Madam White Snake 白蛇传
There are many versions of the legend of “Madam White Snake” but generally, the story is set during the Southern Song dynasty and revolves around the love story of a scholar Xu Xian, 许仙, and his wife Bai Su Zhen, 白素贞, who was a human manifest of a white snake spirit.
As Bai Su Zhen is the main character, this story is frequently referred to as Madam White Snake.
The love story
The couple met, fell in love, got married and soon had a child. However, their happiness was short-lived as a monk, Fahai, 法海和尚, had discovered the real identity of Bai Su Zhen.
Fahai was opposed to the marriage on the grounds that humans and snakes belong to different realms and should never be together in a marriage. Determined to separate them, Fahai exposed the real identity of Bai Su Zhen hoping to frighten Xu Xian into leaving his wife. When that failed, Fai Hai took Xu Xian hostage in the Golden Mountain Monastery, 金山寺.
Bai Su Zhen and her sister, Xiao Qing, 小青, a green snake spirit, managed to rescue Xu Xian by flooding the monastery. Bai Su Zhen was eventually captured and imprisoned in the Lei Feng Pagoda, 雷峰塔.
Xu Xian raised their child who eventually emerged as a top scholar, 状元, in the imperial examinations. The new imperial scholar paid respects to his mother at the Lei Feng Pagoda and his act of filial piety miraculously release his mother from the pagoda. However, instead of being reunited with her husband and son, she attained immortality and ascended to the heavens.
Interpretion of Mdm White Snake
Madam White Snake can be interpreted as a reflection of the tension between social norms and individual desires. Xu Xian and Bai Su Zhen’s love affair was one that did not confirm to social norms and Fa Hai represents the force that attempts to uphold social hierarchy and maintain social norms.
Fai Hai’s attempts and eventually success in separating them implies the priority or victory of society over individuals.
On the other hand, individuals are rewarded when they confirm to social norms as reflected in Xu Xian’s son who emerged as the top scholar in the imperial exams.
As an imperial scholar and who exhibited filial piety, the son achieved two important goals that every Chinese parent could wish for in their son.
As a result, Bai Su Zhen was rewarded through her release from the Lei Feng pagoda but the social norms continued to prevail; she was rewarded with immortality but remain separated from her beloved husband and son.
Madam White Snake’s tragedy is a popular story and has inspired operas, plays and even movies. The story even propelled Lei Feng Pagoda to fame and it continues to be one of the most popular tourist sights in China.