The Ransom of Red Chief
LEVEL 1 (300 unique characters)
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.
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
- 怕 pà v. to fear
- 睡觉 shuìjiào vo. to sleep
- 大叫 dàjiào v. to cry out loudly
- 村子 cūnzi n. village, town
- 抓 zhuā v. to grab
- 很快 hěn kuài phrase quickly, soon
- 穿 chuān v. to put on, to wear
- 衣服 yīfu n. clothing
- 小心 xiǎoxīn v. to be careful
- 洞口 dòngkǒu n. mouth of a cave
- 奇怪 qíguài adj. strange
- 树 shù n. tree
- 起来 qǐlai v. to get up
- 发现 fāxiàn v. to discover
- 往 wǎng cov. toward
- 好像 hǎoxiàng adv. it seems (that)
- 山洞 shāndòng n. cave (in the mountains)
- 开心 kāixīn adj. happy
- 换 huàn v. to change
- 件 jiàn mw. [measure word for clothing, incidents]
- 像 xiàng v. to resemble
- 笑 xiào v. to laugh, to smile
- 大声 dàshēng adv. loudly
- 厉害 lìhai adj. impressive
- 听话 tīnghuà vo. to be obedient, to listen
- 哭 kū v. to cry
- 生气 shēngqì vo. to get angry
- 管 guǎn v. to manage, to handle
- 拿 ná v. to pick up
- 虫子 chóngzi n. bug, insect, worm
- 好玩 hǎowán adj. fun, amusing
- 一下子 yīxiàzi adv. all at once
- 骑 qí v. to ride on
- 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.
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.