This story was adapted from a tale in the Compilation of Vietnamese Folktales
Illustrations by: Thanh Chuong

Once upon a time, there lived a couple and their two daughters. The younger daughter was compassionate and kind to everyone, including the three stone Kitchen Gods in their household. Among them, she loved the elderly Kitchen God best. He often appeared and spoke with the two sisters. Knowing that the Kitchen God needed an orange koi fish to transport him back to Heaven each year on the 23rd of Lunar December, the two sisters caught an orange koi fish and placed it in the kitchen as an offering to him.

While the girls’ father was a gifted hunter, he did not wish his daughters to follow in his footsteps. However, the younger girl hoped to become a hunter like her dad. By the age of five, she was already a fine boxer, and proficient with a bo staff and sword. She often accompanied her father on his hunts. On their very first trip, she felled a ferocious wild boar.

One day, a monster suddenly appeared in their region. It had the head of a human and the body of a leopard. This monster was no match for the hunter and his daughter.

A few years later, another terrible beast appeared. It had a human-like head and a python’s body. Monstrously strong, it could squeeze a bull to death within seconds. Despite her mother’s protests, the girl and her father were determined to slay this beast. Knowing she could not sway them, the mother sewed new shirts as New Year’s gifts for her daughters. She used turmeric to dye the younger girl’s shirt yellow, as per her request.

Before leaving, the young girl bid farewell to the elderly Kitchen God, promising to return and tell him what happened. It took the girl and her father an entire month to reach the monster’s lair. They fought hard for two days but could not take it down. The little girl then devised a plan. She pinned its tail to a tree with a knife and beheaded it. But before it finally died, the thrashing beast broke free. Its deadly tail seized the girl and crushed her.

After the battle, the tearful father brought his daughter’s body back to their village for burial. The villagers built a shrine in her honor.

The loving girl knew her mother and sister would be heartbroken, so she asked the Earth God to turn her into a bird with bright yellow feathers. She flew back to her house and sang for a while before leaving. When the mother heard of her passing, she fainted beside the fireplace. The elderly Kitchen God warmed her up and revived her, promising to bring her daughter back to life. On the night of December 23rd of the Lunar calendar, he went to Heaven and returned on the 28th day. He announced that the girl’s death was long overdue and the gods could only resurrect her for nine days, starting from Lunar December 29th. From then on, the girl visited her family each year on the afternoon of Lunar December 29th, wearing the yellow shirt her mother had made her, only to vanish on the night of the 7th day of the Lunar New Year.

After her parents and sister passed away, the girl no longer returned. Instead, she was transformed into a tree with yellow flowers as bright as the vibrant shirt she wore in life. This tree grew beside the shrine dedicated to her. For most of the year, it had only leaves but as the Lunar New Year approached, its yellow flowers formed a spectacular sight.

These flowers lasted for just nine or ten days before falling to the ground, only to bloom again the following year when the Lunar New Year drew near. The tree was lovingly named the Yellow Mai. Since then, during the Tet holidays, people in Central and Southern Vietnam buy flowering Yellow Mai branches to decorate their ancestral altars during the Tet holidays. It is believed that these beautiful flowers not only brighten their homes but also ward off evil all year long.

Artist profile: Born in 1949, Thanh Chuong first discovered his passion for art at the age of six.
Since then, this talented artist has won countless awards. He is famous for his unique use of intense colors, his contemporary Vietnamese folk art style, and his mastery of geometric shapes like circles, cylinders, ovals, triangles, squares and lines. He is renowned as Vietnam’s “King of Self-portraits” and “King of Herdsman Paintings”. To him, art is a game. Since 1974, his paintings have been featured in exhibitions around the world. 2001 marked a career milestone as Thanh Chuong became the first Asian artist chosen by the United Nations to have his work printed on postage stamps.