The Pretty Little Calf

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The Pretty Little Calf is a Chinese fairy tale collected by Wolfram Eberhard in Folktales of China.[1]


An official without children leaves home to take a new post. His first wife promised him gold on his return; the second, silver; the third, a son. He was pleased with the third wife, but the other wives were jealous. When she bore a son, they claimed she had borne a lump of flesh; the first wife threw the baby into a pond, but he floated, and so the second wife had him wrapped in straw and grass and fed to a water buffalo. When the official returned, his first wife gave him gold, the second silver, but when he heard that his third wife had borne a horrid lump of flesh, he sentenced her to grind rice in a mill.

The water buffalo gave birth to a beautiful calf with a hide like gold. It was fond of its master, who always gave it some of his food. One day, the official said that if it understood human speech, it should bring the dumplings he gave it to its mother. The calf brought them not to the water buffalo but to the repudiated wife. The first two wives realized that it was the son. They claimed to be ill; the first wife said she needed to eat the calf's liver, and the second, that she needed the calf's skin. The official let the calf loose in the woods and bought another to kill.

A woman named Huang had announced she would throw a coloured ball from her house, and whoever caught it would be her husband. The calf caught it on its horn. Miss Huang realized that she had to marry it. She hung the wedding robes on its horns, and it ran off. She chased it and found a young man in wedding robes by a pond; he told her to come. She said she had to find her calf, and he told her that he was the transformed calf. He went back to his father and told him the truth. The official was ready to kill his first two wives; his son persuaded him to pardon them, but he had his son bring back his mother from the mill.


The calumniated wife is a common motif.[2] Many European fairy tales feature the woman who claims that she will give a man a child, and the enemy who removes the child, but the enemies are usually the woman's sisters, who did not make such a claim and so are jealous, or her mother-in-law. Closely related to this tale are The Boys with the Golden Stars and A String of Pearls Twined with Golden Flowers, in both of which the promised children are killed and return in other forms, although, unlike this one, they return in a wide variety of forms because the enemy continually discovers their new forms and kills them. In A String of Pearls Twined with Golden Flowers, her enemy is more similar to this tale, as the villain is the husband's old favorite, whereas in The Boys with the Golden Stars, it is her mother-in-law. More commonly, European tales feature the children being abandoned: The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Three Little Birds, The Wicked Sisters, Ancilotto, King of Provino and Princess Belle-Etoile

Some of the story's motif has similarities with stories from One Thousand and One Nights, namely "Tale of the Trader" and the "Jinni".

The marital transformation also figures in European tales, such as Hans My Hedgehog, The Pig King and The Donkey.



  1. ^ Eberhard 1965, p. 41.
  2. ^ Eberhard 1965, p. 209.