Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

John Martone


Folk tales provide a unique source of information for cultural studies. They come from the people. Springing from the people's imagination in a social context, they carry historical truths, stir up political undercurrents, and reveal social facts that official history books will not and cannot tell. In a time when writing was a privileged form of expression, the oral folk tale popularly communicated the injustices committed by the upper class, and gave the powerless voices of their own. Common themes of folk tales all reflect, to various degrees, the people's desires to rise above environmental, cultural, social and class constraints and to seek comfort in an imaginary world.

Once a strictly stratified society, China provides abundant resources in its folk tales to examine their significance of extending the voices of the politically powerless. In China, a country historically without a God-centered, revealed religion, ideologies exert great impact on people's way of thinking and living. The confrontation of China's two main ideologies, Confucianism and Daoism is dramatized in the Chinese folk tale.

Given the Chinese folk tale's extra-literary nature, and the oral tradition's place in the larger socio-political culture, I have taken a Marxist/Structuralist approach in this work, because this provides an holistic way of looking at verbal arts in relation to their cultural context. From this perspective, the essay focuses on core themes and strategies of the Chinese folk tale, including animal stories; the supernatural world; human transformation into other natural/supernatural beings through magic; gender transgression; the exposition of injustice suffered by subordinate women, men, and children; and the necessity of compromise in the face of Confucian authority.