If you want your kids to learn Chinese, it’s crucial to provide them with good literature tailored to their needs. While people often talk about classics such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West, your kids might have a hard time engaging with them. I certainly did.
As a kid, I was more into the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures than tales of Chinese lords and strategists playing politics during the Han Dynasty. I was fascinated by all forms of myths and magic – stories of gods, demons, warlords and dragons.
When I was having a hard time convincing myself to read Chinese stories, I happened to spot Fengshen Yanyi (often translated as “The Investiture of the Gods”) in the bookstore next door. It changed my childhood.
This Ming Dynasty fantasy novel is very loosely based on King Wu of Zhou’s overthrow of the Shang. The book is available in versions adapted specifically for kids. It may not be as literarily acclaimed as Journey to the West or Dream of the Red Chamber, but it is much more kid-friendly. After all, which kid doesn’t want to read about battles between gods and dragons?
Written in the 16th century, The Investiture of the Gods combines elements of history, folklore, mythology, and legends. The main storylines concern the bewitching of the tyrannical Shang emperor by his concubine Da Ji, who is in fact a fox spirit disguised as a beautiful woman, and the rallying of an army by Lord Ji Fa to overthrow the emperor.
Numerous battles are waged between the Shang emperor and the rebel lords, with both sides calling gods, immortals, demons, spirits, mages and ancient warriors to fight for their side. As Lord Ji Fa defeats the Shang tyrant, peace and order are finally restored.
It is probably the most “high fantasy” novel I’ve ever read in Chinese literature, comparable to the Lord of the Rings and the Indian classic Mahabharata. I still remember how I was enchanted by the novel as a kid, especially the gods, lords and warriors with all different kinds of magical abilities. I highly recommend The Investiture of the Gods as summer reading, especially if your kids are tired of other Chinese books.
Kids’ versions of this classic can be found in any major bookstore and online. Some versions include simplified language with pinyin and lots of pictures, which is accessible to those with limited Chinese ability. Check out these versions available online:
Photo: Wikimedia Commons