Recent puritanical changes to the ending of an ancient and popular Vietnamese folk story, Tam and Cam, in a 10th grade text book has stirred much controversy.

In the original version compared to the West's Cinderella, Tam, a beautiful young girl, takes revenge against her evil stepsister Cam and her stepmother for all the suffering they caused to her when she married a king. The story goes that Tam was re-incarnated five times after being murdered by the jealous pair. She first came back as a bird, then as a tree, then as a weaver's loom, then a fig - and then finally, she was re-incarnated as herself, the Queen.

When Tam re-appeared for the final time - and looking more beautiful than ever - Cam was overcome with jealousy and hatred. She asked her sister the secret of her incredible beauty and was told to take a bath in boiling water.

She was so greedy for the beauty and adoration that Tam enjoyed, she did as she was advised - and took the scalding bath. When the stepsister finished shrieking and fell lifeless, Tam cut her body up and used it to make sauce. She sent a jar to her wicked stepmother, who ate it and died of shock after finding the sauce was made from her daughter's flesh.

The cannibalism element has been deleted from the newly amended version of the text book as the compilers claim it was too brutal for today's moralities.

Young mother Le Minh Thuy from Hanoi is among those who support the change. She always made up a more humanitarian ending when she read the tale to her young daughter. "I didn't want a young mind to be affected by cruelty," she said.

Primary school teacher Hoang Hoai Nhon recalled how hard it was to teach Tam and Cam to her students before the story was taken out from primary school classes and added to the high-school curriculum. "Tam represented the good as we taught our students," she said, "but in the end she was as brutal as the evil sister. How can we say that she was still good?"

While the modified version is supported by some, many others are appalled that people in the 21st century take it on themselves to censor a story that is 2,000 years old.

"The compilers don't understand the nature of folk tales. The modified version does not respect Vietnamese history," said Folk Literature lecturer Nguyen Hung Vi from Hanoi National University of Social Sciences.

The original ending was not over the top, he said, when one thought of "how hell is described in Biblical or Buddhist texts, both of which aim to make people live better lives".

The good and evil Vietnamese stepsisters are similar to folk stories in Asian and Western literature. The giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, for instance, always said: "Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread."

Associate professor of Literature Tran Nho Thin also strongly opposes the modifications because they tamper with the truth – the mindset of our ancestors in an early mists of time when the structure of society was still forming.

But Vietnam's Cinderella folk tale is not the only one being sent to the cleaners. Several other of Vietnam's best-known literature pieces, including short stories Chi Pheo by Nam Cao or Vo Nhat (Wife Randomly Found) by Kim Lan are now being taught to high school students with some of the best parts removed because they involve sex.

Associate professor Thin said the truncated versions were lame representations of famous Vietnamese literature. According to him, renowned novelist Nam Cao spent one sixth of Chi Pheo, for instance, describing how the male and female characters meet each other by a river under a banana tree, but in the new version, compilers have removed almost all of this fearing it might affect teenagers' mental outlook.

Thin said it turns a story of humanitarianism into a story only against feudal oppression. "That's a distortion," he said, adding that high school students are mature enough to be taught about sex.

Amid the controversial and on-going reform of text books, literature experts accuse compilers of doing their job without adequate research or knowledge. "Where are they (compilers) based to decide this or that will badly affect students' psychology?" said Vi.

Vietnam's Ministry of Education and Training has done no research on school psychology for different ages for years, and until it does, all modifications and even comments must be considered arbitrary.

This raises questions about the teaching methods now being applied at Vietnamese schools. Instead of insisting that Tam is so nice, let students discuss and argue for themselves. At the end of the day, the changing the most famous folk tale may indicate problems within the whole education system./.