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Strange but True

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Strange but True

Shakespeare for Kids

Afbeelding van de Zeilwagen door Simon Stevin. Amsterdam, 1649. Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum Amsterdam.

Athanasius Kircher. China illustrata. [Amsterdam: Jan Jansson, 1667]. Courtesy of Timothy Billings.

Visitors to China brought back many wonderful and exciting stories. Some of these stories were true, but others were not.


Imagine that you heard the following stories about China. Would you believe them? Why or why not?


1. Chinese people traveled in wagons that were pushed along by sails, instead of pulled by horses.


2. Flying tortoises live in China.


3. The Chinese secret ingredients for making beautiful porcelain dishes included grinding up eggs and lobster shells, and then burying the dishes in the ground for up to 100 years to allow them to harden.


None of these three stories are true. However, a European engineer was so inspired by stories about wagons with sails that he designed one that could be raced on long, flat beaches near the seashore. The stories about flying tortoises were based on a mistake in translation; sometimes sea tortoises had algae grow on their backs, and the Chinese called them "green haired tortoises" because the algae looked like hair. "Hair" was mistakenly translated as "wings." Finally, the recipe for porcelain was a closely guarded secret for many years, but it does not include eggs or lobster shells.

  Did you know?

Europeans were amazed when they heard about Chinese fisherman using trained birds to catch fish for them. But this story is true! Fishing with trained cormorants,a kind of bird that lives near the water, is still practiced in China and other parts of the world today.

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