Professor defends fairytale rewrite
  • | | November 15, 2011 09:00 AM

>> Experts protest censorship of famous Vietnamese folk tale

Professor Phan Trong Luan, a member of the editorial board that tinkered with the ending of one of Vietnam’s most well-known folk stories has defended the controversial edit.

Professor Phan Trong Luan

The Vietnamese folk story Tam and Cam, which has similarities to Cinderella, is well-known for its gruesome ending, where the evil stepmother is eventually presented with a jar of pickles containing her own daughter\'s flesh. After eating it, and realising what the contents were, the step-mother dies of a broken heart.

In a recent edition of folk stories the Educational Publishing House made the decision to remove the "bad parts".

Why is the end of the story changed?

We considered a lot of issue in the story. We cut the part where Tam stuffed Cam’s chopped up body in a jar knowing full well it would change the meaning of the original story, despite the fact that we’re well aware that fairy tales often feature black and white approaches to morality. However, we decided that keeping such a detail would be contrary to the country’s current views of generosity and humanity. Such violent attitudes are not suitable to be taught at school.

Did the editing panel discuss the change at length?

We discussed this numerous times, including whether to use Chu Xuan Dien’s or Nguyen Dong Chi’s version. The Tale of Tam and Cam has several variants but they all share the detail of the chopped up body in the jar scene. After talking to Professor Tran Dinh Su and Professor Nguyen Minh Thuyet, head of textbook editing council, we decided to change the story, because students are a different type of readers than others.

Why didn’t you select another story instead of changing the ending of one of the most famous tales?

Tam and Cam is the most typical fairy tale in Vietnam.

Has the decision to cut some details of the story’s ending resulted from suggestions by teachers and students or just by your editing panel?

This decision solely came from the editing panel, led by Chief Editor Tran Duc Ngon, Vice Director of the Hanoi University of Culture and Associate Professor Le Trong Phat. I am the General Chief Editor for the book. After discussions, we agreed to make the change.

How many versions of the Tale of Tam and Cam are there?

Basically, there are two major variants by Nguyen Dong Chi and Chu Xuan Dien. Both contain the ‘making a jar of preserves’ scene as I said before.

Doesn’t this change have more far-reaching implications for the fairy story genre?

In general, it makes no difference to the story, but I suppose it is true to say a typical feature of the genre is destroyed.

The selection of what stories are added to textbooks seems to be at the whim of the editorial boards. Doesn’t that mean that changes to textbooks are reflective of the editors themselves and not the general views of society?

It is true, but, I must say that the editorial staff chosen for these projects have large amounts of knowledge, and experience in teaching.

The change in the story’s ending was piloted in 2005 and officially made in 2006. After the trial run, the editorial board didn’t receive any complaints about the change. However, during the process on training teachers about the change, we explained the changes to them, saying that it aimed to reduce the level of violence in the story.

Editors must face much public pressure. Is it difficult for to make decisions when under such scrutiny?

Sometimes we have to deal with such situations. However, we must have a view and be self-opinionated sometimes. Every year, we meet to collect public opinions when compiling and revising texts. We also follow the rule that only some words or sentences are revised so that students don’t have to buy new books.

The change has gained the support of many people, including parents, who think that the story\'s ending should teach a moral lesson, absent from the original version.

A scene in the story of Tam and Cam


The Tale of Tam and Cam

Tam and Cam is a Cinderella story about a young beautiful girl called Tam whose mother dies early. Her father remarries and she has to live with her wicked step-mother and step-sister, named Cam. Tam suffers abuse from her step-family, while Cam lives in luxury.

Tam, however, is looked after by the Goddess of Mercy, who regularly appears to console her, as well as to instruct her on how to deal with the evil tricks of her step-sister and mother.

Much like the Cinderella story, Tam eventually marries a king as a result of a lost shoe.

The ending is different however. In the original Vietnamese version, Tam takes her revenge on her step-sister by telling Cam that the secret of her beauty is to take a bath in boiling water. Cam falls for the trick and dies.

Afterwards, Cam\'s body was cut up and made into a pate that was fed to the nasty step-mother. In the end she also dies of sorrow.


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