Episode 62: Madame White Snake — part 4

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Xu Xuan thought about the last words from Madame White Snake, “you got suspicious, I will let the whole city be flooded and everyone would suffer.” and couldn’t find a way. He was standing on the bridge and planned to committee suicide. When he heard somebody calling him. It was FaHai, the abbot. He gave Xu Xuan a bowl and asked him to cover on his wife’s head with a hard push. Xu Xuan arrived home and saw Madame White Snake sitting in the room murmuring, “I don’t know who are provoking the distrust between me and my husband.” Xu Xuan walked behind her slowly and boom! with all his strength. FaHai arrived at the same time and wailed incantations. Afterwards, he opened the bowl, Madame White Snake was as small as around 20 cm and crawled on the ground.

FaHai asked, “who are you exactly?” Madame White Snake said, “I was a serpent. I came to the West Lake on a rainy day and encountered Xu Xuan. I fell in love and got married with him. I know this is forbidden but I never harm anyone. Please forgive me.” I don’t know the full explanation, but in Chinese mythology, the love between a human and a spirit is a sin. I guess it is against the Confucianism that it is not the “right” match. It is one of the reasons that why homosexual marriages is still forbidden in China. FaHai asked, “who is Qing Qing?” “Qing Qing is the green fish in West Lake after thousands of years of practice. We met and became accompanies. ”

FaHai sealed the bowl with a piece of cloth teared from his clothes and imprisoned Madame White Snake and Qing Qing under Leifeng Pagoda 雷峰塔 by the West Lake forever. FaHai left with a poem to warn people in the world not to be bewitched by lust.

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Hangzhou, Suzhou where the story took place and West Lake and Leifeng Pagoda all really exist until today. There are statues of Madame White Snake, Qing Qing and Xu Xuan along the West Lake if you visit there today.

This is the end of this story. However, there are a lot of variations.

One version adds a sequel that Madame White Snake gave birth to a baby before she was imprisoned by FaHai named Xu Rulin 许儒林. Years later, he got a high ranking in the imperial examinations. Returning home to visit his mother at Leifeng Pagoda, Madame White Snake was freed and reunited with her family. The childbirth part tried to depict Madame White Snake more like a human instead of a spirit and about the imperial examinations part I would say at ancient time people still thought only a honor could save the whole family.

Some versions have an epic fight between Madame White Snake and the abbot FaHai in the end before Madame White Snake was lost and imprisoned. It is another classical and dramatic plot in today’s version.

Now I am going to answer the question why do we need to talk about this story during DuanWu Festival or Dragon Boat Festival 端午节. One variation of this story has a plot that Xu Xuan didn’t believe his wife was a snake spirit until he was told by FaHai to let her drink a kind of liquor called XiongHuangJiu 雄黄酒 , a kind of alcohol traditionally consumed on the Dragon Boat Festival to prevent diseases and evil spirits. Of course, Madame White Snake transformed into a huge white serpent after drinking. The scene of Madame White Snake got drunk and transformed into a snake was a classic plot in the story. Xu Xuan scared to death, literally died. Madame White Snake tried to save him by risking her own life to steal a magic herb and brought Xu Xuan back to life. It is the turning point when the couple really were honest to each other and bounded together. That’s the main difference probably between the original story and the variation that Xu Xuan really fell in love and trusted his wife instead of being suspicious the whole time and was with his wife out of lust and money.

However, today’s Chinese people, more affected by the TV shows and movies based on the this story, have a different understanding of the story. Firstly name wise, Xu Xian 许仙 instead of Xu Xian 许宣 is the name widely known today. Qing Qing , the green clothes maid is known as Xiao Qing 小青. Secondly, Qing Qing is known as a green colored snake spirit today instead of a fish spirit in the original story. Thirdly, in the original story, FaHai the abbot was a good guy who helped Xu Xuan to escape from Madame White Snake. Today people regard FaHai as an obstacle who tried to separate the loving couple.

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I do like the modern variations in TV series and movies better because Madame White Snake is more brave for love instead of just being an attractive woman who tried to seduce a man. And the character of Xu Xuan is also more complicated instead of just being a suspicious coward. Although I still like Madame White Snake far more better than Xu Xuan.

If you like this story, definitely check those videos and I would put some links in our website and social media. Just a reminder you probably would cry.

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Movie :

青蛇 Green Snake  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBjycaw5ulk

白蛇传说 The Sorcerer and the White Snake

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asBCGCbS8LI

TV show:

新白娘子传奇 New Legend of Madame White Snake 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2162790/

Episode 32: Snake Survival Guide

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Today we are going to talk about a kind of smart and mysterious animal. You can find myths about it in a lot of cultures and in Chinese mythology as well. Some people are really scared of them. Can you guess what it is? It is snakes. In Chinese mythology, there are so much to talk about snakes and we already mentioned in our very first episode about Nvwa女娲 who created the humankind was half human half snake . Today we are going to talk about some stories about snakes in nature in Chinese mythology.

