Primary Source

Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes [Literary Excerpts]


Isaac Taylor Headland (1859-1942), a resident of Beijing and a scholar at Peking (Beijing) University, joined other contemporaries interested in both popular culture and folklore in collecting and transcribing Chinese children's rhymes. The rhymes were shared by nurse-maids who cared for the children of expatriates living in the city as well as through interviews of kids who sang in the streets and neighborhoods of the city and surrounding region. The text, which includes both English and Chinese versions of the rhymes as well as photographs, offers an interesting perspective on popular culture, social roles related to gender and family, as well as the material culture of daily life in turn-of-the-century China.


Headland, Isaac Taylor. Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1900, p. 15, 60–1, 146–7.

Primary Source Text

"Grandpa Feeds Baby"

Grandpa holds the baby,
He's sitting on his knee
Eating mutton dumplings
With vinegar and tea.
Then grandpa says to baby,
"When you have had enough,
You'll be a saucy baby
And treat your grandpa rough."

"The Ungrateful Son"

The tail of one magpie's as long as another,
He married a wife and he gave up his mother,
When asked by his mother to buy her some cake,
He wanted to know how much money twould take;
When his wife wanted pears he saddled his beast,
And started to market to buy her a feast;
He took off the peeling with very great airs,
And asked her politely to have a few pears.

"The Mischievous Sister-in-Law"

Oh the pumpkin red, on the gourd decayed,
I am my father's mischievous maid;
I am my brother's dear little sister;
I am my sister-in-law's fly-blister.
Father, when I marry, what will you give?
A box and a ward-robe you shall receive.
Mother, when I marry, what will you bring?
A little work-basket full of everything.
Brother, when I marry, what will come from you?
A fancy cloth towel; think that will do?
My happiness, sister, you will not mar?
I'll give a broken bottle and a little smashed jar,
And send you, you nuisance, away very far.

How to Cite This Source

Li Han and Hsü Tzu-kuang, "Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes [Literary Excerpts]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #228, (accessed October 14, 2019). Annotated by Susan Fernsebner