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A cornerstone of Chinese popular culture, the legend of the White Snake—the admirable demon who loves her victim—has been continually rewritten, reinterpreted, and readapted for over five hundred years. The Precious Scroll of Thunder Peak was one of the most popular nineteenth-century versions of the legend.
In bringing together translations of the Scroll, four anonymous "youth books," and other texts related to the development of the White Snake legend, this volume opens a window into the richness and variety of premodern Chinese popular literature. It also illustrates the ways in which traditional and modern Chinese societies have treated a host of vital cultural issues, including the role of women in society, perceptions of sexuality, and folk religion.
Wilt L. Idema's Introduction traces the evolution of the legend and places the translated texts in the history of Chinese popular literature and culture. Annotations explaining terms and references that may be unfamiliar to Western readers, a glossary, and a thorough bibliography further enhance the value of this book for both scholars and students.
"Both by introducing the legend in such artfully rendered translations and showing its evolution over time, Idema has opened an extraordinary window on traditional Chinese popular culture.
"In keeping with his record, Idema's scholarship is outstanding. His ability to translate popular texts into comparably idiomatic English is an outstanding achievement. An extremely valuable text for teaching."
—Hugh R. Clark, Ursinus College
"These are very readable translations . . . [this] book would serve well as a textbook in Chinese folklore or religion classes as well as a sourcebook for the comparativist who knows little or no Chinese."
—David Elton Gay, Indiana University, in the Journal of Folklore Research
"This slim volume actually contains a microcosm of premodern Chinese literature in which we see the growth and transformations of a core theme through several genres. We thereby learn much about the story of White Snake, of course, but this approach also has much to teach us about the nature and dynamics of Chinese popular literature in general—and about the methodology of its study."
—Philip Clart, University of Leipzig
Wilt L. Idema is Professor of Chinese Literature, Harvard University.