A fun way to read the story Big Red Rooster

03 August 2017 by Roy Preece

We’re delighted to see this video. We think you will enjoy it too. It’s imaginative, sympathetic, friendly, dedicated, sincere, energetic (very!) – and above all great fun! Two brothers set out simply to read the book Big Red Rooster, but then they start to act out the story, and they do get rather carried away by it!

We have always believed that the great strength of our traditional Chinese stories is that, although told very simply, they have many events and characters to stimulate a child’s imagination and sympathy. Big Red Rooster is a favourite story with our readers. Here we have the disaster of the great heat when there were too many suns in the sky. The suns refuse all entreaties to go away. So the great Jade Emperor sends his best archer to shoot them down. One by one, the fireballs whoosh down from the sky. This provides great material for imaginative children to act out energetically: the heat, the shooting, the fireballs. But as so often in life one solution leads to another problem. The last sun is too afraid to come out and the great cold and darkness begins. More material for sympathetic acting.

Interwoven with this mythology is the essentially ‘human’ story of Big Red Rooster. Although a handsome and proud bird, he is laughed at by all the other animals, who ridicule his ambition to run in the Jade Emperor’s Great Animal Race: “Run? You can’t even fly properly!” they taunt him. The two brothers act out this situation sympathetically too. Rooster, however, is not put off by this ridicule. He runs in the race and through good-natured cooperation with other animals he gains a place and is immortalised as one of the names of the 12 Chinese years.

But Rooster arrives back at the farm at the time of the great heat: all the suns had come out at once to see the race! After the shooting and the consequent great cold, eventually Rooster’s crowing tempts out the curious sun and all ends happily with the morning chorus of little birds as warmth and light are restored to the earth. The despised Rooster has become a hero. Now all children will know why the Rooster crows every morning.

We forget, as adults, how real imagination can be for children and how vividly they can become absorbed in their role-playing. As we watch the brothers, we have to use our own imagination and try to remember how involved we used to be in our own games and play. We can feel there is much more going on in their minds than just what we see in their acting; as when one thinks he is on the beach in the great heat. Parents are always content when their children are playing happily together. It’s a pleasure to see these brothers interacting; one teases the other when counting the suns in the sky. Later he stops him pretending to shoot the tenth and last and only remaining sun, and tries to scare him by pointing out it really is dark outside – because it’s night time!

The brothers show us several of the qualities of these well-loved traditional stories. There is imaginative mythology; there is also a personal story with universal human values and dilemmas. We feel that the simple telling is characteristic of Chinese stories, and poetry too. Lengthy description is not necessary. With a few well-chosen words the writer or poet describes a simple or familiar scene and relies on the sympathetic reader to imagine and enjoy the associated emotions.

It was exciting – and amusing – to see how much interest and fun the two brothers could conjure out of just one book, aided we could see by the colourful and imaginative illustrations on every page. We are very grateful to Howard and Oliver, and to their patient mum, for this charming interpretation of Big Red Rooster; or, as he is known in Chinese, Gongji Chicken.