The story appears on

Page B2

October 24, 2016

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

‘Legend of White Snake’ creates legend of its own

“THE Legend of the White Snake,” a tale of the white snake goddess falling in love with a human, has been a hit with audiences in China since a TV drama adaptation of the romance was aired in 1992.

The story is being given a new twist that is equally raising eyebrows. Hunan Satellite TV is presenting it with a cast of children, all less than 10 years of age.

“They play it so well that I almost forget they are only children,” commented one viewer.

Indeed, the professionalism of the young cast has everyone marveling, though some people are questioning whether such an adult drama should be enacted by children.

“The Legend of the White Snake” is an ages-old legend that has been adapted for opera, films and TV. It is considered one of China’s “Four Great Folktales.”

The story takes place at West Lake in Hangzhou. Boiling down a rather complicated plot: A young man named Xu Xian falls in love with a white snake spirit named Bai Suzhen. The pair eventually marries and has a child. But romance between humans and spirits goes against celestial laws, so another spirit, disguised as the monk Fa Hai, tries to separate the couple. After foiling a series of ruses that include magic potions, capture and imprisonment, the couple is reunited in the end.

The new children’s production of the old legend of good and evil is a faithful adaptation of the 1990s TV version, from costumes, props and settings to dialogue and special effects. The two leads are both played by young girls.

When 10-year-old Tao Yixi, who plays Bai, first meets Xu, portrayed by Zhou Zhiying, 9, by West Lake, Tao’s eyes flutter above a perfectly timed timid smile.

In another scene, when Xu learns that Bai has been captured by Fa, Zhou breaks into tears that touched the hearts of viewers.

“The children actors take me so deep into the drama that I cried at sad moments in the plot,” said another viewer.

Hunan Satellite TV has developed a reputation for a series of programs with children as actors.

One of them traces the story of Jiao Yulu (1922-64), a Chinese politician who devotes himself tirelessly to the Communist Party. Another, “The White-Haired Girl,” is based on real-life stories about the misery suffered by Chinese women.

And yet another follows the life of Liu Sanjie, a village girl who fought for the freedom of peasants by singing folk songs.

All the children actors audition to get parts. Zhou, as a girl, for example, beat out another boy to win the role of Xu Xian.

“I think Xu is a little naïve, but a man of kindness and sincerity,” Zhou said, explaining how she decided to portray the hero.

Acting can be as anguishing for children as it is for many adults. Off camera, Tao cried in a corner one day because she thought she wasn’t performing well and was troubling the film crew. An extra practiced washing clothes in a river so that he wouldn’t forget any of the movements he had to make when the cameras were rolling.

Of course, there are those who wonder if it’s appropriate to cast children in what are essentially adult roles. Can they really have the maturity to understand the people they are trying to portray?

“I really don’t understand who the target audience is,” says viewer Joyce Zhang, the mother of a 4-year-old boy. “Adults would find it interesting, of course, but it would be meaningless for children.”

Zhang recalls watching the original TV drama when she was seven, and the only things she could appreciate at the time were the special effects and the beauty of the leading actress from Hong Kong.

Pan Liping, who directed the current production, sees it differently.

“I think we are building a bridge for children to Chinese classics, and it’s one way for us to pay tribute to them,” he said in an early interview.

Still, sensitivities prevailed. Steamier scenes of the romance were deleted or altered.

“There was one scene we didn’t remove after much deliberation,” said Pan. “That was the White Snake giving birth to a baby. It was a crucial to the whole plot.”

The director admitted the child actors were somewhat timid about the baby-delivery scene, even though they knew what was going on.

“We had to explain to them how important it was to the story, but we did blur and weaken the details,” Pan said.

Zhang Jiaxiong, who has been teaching acting to children for 10 years and is also a TV host from Shanghai’s renowned art school Little Star, says he holds some reservations about the new production.

“There’s no doubt that the children acted very well and the whole crew made great efforts, but I wonder whether the kids truly understood their roles and the story — especially the elements of love and religion in the script,” he says. “Maybe this sort of genre of drama is not that appropriate for children.”

Zhang adds, “From a professional view, I always encourage children to bring out their true feelings when acting, to create a character from their own experience and understanding of the world. However, the kids in this production of ‘Legend of the White Snake’ were just copying the old version. They are imitating instead of acting.”

Professor Gu Xiaoming, a sociologist from Fudan University has his own thoughts on the issue.

“Children get to understand the adult world by acting,” he says. “It’s part of their growth process, and you can’t always block them from adult themes.”

One only has to look at fairy tales to see that adult topics interest children.

“Cinderella, Snow White and the Little Mermaid are all about love, dating and wedding, and children learn to understand these things by acting them out,” the professor says. “So if we handle it properly and provide children with quality, classic adult stories, it’s good for the process of maturing. But I don’t think it’s helpful to have the public over-touting their acting skills.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend