Asian American Folktales

Asian American Folktales

Asian American Folktales

Asian American Folktales


Drawing upon the traditions of their native lands, Asian Americans have developed an extensive cultural tradition. At the heart of that tradition are some of the world's most colorful folktales. This book gathers together a selection of more than 30 Asian American folktales and groups them in thematic sections on origins; heroes, heroines, villains, and fools; society and conflict; and the supernatural. These tales reflect the traditional beliefs of the East as well as the new experiences of Asians in America. Each tale is introduced by a headnote, and the book closes with a selected, general bibliography.


Asian American Folktales is designed to provide educators, students, and general readers with examples of a range of traditional Asian American narrative types: fictional tales, legends, myths, and personal experience narratives. This collection cannot hope to represent the vast range of Asian cultural traditions in the United States. Therefore, examples have been selected from South Asia (India), Southeast Asia (The Philippines), and East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea) folktale repertoires. the selection of these groups is not intended to reflect population statistics or historical significance. Rather, these cultures are well-established in the contemporary United States, and extensive collections of each group’s folktales have been translated into English.

The Chinese presence began to develop in the mid-nineteenth century with laborers (primarily single males) coming to work most notably on the railroads, but also in the mining industry and other occupations. Between the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and its repeal in 1943, the Chinese American population decreased dramatically, but was revitalized during the latter half of the twentieth century.

American Japanese communities that began to develop, primarily on the West Coast in the late-nineteenth century experienced a similar setback in 1908 as a result of the Root-Takahira Agreement. Popularly known as the “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” it called for the voluntary restriction of Japanese emigration to the United States. Nevertheless, Japanese Americans began to put down roots until the initiation of armed conflict between Japan and the United States in 1941 and the subsequent internment of many Americans of Japanese descent. Ironically, for many the relocation experience ultimately revitalized rather than eradicated Asian identity and traditional culture.

Although immigration quotas established in the 1920s impacted all Asian immigration until the elimination of this system in 1984, South Asian, Filipino, and Korean populations were not affected as dramatically as were the Chinese and Japanese. American descendants of each of these groups maintain a significant presence in the twenty-first century.

The tales preserved within each of the groups reflect religious practices (for example, “The Princess Kwan-yin,” pp. 3–8), folk beliefs (as in “The . . .

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