Most of us have grown up watching Disney’s beloved animated movie, Aladdin. But little do some people know that the family-friendly movie is based on a book titled, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, a story mainly set in China with Aladdin and most of its characters being Chinese.
The original tale was written by French orientalist and archeologist Antoine Galland. It wasn’t originally part of the 1,001 Arabian Nights’ collection of mythical tales and ancient stories, but it was added later upon its translation.
Disney’s adaptation of the widely known story tells the journey of a mischievous but virtuous orphan that has his world turned upside down upon discovering the magical lamp of an encapsulated genie who could grant him three wishes. Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp may tell a similar story but a considerably different tale altogether that is inspired and enriched by Chinese history and culture.
All throughout, the story features various kinds of ethnic groups in Chinese history, including Uighurs, Hui people, and even Islamic communities that have been known to exist in China during the Tang Dynasty. It even suggests that the intended setting for the story is Turkestan, which is known today to be the Xinjiang province in Western China.
The Original Story
Aladdin’s character in the original story carries a large distinction from its Disney adaptation counterpart. Instead of introducing him to be an orphaned “street rat,” Chinese Aladdin is described as a lazy boy that lives at home with his mother in “the capital of one of China’s vast and wealthy kingdoms.”
The story begins with Aladdin bumping into his late father’s brother in the street, who happens to be a sorcerer. This uncle pretends to be of aid and service to Aladdin and his mother by providing them with a shop where the boy could be its merchant.
But the uncle’s true motives start to become known when he convinces Aladdin to accompany him for a long walk to the mountains. The uncle takes a mysterious powder, throws it into the campfire, and says some magic words, having a trapped magical door appear at their feet.
He claims that only Aladdin can enter to retrieve a magical oil lamp, and he gives him a ring that will protect him from the dangers inside. Aladdin complies with no difficulty, but upon returning to the entrance, his uncle tricks him, and Aladdin finds himself trapped in the cave.Losing hope, Aladdin brings his hands together to pray, unintentionally rubbing the ring and unleashing the genie. Astonished, Aladdin wishes to be back home, and the genie grants his wish. Once back home, Aladdin’s mother sees the lamp and cleans it with the intention of selling it to buy food for their supper.
In the process of doing so, another genie appears. This lamp genie becomes responsible for making Aladdin a rich and powerful match for Princess Badroulbadour, the sultan’s daughter, and for building their palace.
When his uncle hears about this, he becomes enraged and tricks Aladdin’s wife, who is unaware of the lamp’s importance. He wishes the genie to transport Aladdin’s palace and his wife to his place in Maghreb, North Africa.
Aladdin then uses the genie of the ring to transport him to Maghreb. Aladdin recovers the lamp, kills his uncle and wins back the palace. But little does he know that the sorcerer’s more powerful and evil brother is out for revenge and plots to murder Aladdin. The genie warns Aladdin of this, and Aladdin kills him as well and eventually becomes sultan.
[Left] Aladdin and his mother discovering the powerful genie of the lamp; [Right] Aladdin and the Princess Badroulbadour