The Taming of the White Snake: Female Sexuality in the Legend of the White Snake

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


This article examines the ancient mythological origins of the legend of the White
Snake. The snake woman’s sensuality, longevity, fertility, and capability in healing
are archetypal qualities common to snake goddesses in many early matrifocal
mythologies around the world: the snake woman represents matrifocal sensibility
in contrast to and in conflict with the patriarchal world order. The ultimate
destruction of the marriage between the weak husband Xu Xuan (or Xu Xian)
and the powerful snake wife shows the intolerance of female-centered households
in a patriarchal society. The evolution of the White Snake stories across time
shows a consistent trend toward characterizing the snake woman as progressively
less threatening, until finally she is transformed into an idealized Confucian wife
and mother. Using comparative mythology as an analytical framework, I argue
that the White Snake is a vestige of an ancient snake creator goddess venerated
for her power of fertility. Her defeat in the legend can be interpreted as symbolic
of the triumph of patriarchy in its regulation and control of women’s fertility.
The enduring allure of the legend lies in its ability to reveal the latent discontents
in patriarchal societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-125
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'The Taming of the White Snake: Female Sexuality in the Legend of the White Snake'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this