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The Australian National University

Seminar | Strange New Women: The White Snake in Three Keys


Tuesday, 1 August 2017 - 4:30pm - 5:45pm


Sir Roland Wilson Building Theatrette


Dr Liang Luo (University of Kentucky)


The question of the stranger is at the heart of Strange New Women. The White Snake figure, as portrayed in the Chinese folk and literary traditions, is a stranger in the human realm. A snake spirit who transforms into a beautiful woman, she marries a human male, and, in some versions, even bears him a human son. Her strangeness and newness have much to do with the various forms of transgressions she embodies: gender, media, and political. Over several centuries, the legend of the White Snake and its myriad reincarnations came to life and exerted important influence in the process of cultural transformation and political change in modern East Asia and beyond. Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, the White Snake has been used to promote diverse, often avant-gardist, and rather political themes such as “free love,” women’s rights, grassroots revolutionary spirit, homosexual love, and transgender rights. Strange New Women concerns itself with the metamorphoses of Chinese folk tales in modern societies and global contexts. It is particularly interested in the travels of fantastic tales across historical demarcations, linguistic and geopolitical boundaries, and how the retelling of these tales in different media shape contemporary politics and popular culture. The White Snake is but a window into investigations of the power of the stranger in reflecting, projecting, and shaping our reality and humanity.


Dr Liang LUO is an associate professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Kentucky and a visiting fellow at the Humanities Research Centre. She is the author of The Avant-Garde and the Popular in Modern China (University of Michigan Press, 2014). Her recent writings on intermediality, the politics of performance, and the dialectics of dancing and writing can be seen in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Trans-Humanities, and Frontiers of Literary Studies in China. She is working on two projects, The Humanity of the Nonhuman: Gender, Media, and Politics in The White Snake (book and digital project) and The International Avant-Garde and Modern China (book and documentary film project).

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