In November 2017, I (Jeff Teichert) was in China. These two pictures are of the Leifing Pagoda (Temple) near Westlake in Hangzhou, and my translator, Mei. She became a good friend. She and this temple will always be tied together in my memory.
As we were walking around Westlake on Sunday afternoon, viewing this temple on a nearby mount, Mei told me the Legend of the White Snake. It is, apparently, one of China's four great folk tales.
The tale is pretty detailed and it has taken on several interpretations, but the cliff notes version includes a boy who bought and ate some immortality beans, not knowing what they were. Over the next few days he didn't need to eat and asked the merchant why. The merchant takes him to Westlake, flips him upside down and causes him to vomit the beans into the lake. They are then eaten by a white snake who is expert in the taoist arts, who gets 500 extra years of life from them.
18 years later when the snake takes on human form, she falls in love with the grown up boy and they get married. A monk knows the true identity of the wife and seeks to end the union by making the wife drink a potion revealing her true identity. The husband dies of shock. The wife uses magic herbs to bring him back to life. The husband maintains his love for his wife despite knowing her true identity.
The monk, still bent on destroying the union, imprisons the white maiden in the Leifing Temple. While she is imprisoned, she gives birth to a talented (and in some versions divine) son who defeats the monk, frees his mother, and reunites his parents twenty years later.
My re-telling leaves out a lot of detail. I like to interpret the story as a tale about love. The snake feels gratitude for the gift of life received from the boy. She takes on human form so she can love him fully. Real love is, in fact, transformative. And it reflects who we choose to be. His love is cemented when she raises him from the dead, notwithstanding his discovery of her true identity. I suggest that love is only real after we see the snake inside another person (true identity) and love him or her anyway. Before that, we are in love with illusions. The monk took refuge in the heart of a crab, which is why you see that red coloring in crab meat. The son became the means of reuniting his family as the Son of God was the means of reuniting our Heavenly Parents' family--and as we can be saviors on Mt. Zion for our ancestors.
The Leifing Temple was built in 975 A.D. and has had to be reconstructed since. It has occupied that spot above Westlake for well over 1000 years. President Nixon said that Americans measure time in decades, Europeans measure it in centuries, and the Chinese measure it in millennia. When I think about the Leifing Pagoda and the legends surrounding it, I think of things that are made to last and to be redemptive--like love and marriage. And I realize that wherever we go in the world, these things are deep in people's hearts.