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Writing Green Snake, Dancing White Snake, and the Cultural Revolution as Memory and Imagination—Centered on Yan Geling’s Baishe

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Following Kenneth King’s pioneering transmedial synthetic writings on post-modern dance practices and Kimerer L. LaMothe’s call for dance to be treated seriously in religious and philosophical discourses, I examine Yan Geling’s novella Baishe (White Snake, 1998), in relation to Lilian Lee’s novel Qingshe (Green Snake, 1986–93), with a focus on how dancing and writing function literally, metaphorically, dialectically, and reciprocally, in these narratives. In my textual and contextual analyses of Yan’s White Snake text, I borrow Daria Halprin’s therapeutic model for accessing life experiences through the body in motion. I argue that, through a creative use of writing and dancing as key metaphors for identity formation and transformation, Yan’s text, in the context of contemporary China, offers innovative counter-narratives of gender, writing, and the body. Yan’s White Snake is considered in the following three contexts in this paper: firstly, the expressiveness of the female body in the White Snake story; secondly, the tradition and significance of writing women in Chinese literary history; and thirdly, the development of dance as a profession in the PRC, with a real-life snake dancer at the center. These three different frameworks weave an intricate tapestry that reveals the dialectics of writing and dancing, and language and the body, throughout the latter half of twentieth-century China. Furthermore, Yan’s text foregrounds the Cultural Revolution as an important chronotope for experimentation with a range of complex gender identities in relation to the expressive and symbolic powers of dancing and writing.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Modern & Classical Languages, Literatures & Cultures, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Kentucky


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