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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Chinese New Year of the Rat and "The Rat Princess" - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

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Did you know our Solar or Gregorian date of January 17 is the start of what is called the Little Year?  It's mainly a time to prepare for the start of the Chinese New Year.  Many countries besides China and the Chinese people celebrate this time of the Lunar New Year, although the Wikipedia article also points to several Asian Lunar New Year dates due to all the many ways calendars were figured out.  Still those other dates are dwarfed by China's large population and many of Chinese ancestry around the world and it "has strongly influenced lunar new year celebrations of China's neighbouring cultures, including the Korean New Year (seol), the Tết of Vietnam, and the Losar of Tibet.[3] It is also celebrated worldwide in regions and countries with significant Overseas Chinese populations, including Singapore,[4] Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar,[5] Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines,[6] and Mauritius,[7] as well as many in North America and Europe."  (Those footnotes are in the Wikipedia article.) Vietnam and Korea share similar Confucian culture, so they celebrate the Lunar New Year.  Japan once celebrated it.

Back to the current time of the "Little Year", it's not only preparation for the coming celebration, but its main activities are house cleaning to sweep away bad luck and prayers to the stove god.  Considering how it's winter in the northern hemisphere and definitely here in the mitten-shaped state of Michigan, I may not consider my stove, furnace, or fireplace a god, but certainly want to keep them all working!  As for bad luck, I'll gladly pick up a broom and sweep especially around the dirt left by my old computer tower and hope my new "All in One" lasts a long time.  I first learned of the "Little Year" at this site,

The whole combination of three festivals (Little Year, Spring Festival -- which we think of as Chinese New Year, and the Lantern Festival which runs from February 5th to 8th) is there, along with a large section about food, decoration, myths about Chinese New Year, historical and modern clothing, taboos, and, of course, more.  That last one, taboos, caught my eye.  I'm not superstitious, but my recent computer woes had me check what to avoid to guarantee good luck, since that's the big wish in New Year's festivities, lunar or solar.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
  1. Do not say negative words (this includes death, sick, empty, pain, ghost, poor, break, kill!)
  2. Do not break ceramics or glass
  3. Do not clean or sweep (you did that during Little Year, now you don't want to throw out the garbage or sweep away your good luck)
  4. Do not use scissors, knives or other sharp objects (originally this was to give women a break, but nowadays 99% of hair salons close until lunar February 2, when festivities end)
  5. Do not visit the wife's family (it implies marriage problems, but on lunar February 2 they should visit the wife's family along with their children and bring a modest gift -- To my own daughters, hint, hint!)
  6. Do not demand debt repayment, but also don't borrow money lest you need to borrow all year
  7. Avoid fighting and crying to ensure a smooth year
  8. To avoid being sick all year you shouldn't take medicine, visit the doctor, have or do surgery, or get shots, although if you're chronically ill or suddenly ill you should do what is needed
  9. Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed (lest they be bed-ridden all year), but also don't tell them to wake up or you'll be bossed around all year
  10. Gift-giving taboos rule out clocks, apples, and splitting pears.  Those all involve similarity to Chinese pronunciation, which reminds me the site's listing of Chinese New Year Greetings don't include pronunciation, but I was always told tone in Chinese could make such a difference that if you said something incorrectly you might be talking about your mother-in-law (#5?) instead of your horse and vice-versa.
It's fun to look at such traditions and doubt much is really believed, although lovers of the television show Fresh Off the Boat or various Asian books and films can just hear the mother saying "It's for your own good!" at
I imagine you have heard about the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and how the coming year is the Year of the Rat.  That doesn't  sound like a good year to most of us, but "In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. Because of their reproduction rate, married couples also prayed to them for children."  The good attributes of a Rat person is they're "clever, quick thinkers, but content with living a quiet and peaceful life."

Today I can celebrate by once again bringing a Public  Domain story . . . HURRAY!  It's from Sara Cone Bryant whose work has appeared here 3 times before.  It can be found with other stories and storytelling tips in her classic How to Tell Stories to Children and Some Stories to Tell and the story opens with a hint on telling it.  The story lets us go back to the days when Japan celebrated the Lunar New Year with this tale that might remind you of yet another Japanese tale, but I'll talk about that after the story.

Some readers may be familiar not only with the style of this story and how one thing leads to another before coming back to the beginning, but it especially reminds me of yet another Japanese tale so well illustrated by the award-winning Gerald McDermott in The Stonecutter.

If you go to you can have the rare opportunity to watch his first commercial film at the age of 19, an extremely complex animation short featuring approximately 2000 animation cels presented in six minutes.  He only made five films and all are under 12 minutes.  After retiring from film animation at the age of 32, McDermott began producing animated children’s books, eventually becoming one of the world’s best-known authors of books for young readers, winning numerous awards in the process. More about McDermott at" from

Maybe he started the Lunar New Year at age 32 making a book and we are all the richer for it!
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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