinderella story cycle, Rhodopis, a tale set in ancient Egypt.
The story describes how the god Horus sends an eagle (or takes the form of one) to steal the slipper of the titular Greek slave and delivers it to an Egyptian Pharaoh, who launches a search for and eventually marries the woman (fig. 1). The tale was first recorded by the Greek geographer Strabo in 7 BCE (Ripley, 2010, pp. 185-188). However, the work is part of a wider story cycle evident throughout Asia and the Middle East.
Fig. 1 – The Pharaoh finds Rhodopis (larger version).
The earliest version that appears to have many of the familiar elements from the final European version hails from China. Titled “Yexian” (葉限), the story describes the titular heroine working as an imprisoned servant for her evil stepmother, the bestowal of a beautiful dress and slippers by a female ancestor from heaven, her attendance of a local festival, the loss of one of her slippers while fleeing the festivities, the discovery of the shoe by a foreign king, and a search that results in their eventual marriage. The story is based on the oral tales of the Zhuang ethnic people (of the Vietnamese-Chinese border) and was first recorded by Duan Chengshi (段成式) in the 9th-century CE (Ripley, 2010, pp. 191-192; Beauchamp, n.d.).
Certain elements of the story appear to have been influenced by the great Hindu epic the Ramayana, written by Valmiki around 500 BCE. The story tells how Sita, the wife of Vishnu’s reincarnation Prince Rama, is kidnapped and held prisoner by the demon Ravana (with the intent of making her his wife) on the island of Lanka. It is during her time in captivity that she is visited by Rama’s servant, Hanuman, a monkey demi-god, who brings her the prince’s ring to prove himself a trustworthy ally (fig. 2). The simian character then brings her anklet to Rama to prove that she is still alive. Rama’s army assaults Ranava’s fortress, and he is eventually reunited with his wife.
This at first may not seem like it matches at all, but you have an imprisoned beauty (Sita vs Yexian), supernatural assistance from heaven (Hanuman vs. the female ancestor), the exchange of personal items to prove one’s identity (the ring and anklet vs the slipper), and a campaign that brings together the woman and a man of royal blood (Sita and Rama vs Yexian and the foreign king) (Beauchamp, n.d.).
Hanuman gives Sita Rama’s ring in the Sandara Kanda book of the Ramayana:
1. Hanuman, the immensely powerful son of Maruta the wind god, humbly addressed further words to Sita in order to inspire her confidence:
2. “I am a monkey, virtuous woman, a messenger of wise Rama. My lady, look at this ring marked with Rama’s name. Take heart, bless you, for your troubles will soon be at an end.”
3. Taking her husband’s ring and examining it, Janaki was as joyous as if she had rejoined her husband.
4. Her lovely face-its long eyes all red and white-lit up with joy, like the moon, the lord of stars, when released from Rahu, demon of the eclipse (Valmiki et. al., 2016, p. 207).
Fig. 2 – Hanuman giving Sita Rama’s ring (larger version).
IV. Journey to the West
Some scholars believe that secularized snippets of the Rama story cycle came to China in several waves, one of which was via Southeast Asian Hindu converts who settled in Southern China from the 7th-century onwards (Walker, 1998).
This then might explain an episode from Journey to the West that appears to draw from the Rama cycle. In chapters 68 to 71, a queen is kidnapped and held prisoner by a demon (with the intent of making her his wife) in a faraway land. Sun Wukong is employed to find her. He brings back a bracelet to her husband as proof of life and identity, and eventually reunites the couple after defeating the demon (Beauchamp, n.d.).
Monkey shows the bracelet to the Queen in chapter 70:
On hearing this, the lady shouted for the two rows of vixen and deer [spirits] to leave. After he closed the palace door, Pilgrim gave his own face a wipe and changed back into his original form. He said to the lady, “Don’t be afraid of me. I am a priest sent by the Great Tang in the Land of the East to go seek scriptures from Buddha in the Thunderclap Monastery of India in the Great Western Heaven. My master is Tripitaka Tang, the bond-brother of the Tang emperor, and I am Sun Wukong, his eldest disciple. When we passed through your kingdom and had to have our travel rescript certified, we saw a royal proclamation issued for the recruitment of physicians. I exercised my great ability in the therapeutic arts, and I cured the king of his illness of ardent longing. During the banquet he [came] to thank me, he told me while we were drinking about how you were abducted by the fiend. Since I have the knowledge of subduing dragons and taming tigers, he asked me specially to come arrest the fiend and rescue you back to the kingdom. It was I who defeated the vanguard, and it was I, too, who slew the little fiend [note: Monkey is disguised as him]. When I saw, however, how powerful the fiend was outside the gate, I changed myself into the form of Going and Coming [note: the little fiend] in order to take the risk of contacting you here.”
On hearing what he said, the lady fell silent. Whereupon Pilgrim took out the treasure bracelets and presented them with both hands, saying, “If you don’t believe me, take a good look at these objects.”
The moment she saw them, the lady began to weep, as she left her seat to bow to Pilgrim, saying, “Elder, if you could indeed rescue me and take me back to the kingdom, I would never forget your great favor!” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 297).
Beauchamp (n.d.) provides a diagram showing the similarities between the stories of Yexian, Sita, and the queen from Journey to the West (fig. 3).
Fig. 3 – Comparative Chart of Cinderella Variants (larger version).
Beauchamp, F. (n.d.). In the Realm of the Dragon King: Sita and Hanuman meet Cinderella and Sun Wukong. Retrieved from
http://www.asdp-bridgingcultures.org/Beauchamp%20-%20Realm%%E2%80%A6 . [Original link dead. Click on article title to read.]
Ripley, D. (2010). The Maiden with a Thousand Slippers: Animal Helpers and the Hero(ine)’s Journey. In P. Monaghan (Ed.). Goddesses in World Culture (pp. 185-200). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.
Valmiki, Goldman, R. P., & Goldman, S. J. (2016). The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India, Volume V: Sundarakāṇḍa. United States: Princeton University Press.
Walker, H.S. (1998). Indigenous or Foreign? A Look at the Origins of Monkey Hero Sun Wukong. Sino-Platonic Papers, 81, pp. 1-117. Retrieved from https://sino-platonic.org/complete/spp081_monkey_sun_wukong.pdf.
Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The Journey to the West (Vols. 1-4) (Rev. ed.). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.