The legend of the white snake is one of the 4 classic Chinese folk tales with literary significance. The most recent written text comes from the Ming Dynasty 1368-1644 CE. The famous pagoda and lakes from the Southern Song Dynasty’s capital Hangzhou are centralized as the location of the drama. The drama spans over major geographical locations important to both historical and present-day China and reflects the major philosophical influences that shaped Chinese society.
The story is rooted deeply in the Chinese culture and could have been originated from folklore and then changed over the course of time. Daoist themes of immortality and yin/yang are at the core of the story. The legend has also been adopted into a television series starring Ju Jingyi and Yu Menglong.
The legend of the white snake is a story about a snake spirit who falls in love with a human named Xu Xian.
The hero of this tale is Xu Xian from Hangzhou, who is a kind-hearted boy seeking the art of business making. One day he purchases tangyuan from a peddler from West Lake without knowing that they are actually immortality pills. After consuming the pills, Xu Xian feels nauseated and vomits into a lake nearby where a white female snake spirit was practicing Daoist. She discovers the immortality pills and consumes them before a jealous turtle nearby. She immediately ingests them and gains spiritual powers. For gaining immortality, she feels thankful towards the unaware Xu Xian.
When the white snake enters the human realm, she transforms herself into a human and saves a green snake who was at the mercy of the beggar. Grateful for saving him, the green snake swears to follow her to the end of the time. Years later, during the Qingming Festival, the white snake now named Bai Suzhen meets Xu Xian once again and soon both of them gets married.
Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen open a medicine shop and buy their supplies from Xu Xian’s former boss. The resentful employer in return sold him rotten herbs. As Xu Xian was baffled on what to do with his useless inventory, a plague floods the city. Seeking a remedy, Bai Suzhen creates a medicinal herb out of the rotten inventory using her Daoist knowledge. Her remedy cured everyone in the town and has even their former employer sought some for his family as well. But by this time, the jealous turtle spirit came to know about the whereabouts of Bai Suzhen.
The turtle spirit transforms himself into a monk named Fa Hai and approaches Xu Xian and tells him that he has a demon inside his home. He instructs Xu Xian to feed realgar wine to Bai Suzhen during the Duanwu Festival if he wants to confirm the fact. At first, Xu Xian rebuffs the claim but on the evening of the festival, he decides to test. He feeds Bai Suzhen with realgar wine, as a result, she transforms into her true form of a white serpent. Mortified by the betrayal, Xu Xian immediately dies of a heart attack.
Bai Suzhen with the loyal green snake sets on a voyage to Mount Emei to find a cure to revive Xu Xian. When she reaches the land ‘beyond mortals’, she sees two Old Man’s disciples guarding the herb on the other side. She immediately transforms herself into the old man and tells the guards to go to the gathering of the Gods. While the guards leave, she plucks some leaves out of the herb and runs. Realizing being tricked, the guards chase after her.
To keep the herb safe, she puts it under her tongue for safekeeping, but the magic forces her to transform into her original form. She is soon caught by the guards and as the they clamp around her neck the Old Man intervenes. He asks Bai Suzhen, why she risked her life to steal the herb when she was already immortal. Bai Suzhen explains to him she needs the herb to revive her husband back to life. Even if Xu Xian would not live with her as he now knew she was a demon, Bai Suzhen was determined to save him. Seeing her love for Xu Xian, the Old Man allows her to take some herbs.
As she cures Xu Xian, the terrified face of her husband turns into a smile seeing his beautiful wife in front of him. Xu Xian confesses that he still loves her and the lovers reunite once again. When Fa Hai finds that his plan has failed, he imprisons Xu Xian to bait Bai Suzhen. However, weakened by pregnancy, she was unable to save Xu Xian. Later, Xu Xian manages to escape Fa Hai and comes back to Bai Suzhen in time for their son to be born. They name their son Xu Mengjiao and the family reunites once and for all.