Stories from Old China

(Cambridge University Press 1993, 2nd edition 1999)

Selected by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups for National Tell a Story Week 1994

“What riches there are to read here! A wonderful variety of stories… and in a variety of tellers’ voices, so that every story is different and a delightful surprise. The language itself is immediate...The words have a truth and depth… a book both to instruct us on the Chinese culture and to delight our narrative thirst. A real find!” - School Librarian
“Rosalind Kerven is the author of a number of excellent retellings of traditional stories from around the world and this collection is as good as the others. The language is lively and direct and she avoids both the archaic and the over-colloquial so that the stories have a timeless feel, but are easy to read.” - English and Media Magazine
“Rosalind Kerven has a fine record of retellings of traditional stories... luminously clear prose… Her style is free of the stilted formality which can still occur in such retellings.” - TES
"My ten year old son doesn't like reading but he really enjoyed this book. He said it was different to other stories he had read and it was full of surprises!" - 5-star reader review on

The research for this book led deeply into the world of traditional Chinese beliefs: Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, the deities of Heaven, family ancestors and the supernatural world – a fascinating counterpoint to the Western perspective. The stories are introduced by a brief summary of China, its people, its traditional beliefs and its history.

The first part comprises a retelling of China’s most important traditional story, Monkey, based on the 16th Century book by Wu Ch’eng-en and picking up the whimsical style of the original. Divided into 4 chapters, this is an entertaining, anarchic yet very profound tale of the infamous monkey king who tries to take over not just the whole world but Heaven too - until he is finally vanquished by none other than the Buddha himself.

The other stories are a mixture of mystical myths and lighter hearted folktales. Several feature dragon-kings and dragon-princesses: these are benign though awesome characters, totally different from the malevolent dragons of western legend. The remainder explore beliefs about the sun, moon and stars, the origin of some important deities and the quest for immortality.


  • In which Monkey proves that nothing is impossible
  • In which Monkey gets too big for his boots
  • In which Monkey tastes the Peaches of immortality
  • In which Monkey takes a giant leap to nowhere

  • Woman-of-the-Moon, Man-of-the-Sun
  • The Farmer and the Goddess
  • Darkness
  • The Palace of Boundless Cold

  • The Golden Key
  • The Man Who did Dragons’ Work
  • The Hot Pig and the Dragon Princess
  • The Girl Who Went Her Own Way
  • Cakes and Kitchens
  • Storm Girl
  • The Boys who Lost their Time

Monkey flew straight home on his cloud. He couldn’t wait to show off his new tricks to all his subjects. But as soon as he arrived, he had a terrible shock. An evil demon had stormed his palace! He had stolen absolutely everything he could lay his hands on and - worst of all - kidnapped most of the monkey children.
Perhaps you think Monkey was dismayed? Not a bit. Instead, he rubbed his paws together and said to himself,
‘Ahah, here’s a grand chance to try out my new powers!’
So he jumped back onto his cloud trapeze and directed it straight to the jagged mountain top where the demon lived. There he was spotted at once by a crowd of the villain’s imps, who yelled for their foul master to hurry to the scene.
‘Oh-hoh, oh-hee-hee,’ sneered the demon. ‘What have we here, eh? Another little measly imp of a monkey. Come into my lair, you pathetic worm, and let me fatten you up with the others for my feast.’
‘Don’t be so hasty,’ snapped Monkey. ‘Don’t you realise, you’ve just insulted the greatest creature on Earth?’ And he held up his fists for a fight.

- from The Extraordinary Adventures of Monkey