Primary Source

Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes


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.

This source is a part of the Children in Late Imperial China, 900-1930 teaching module.


"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.


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

How to Cite This Source

"Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes," in World History Commons, [accessed May 26, 2023]