The Chinese Nightingale is an illustrated folk tale set in ancient China. The charming story is included in Tales of the Nations (Märchen der Völker), illustrations and stories produced as part of a German cigarette advertising promotion just before WWII. These tales are now online; I discovered them while searching for an image to illustrate a blog posting.
The story Chinese Nightingale (not to be confused with Hans Christian Anderson’s Nightingale) goes like this:
“Once upon a time, a very long time ago, high up on Mount Mulli in the province of Kuku-khoto, a pretty little princess called Tandaradey lived behind the desolate walls of Hall Castle, locked up and guarded by a wicked aunt.
[The wicked aunt had a fierce dragon to help her keep the princess captive. The dragon watches all roads leading to the castle.]
“But Princess Tandaradey never gave up hope. She had one loyal soul, a devoted servant: it was a nightingale. She hoped that this nightingale would be able to liberate her.
The beautiful prisoner secretly wore around her neck a five-coloured jewel which came from the dragon’s head and made every feathered creature in its vicinity invisible. Thanks to this magic stone, the princess was able to conceal the bird from her aunt’s sharp eyes. The bird lived in the wide folds of the girl’s sumptuous indigo cloak, which was covered in gold ornaments and trimmed with the fur of the rare Chinese fire mouse.
Once every year, in the middle of summer when the wild roses were in bloom, the winged servant, the nightingale, flew out of the castle in order to sing of the grief and longing of its young mistress. But up to then all its laments had gone unheeded.”
–Stefan Mart, Rainer Würgau
As the story continues, summer comes and the nightingale goes forth, but this time the nightingale sings in the garden of a fat Mandarin named Tchin Tchin who listens:
The nightingale sings this song in the sweet, enchanting voice of the princess:
Oh save me from this awful pace
I am a pretty little lass – Tandaradey.
Am locked up here all night and day
Dragonhead wants me to stay – Tandaradey.
At Mulliberg in Castle Hall
The old Aunt Fifi makes me bawl – Tandaradey.
Kill off the dragon – take his powers
Then gladly will I say I’m yours – Tandaradey.
The Mandarin listens and is greatly impressed:
“Tchin-Tchin had always dreamed of such a wonderful adventure: of liberating the child of a king or prince from a dragon, of breaking some magic spell, and of earning the admiration and gratitude of a pretty little woman as her liberator and hero.
Courage he had never felt before filled his soul. He hurried into the house and ordered his servants to help him very quietly with his preparations. The reason for his caution was his fear that his nephew, who was visiting him and in residence in the palace, might hear of his plan to get himself a wife.
. . .
A big mule was saddled. The mandarin himself cleaned his sword, put on his golden coat of armour and set off alone that same night for Mount Mulli.”
The nephew, Okasi, was slender, tall, strong as an iron cudgel and was serving as an officer in the imperial sword regiment in Peking. Well, of course, the nephew overheard the nightingale song and he too decides to rescue the princess.
Nephew and uncle set off to rescue the princess. Which of these two heroes will win? And, what of the princess? What of the evil aunt?
Answers and more are on the Stefan Mart web site. I encourage you to visit the site to discover the details for yourself. You can find the site with the search phrase “Stefan Mart Chinese Nightingale” or follow this link (.de is the country code for Germany) to go there directly:
The tale ends with a short coda and a black and white illustration that depicts the uncle and the wicked Aunt Fifidnoise:
The Chinese Nightingale is a charming story—very suitable to read to your children or grandchildren. Only the dragon suffers mortal harm. The story is one of some 30 stories on the Stefan Mart site–others include a selection of tales from Don Quixote, and the American adventures of Bobby Box.
Stefan Mart is the pseudonym of the writer and illustrator of Tales of the Nations. The stories and illustrations were published in Hamburg in 1933 by the Hamburg Cigarette Picture Service (Cigaretten-bilderdienst Hamburg-Bahrenfeld)”. During the years 1933 to 1936, coupons for Mart’s illustrations were Trade Cards included in packages of Reemtsma cigarettes. The coupons could be exchanged in Hamburg for the small illustrations, which were printed on cards roughly the size of playing cards. If you wanted the story that the picture illustrated, you had to buy a collector’s album at the tobacconist’s.
The stories were printed in black and white with additional illustrations. These black and white illustrations are included in the web presentation of Tales of the Nations. The original pictures and the albums are today collectors’ items.
In 1933, the year in which Tales of the Nations was published, Hitler came to power. In 1939 the Hamburg Cigarette Picture Service discontinued the multi-cultural Tales of the Nations, replacing it by German Fairy Tales, which were ideologically correct for Germany at war. Oddly enough, the cigarette company continued in operation throughout the war until the Allied bombing of Hamburg.
The Tales of the Nations reappeared for a short time after the war ended. Remaining copies of the pictures and the albums were sold up to 1947. The plates for the illustration and all supporting documents for printing Tales of the Nations were lost in the destruction of Hamburg so the tales went out of print.
After the war, Rainer Würgau discovered by chance a clean copy of the illustrations and a complete album of the stories. He recognized the value of the work and set out to scan the illustrations, translate the German stories into English and publish his work on the Internet.
No information about the writer/illustrator who used the pseudonym Stefan Mart survived the war. So, who was Stefan Mart? As Rainer Würgau continues his search for information on Mart, maybe news will appear on the web. Meanwhile we can enjoy the illustrations and read the stories.
Week 21-2012: Sindbad The Sailor, Stefan Mart, Rainer Würgau and J.H.Bretschneider (ed.) (2012).