Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Four Tales of Children Born from Plants

FolktaleCountryMode of Child's Delivery
Timun MasIndonesiaCucumber
Meng Jiang NuChinaGourd
Kaguya HimeJapanBamboo Stalk
MomotaroJapanPeach(Added on 1/1/13 per jnguyễn 's suggestion)

In one version of Timun Mas (Golden Cucumber), a giant gives a childless farming couple some magic cucumber seeds. In another version, it was a childless widow who accepted the giant's offer of help. The farmer(s) carefully cultivate the plants, which yielded a large cucumber. On cutting the vegetable open, the prospective parent(s) was/were delighted to find a baby girl inside. But the giant's help came with strings attached...

In the tale of Meng Jiang Nu (Woman/Daughter of Meng Jiang), the Meng family cultivated a bottle gourd plant that grew over the fence into the property of their neighbors, the Jiang family. When the vine bore fruit, the two families decided to split the gourd. Upon finding a baby girl inside the gourd, the Mengs and the Jiangs, both childless old couples, started a child custody dispute. Mediating neighbors brokered a shared parenting arrangement, and the girl took the names of both families. This child would grow up to be the woman noted for her legendary act of civil disobedience against the emperor who worked her husband and countless other conscripted laborers to death on the Great Wall. A temple dedicated to her still exists in northeastern China.1

In The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori Monogatari), also known as Princess Kaguya (Kaguya Hime), an elderly bamboo cutter cut open an unusual shining stalk of bamboo and found a baby girl inside. He and his childless wife raised the child as their daughter, naming her Nayotake-no-Kaguya-hime (princess of flexible bamboos scattering light). The bamboo cutter's daughter grew into a luminous beauty who turned down proposals from 5 princely suitors and then the emperor himself, telling the Japanese ruler that she did not belong to his country. Eventually, she reveals her otherworldly origins to her parents...

The present version of Momotaro (Peach First Son), in which his parents found him inside a peach, dates back to the 19th century.2 In an earlier version, recorded in the 18th century, the protagonist was not found inside a peach, but conceived by his parents in the common fashion. The removal of human procreation from the narrative has been attributed to the influence of Western culture.2

  1. Lady Meng Jiang on Wikipedia
  2. Momotaro on Wikipedia


  1. Psst, did you hear that Studio Ghibli is making a movie about Kaguya <3

    I would accept Momotaro. There is no 'right' version to tell in folklore, especially if it was based from oral literature. I would date Momotaro, and note the possible hows and whys the story became what it became over time.

    And you may enjoy this: Lady Meng Jiang traditional music:

    Thank you for sharing! Love! and Happiness to you in the New Year!

    1. Yes! I'm looking forward to seeing what Ghibli does with Kaguya Hime. And you're right - it might be interesting for readers to get acquainted with the earlier and less well-known version of Momotaro and how external influences might have shaped its subsequent development ;-)

      And thanks for the erhu video. I didn't know that Lady Meng Jiang had a melody dedicated to her. Of course, she deserves it. :-)

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