The Ransom of Red Chief

The Ransom of Red Chief

based on The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry

LEVEL 1 (300 unique characters)

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Trying to make some fast cash, two small-time crooks devise a plan to kidnap the son of a wealthy family in a village and hold him for ransom. When the kidnapped boy pulls out his Hong Hou (“Red Monkey”) costume, the two burglars realize they may be in for more than they planned. As their ransom notes remain unanswered and their scheme starts to drag on, the two crooks find out for themselves how a child’s imagination can spell disaster for two inexperienced criminal minds.

Adaptation Notes

Perhaps best known for The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry is a well-known American writer of short stories. Written in 1910, the story The Ransom of Red Chief brilliantly tapped into a rich vein of comedy associated with the many difficulties of caring for a mischievous child. The “Red Chief” in the title, however, calls attention to the very different culture of the time, when “cowboys and Indians” was the most common game all children knew, and the United States had barely even begun to address its real issues of racial equality.

Clearly, the original “Red Chief” does not work in a Chinese context, even though the story’s larger theme of a child so unruly that he can barely be contained is all too familiar in the modern Chinese one-child household. And yet Chinese kids do have a uniquely Chinese hero all their own, unparalleled in his naughtiness: Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from Journey to the West. Thus, our story uses its own version of Sun Wukong, a modern-day, fictional caped simian superhero named 红猴 (Hóng Hóu), and gleefully jettisons the anachronistic “Red Chief.” You won’t miss him at all.

The following is a list of the characters from The Ransom of Red Chief in Chinese followed by their corresponding English names from Henry’s original story. There are, of course, other characters in the story besides these, but many do not have exact correspondences to the original. The names below aren’t translations; they’re new Chinese names used for the Chinese versions of the original characters. Think of them as all-new characters in a Chinese story.

  • 老马 (Lǎo Mǎ) – Bill
  • 林哥 (Lín Gē) – Sam
  • 高先生 (Gāo Xiānsheng) – Dorset
  • 红猴 (Hóng Hóu) – Johnny

Sample of The Ransom of Red Chief
















  1. v. to fear
  2. 睡觉 shuìjiào vo. to sleep
  3. 大叫 dàjiào v. to cry out loudly
  4. 村子 cūnzi n. village, town
  5. zhuā v. to grab
  6. 很快 hěn kuài phrase quickly, soon
  7. 穿 chuān v. to put on, to wear
  8. 衣服 yīfu n. clothing
  9. 小心 xiǎoxīn v. to be careful
  10. 洞口 dòngkǒu n. mouth of a cave
  11. 奇怪 qíguài adj. strange
  12. shù n. tree
  13. 起来 qǐlai v. to get up
  14. 发现 fāxiàn v. to discover
  15. wǎng cov. toward
  16. 好像 hǎoxiàng adv. it seems (that)
  17. 山洞 shāndòng n. cave (in the mountains)
  18. 开心 kāixīn adj. happy
  19. huàn v. to change
  20. jiàn mw. [measure word for clothing, incidents]
  21. xiàng v. to resemble
  22. xiào v. to laugh, to smile
  23. 大声 dàshēng adv. loudly
  24. 厉害 lìhai adj. impressive
  25. 听话 tīnghuà vo. to be obedient, to listen
  26. v. to cry
  27. 生气 shēngqì vo. to get angry
  28. guǎn v. to manage, to handle
  29. v. to pick up
  30. 虫子 chóngzi n. bug, insect, worm
  31. 好玩 hǎowán adj. fun, amusing
  32. 一下子 yīxiàzi adv. all at once
  33. v. to ride on
  34. 身上 shēnshang n. on one’s body

I have read The Ransom of Red Chief and am reading it a second time. This book makes the eighth Mandarin Companion graded reader that I own and have read multiple times. Its a cute story and I like the illustrations…especially the one where 红猴 is sleeping while the 两个不怕死人 write the ransom note. He looked like an innocent toddler, while in the other illustrations he was obviously quite 厉害. And poor 老马。。。 As always, the quality of the adaptation is high, and I keep recognizing new grammar with every reread. I am learning Chinese through several different avenues, trying to create an immersion situation for myself. I really appreciate having the Mandarin Companion books at my reading level, so that I can enjoy entertaining stories while learning and practicing. I am eagerly looking forward to the next Mandarin Companion reader. Meanwhile, I will keep reading and rereading.

– Regina

These books are great for beginning Chinese readers. My boy likes them because he does not need to spend a lot of time looking up characters he does not recognize yet. Thanks to these books, he is able to build confidence and enjoy the story before taking on more challenging characters. He’ll get there eventually thanks to books like these.

– Jennifer Ryan