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This essay examines American missionary Samuel I. Woodbridge’s 1896 rendition of the White Snake legend, The Mystery of the White Snake, in the context of his missionary and diplomatic endeavors. It argues for a close reading of the English text as a contribution to the White Snake repertoire, both in its literary qualities and in its articulation of the idea and practice of love and empathy. Woodbridge’s intention of using the White Snake text to reveal the danger of the Chinese popular mind and to critique the Buddhist doctrine of transmigration and its outdated practice of “animal worship,” however, backfired. He was seduced by the White Snake legend he had set out to criticize and was able to better understand the Chinese popular mind he had hoped to reform, through powerfully resilient popular legends such as the White Snake.
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