Congjui & Potjui: Korean Cinderella

retold by Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson

Long, long ago, in a small village in Korea, Congjui and her father lived in an old thatched roof house. Since Congjui's mother had died when Congjui was a tiny baby, all the women in the village took turns feeding her, and she grew up to be a beautiful girl.

When Congjui was about fourteen, her father found a wife through a village matchmaker and remarried. The stepmother had a daughter named Potjui, who was about the same age as Congjui. Her father was very happy for Conjui because he always wanted her to have a mother and a sister. He hoped that his new wife would become a good stepmother and Potjui would become a good stepsister.

Alas, the stepmother paid no attention to Congjui and treated her as if she were their maid. Potjui was not only ugly, but had a terrible temper. She always threw tantrums when she didn't get her way. She hit and pinched Congui, and pulled her hair when no one was around. Potjui was always jealous of Congjui's beauty and her good manners, so she made Congjui's life miserable by telling her mother that Congjui did not work as she was told.

As usual, after the autumn harvest, everyone in the village started weaving fabrics for new clothes for the special holidays in the coming year. Congjui's stepmother ordered both of the girls to weave for the family. Congjui sat at the loom and wove and wove while Potjui played. By evening, Congjui had finished several yards of cloth, while Potjui had not even woven one. Yet even after that, the stepmother scolded Congjui for not having finished her chores. Congjui worked hard and did everything just as she was told, but nothing could please her stepmother.

In the spring, their huge vegetable garden needed to be weeded and hoed. One beautiful spring day, the stepmother told Congjui and Potjui to work in the garden and gave Potjui an iron homee, a hand-held hoe, and a wooden homee to Congjui.

Potjui ran around chasing butterflies and telling Congjui to play with her. Congjui weeded and hoed with her wooden homee. Finally, Potjui weeded and hoed a very small portion of the garden, then decided her work was done. She went home, leaving the whole garden for Congjui to finish. Congjui's wooden homee did not last long and broke into half in the middle of the garden. The task was not even close to being finished.

Congjui was afraid of her stepmother's wrath. She just sat and cried, dreading what kind of punishment she would receive for not finishing her job.

Suddenly, a black ox appeared next to her, and mooed, "Congjui-ya, Congjui-ya, don't be so sad! I am here to help you. Why don't you go down to the stream and wash your hands and face? You will feel better!" When she returned, to her surprise, the gardenwork was all done.

One day, there was a big festival and everyone was invited. The stepmother and Potjui dressed up in their best hanbok, traditional Korean clothes, and wore pretty kkotshin, shoes embroidered with flowers. The stepmother sarcastically said, "Congjui, you want to go to the festival too, don't you? You can join us after you finish all of your chores." The stepmother told Congjui to fill the huge clay pot with fresh water, hull ten sacks of rice, and wash a mountain of dirty clothes. Poor Congjui stood there and watched with envy as they left.

Congjui went to a nearby well and filled a small clay pot with fresh water. Then she carried it on her head to the house, and started to transfer the water to the huge clay pot. After several trips, she found out there was no water in the big pot. Then, Congjui discovered there was a big crack on the bottom where all the water had leaked out. She was devastated and cried again, for she would not be able to finish her task.

A toad waddled out from behind the damaged pot and said, "Congjui-ya, Congjui-ya, stop crying! Let me help you!" With that, the toad went under the crack and stopped the leak. Congjui was so happy to be able to fill the huge pot to the brim with fresh water.

Next, Congjui started thrashing the rice kernels. She thrashed and thrashed with all her strength, but she could not even finish one sack. She felt so helpless as she looked at all those sacks in front of her.

A sparrow flew down and chirped, "Congjui-ya, Congjui-ya, we will husk all the rice for you." All of sudden, the courtyard was covered with sparrows pecking at the rice. In no time, the ten sacks were emptied and mounds of white rice were everywhere.

Last, Congjui carried a pile of dirty clothes to the stream. She washed, washed, and washed, but the pile stayed the same. Then a Heavenly Maiden appeared, carrying a beautiful silk hanbok and a pair of kkotshin.

"Here!" the Maiden offered. "Get dressed and go to the festival! It is still not too late." The Heavenly Maiden helped Congjui dress quickly. Congjui looked like a princess, so lovely in the lime green skirt and bright pink blouse of her hanbok, and her beautifully embroidered kkotshin. Her beauty almost blinded even the Heavenly Maiden.

Congjui rushed to get to the festival and crossed a narrow bridge. There she encountered the town magistrate's palanquin. "Move! Move! Make room for the town magistrate," announced the servants. With all the commotion of the passing palanquin, Congjui lost her balance and one of her beautiful shoes fell into the stream.

The town magistrate happened to see her losing one of her shoes and spotted the tiny shoe floating in the stream. He yelled at the servants, "Fetch that shoe from the water! We must find its owner!" The magistrate ordered the servants to turn around, to return to the town festival and search for the owner of the shoe.

The town magistrate's servant announced at the celebration, "We are looking for a girl who lost this pretty shoe. Whoever's foot fits into this little shoe will become the magistrate's wife!"

Potjui shoved people aside and claimed, "That's mine!" She fell trying to force her big foot into the small shoe. Even the stepmother snatched the shoe and tried her luck. "Aigoo, aiya! Oh, it hurts!" All the girls and women tried to fit their foot into the shoe.

A servant spotted Congjui standing alone in the corner wearing only one shoe. "Why don't you try on that shoe?" he asked. "The shoe from the stream looks like the one you have on..."

The stepmother interrupted, "Oh no, no, not her!" But the servant held up the shoe to Congjui and encouraged her to try it on anyway. When she slipped into the beautiful kkotshin, it fit perfectly, as if it were made for her. Everyone was shocked, including the stepmother and Potjui.

The town magistrate rushed to Congjui's side. As he held her hands, he looked into her beautiful eyes and professed, "This pretty shoe has helped me to find my future wife!"

Soon, he married Congjui and they lived happily ever after. But the stepmother and Potjui were spanked at the town square until their bottoms were red for being unfair and ugly to Congjui.

reproduced courtesy of Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson, Ed.D.

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