The Legend of the White Snake

The brief story of the Legend of the White Snake.

With 12 Yangliuqing woodcut paintings

"Good old man, please give us a ride!" Lady White shouted to the boatman from the bank. The young man asked the boatman to stop and let them go aboard. They thanked the young man and Xiaoqing asked him his name. He replied,"Xu is my surname. I am told that I once met an immortal near the Broke Bridge when I was a child so my father gave me the name Xian." (Xian means immortal in Chinese.)
And so Lady White's wish was fulfilled. The handsome young man was indeed the little boy who had always stayed in her heart.


Because of the downpour, Xu Xian lent Lady White his umbrella to carry home. Late, whenever she looked at it, she felt a longing for Xu Xian. Xu Xian also felt hemself falling in love with Lady White. On the day he went to get back his umbrella, he asked Xianqing to act as go-between to arrage a match between Lady White and himself. Xianqing did her job well and the pair married.


After their marriage, the couple and Xiaoqing moved to Zhenjiang and set up a herbal medicine store. Lady White wrote out the prescription while Xu Xian and Xiaoqing gathered and dispensed the herbal medicine. Patients unable to pay ere given free treatment and medicine. The store quickly became well known and popular.

At the time of the Dragon Boat Festival, it was the custom for every household to fasten plants such as calamus and Chinese mugwort on the ground to drive away spirits. These were of course dangerous to Lady White and Xiaoqing, since there were spirits after all. Lady White was by now pregnant so she had even more reason for staying at home. Xu Xian decided to spend the day at home with his wife. He prepared a pot of old wine with realgar, for realgar not only drove away evil spirits but was also considered benificial to pregnant women. Under her husband's coaxing, Lady White could not find a reason to refuse the drink and she took a sip, thinking that her superior magic skills would make her immune to the power of relgar. But she immediately was stricken ill and barely managed to get to bed. Xu Xian rushed to the bed and drew aside its curtain. Lady White was no loger there. In her place was a large white snake coiled on the bed. So great was Xu Xian's shock that he fell to the floor and died.

When the power of realgar's power faded, Lady White resumed her human form. She was heartbroken to find Xu Xian lying dead beside the bed. But she knew that the glossy ganoderma, a clestial herb on the Kunlun Mountain, could restore him to life. She flew to the Kunlun Mountain to steal the celestial herb but encountered the white crane and heavenly guards responsible for looking after the glossy ganoderma. They fought to prevent her from taking the herb and Lady White was losing the battle, when suddenly a voice commanded them to stop. It was the voice of the Immortal of the Southern End. Lady White begged him in tears to help her. Impressed by her sincerity and perseverance, he granted her the glossy ganoderma.

Lady White ground the herb and fed it to Xu Xian who soon came back to life. But he was still frightened at the memory of the snake that had appeared in his wife's place.

Lady White made up a story to set his mind at rest. The snake he saw, she told him, was in fact a dragon descending from heaven. The sight was a good omen. She regretted that she was unconcious at that time, otherwise, she would have burnt some incense to the dragon.

Xiaoqing added she also had seen something white resembling either a snake or a dragon and that it flew from the bed to the window and disappeared. Xu Xian's suspicions were allayed by this colorful story.

Synopsis of the Chinese Beijing Opera Legend of the White Snake

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