The Origin of the Mother of Silkworms as Told to Chinese Children

Retold by Alice Hamilton Rich

(Frank Leslie’s Weekly, May 15, 1902) ONCE THERE was a King who had no sons and but one daughter. It was a great disappointment not to have a son, but those who cast the horoscope of the daughter told him that his daughter would be a great blessing to the kingdom while she lived, and at her death would bequeath untold riches. As this story was widely known, the princess had many admirers who sought betrothal with her. And the King was greatly distressed as to choice of the right one. When she was grown she was very beautiful—so beautiful that myriads of pilgrims came to the temple to beg for the gift of beauty, and to burn incense. This brought prosperity, and thus the prophecy at her birth was fulfilled. But the King could no longer delay the betrothal of his daughter, as so many princes desired her that the kingdom was continually in trouble with other kingdoms. One day the princess’s father was out hunting, when a powerful King surprised him and carried him captive to a far-away kingdom. The prime minister and privy councilors met and issued an edict saying the hand of the princess would be given to the man who rescued the King.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.
High up among the clouds was a demigod who loved the princess, but, since she was a mortal woman, could not wed her, but when this trouble came he entered the body of the King’s favorite horse, which broke away from the grooms, went straight to the King and brought him back; but the prime minister being horrified when the horse brought back the King, ordered the horse to be killed at once. But the King who had carried away the father of the princess was very powerful and came again and again against the kingdom; and it was finally decided by the King and his councilors that it was best to betroth the princess to the son of their enemy, for the good of the kingdom. The princess protested, but her protestations were of no avail.

When the hour came for her to enter the bridal chamber she resisted, weeping, struggling valiantly with her attendants. A servant hearing the outcry came into the court-yard dragging with him the skin of a horse, which he was about to cut into strings. But the soul of the demigod-lover in the skin of the horse awoke, and he wrapped the skin around the princess and she became the first cocoon.

In the silk-growing districts of Chehkiang, every year when the silkworms begin to call for their food—that is when they come out of their shells—you will see the little children playing with toy horses. This is to win the favor of the silkworm goddess, by reminding her of her faithful lover.

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