In the book LiangBanQiuYuAnSuiBian 两般秋雨庵随笔 from the Qing Dynasty 清朝, it mentioned a kind of viper living in the mountains in Guangdong 广东 province called LiangRen snake量人蛇, which means snakes that measure people. They were around two meters and they liked to compare heights with human. When LiangRen snake met with people on the roads, it would rear up and screamed, “ I am taller”. If the person didn’t respond, the viper would be so proud and strike. On the contrary, if the person held something up and replied “I am taller”, the viper would be so depressed and fell on the ground and die. So the best way to protect yourself is to bring an umbrella or a stick and hold them high above to show the viper you are taller than it. I am sure some snakes in nature really exist expect probably it wouldn’t actually say “I am taller”. It’s a dangerous game the snake is playing.

There is another kind of snake living in Mountain KunLun 昆仑 山 called TuJueBing土镢 柄, which means hoe’s handle. Hoe is kind of tool with a long handle used or turning over the soil in a garden. Maybe the name was given based on the color and size of the snake. It says this kind of snake is poisonous and looks like a rattle snake. It is known for its laziness. Since it always sleeps on the roads in the mountain. Since its color is really close to the road, it is hard to tell by people passing by. If the first person walks over it, it was too lazy to open its eyes. When the second person walks over it, it opens its eyes however too lazy to move. Until the third person walks over, it would finally attack the person. It’s like playing a game of Russian roulette. So what should you do if you walk in the mountains with a group? Any guesses? Walk in a row instead of a line. That’s the way to protect yourself from a lazy snake. If anybody tries this and gets bitten, don’t blame us.

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In the book ShePu 蛇谱, it mentions one snake called huanren snake 唤人蛇, which means snake that says hi. This kind of snake lives in the grassland and when people passing by, it would ask the person very friendly”Where are you from? Where are you going? “ with very standard HeNan 河南 accent. HeNan is a province in north China. If you think the snake is being friendly and replied you are so dead. The snake would follow you even for decades of miles and eat you. So never answer a snake if it asks about your trip.

Mentioned:

女娲 Nvwa

两般秋雨庵随笔 LiangBanQiuYuAnSuiBian

蛇谱 ShePu

Episode 6: The Finishing Touch

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The meaning of the finishing touch is a final detail or action completing and enhancing a piece of work. Today I am going to tell a story of how the finishing touch enhance the work from the book LiDaiMingHuaJi历代名画记. ZhangSengYou张僧繇(yóu ) is a famous artist in the Northern Dynasty 南朝, from the year 420 ~ 589. He painted four dragons in the Temple Anle安乐寺in JinLin 金陵. Strangly he never drew eyes for the dragons. People got confused and asked him why. He always replied, “ if I did draw the eyes, the dragons would fly away.” Of course, nobody believed him and thought he was crazy. In the end, in order to show people he was serious, he drew eyes for one of the dragons and after a little while, that dragon became alive and flew away into the clouds. People around were shocked and when they looked back the other three dragons without eyes were still on the wall. What a legendary artist! The dragons were so real that if he put extra details on them they would actually come to life. The moral of this story is that don’t give your robots an extra part of intelligence cause they might take over the world.

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This reminds me of another story from the book ZhanGuoCe战国策, which contains anecdotes of political manipulation and warfare during the Warring States period 战国时期, from 5th to 3rd centuries BC. There was a nobleman in the kingdom of Chu 楚国. One day, after worshiping his ancestors, he awarded a bottle of wine to his servants. These servants discussed about how they should share the wine. Since a bottle was not enough for all of them but a little more for one person, they decided that they would have a competition of drawing a snake. Whoever finished first would get the wine as a prize. One of the people finished really fast. When he was holding the wine in his left hand, he said “I still have enough time to add feet to the snake” and began to draw with his right hand. However, before he finished the feet, another person had completed drawing and snatched the wine from him and said,” A snake does not have feet. Why do you add feet to it? I won!” and drank the wine immediately. The person who added feet lost the wine. This is definitely not the best finishing touch. This idiom drawing a snake with feet 画蛇添足refers to spoiling things by doing things unnecessary. Sometimes more is less. For sure adding eyes to dragons is not unnecessary, but it is dangerous!

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Mentioned:

历代名画记 LiDaiMingHuaJi

张僧繇 ZhangSengYou

南朝 Northern Dynasty

安乐寺Temple Anle

金陵 JinLin

战国策 ZhanGuoCe

楚国 kingdom of Chu

画蛇添足 drawing a snake with feet