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Chi Li Slays The Serpent
Transcript of Chi Li Slays The Serpent
Key Character: Chi Li
-One of six daughters in the Li family
-Possesses the usual characteristics of a protagonist, but is more unique because she is female
Protagonist vs. Antagonists
In the ancient state of Yueh, stands the Yung mountain range, which was once inhabited by a giant serpent. It kept the local people in a state of constant terror and had already killed many civilians. Offerings of oxen and sheep did not appease the monster because it demanded only young maidens to kill and eat.
One day in the eighth month of every year, they would deliver a girl to the mouth of the monster's cave, and the serpent would come out and swallow the victim. This continued for nine years until nine girls had been devoured. In the tenth year the officials had again begun to look for a girl to hold in readiness for the appointed time.
One man named Li Tan, had raised six daughters and no sons. Chi, his youngest girl said, "Dear parents, you have no one to depend on, for having brought forth six daughters and not a single son, it is as if you were childless. I only waste your food and clothes. Since I'm no use to you alive, why shouldn't I give up my life a little sooner? What could be wrong in selling me to gain a bit of money for yourselves?" But the father and mother loved her too much to consent, so she went in secret.
Chi Li then asked the authorities for a sharp sword and a snake-hunting dog. When the appointed day of the eighth month arrived, she took several rice balls moistened with malt sugar which she had prepared and placed them at the mouth of the serpent's cave.
The serpent, with eyes like mirrors, appeared smelling the fragrance of the rice balls and it opened its mouth to eat them. Chi Li unleashed the hound, which bit hard into the serpent and then she came up from behind and killed the serpent with several deep cuts.
Chi went into the serpent's cave and recovered the skulls of the nine victims and sighed as she brought them out, "For your timidity you were devoured. How pitiful!"
The king of Yueh learned of these events and made Li Chi his queen. He appointed her father to be a magistrate, and her mother and elder sisters were given riches. From that time forth, the district was free of monsters.
In this myth, Chi Li takes the role of the protagonist, but who, or who are the antagonists?
Chi Li's Parents
The Serpent is the main antagonist of the tale because it is the root issue. It causes the village to live in fear and worry about which girl to sacrifice to the serpent
The serpent antagonizes Chi Li because it tests her capabilities as a woman. It's phallic shape also plays a role in one of the themes of the myth, which is to be later explored.
Chi Li's parents antagonized her because they did not understand that Chi Li was smart, brave and strong despite the fact that she was not a boy. Chi Li could not tell her parents her true intent for volunteering because they would have held her back, having no faith in her.
Chinese society antagonizes Chi Li because they look down upon daughters and prefer families that bring forth sons. Chi Li was born and raised with a poisoned philosophy that she was less than important because she was a girl.
The first symbol is the serpent. It represents the male dominance in China, and has a phallic shape. In the tale, it claims the lives of many women, and controls the village by invoking fear in civillians.
The second symbol is the rice balls that Chi Li used to lure the serpent out of its cave. The rice balls represent cleverness and adaptability. Chi Li knew that the serpent would eat her so she substituted herself with rice balls. She was able to adapt to the situation using her skills as a maiden by cooking the rice balls and setting them in front of the cave for the serpent.
One of the themes in this myth is the battle of gender inequality in China. Chi Li was already part of a minority being a female in China. When she came up with the idea that she was going to slay the serpent, and she didn’t tell her parents this idea, it is not because she did not want her parents to worry. It is because she already knew that her position would not allow for such masculine behaviour. Her parents would have laughed at this idea because their image of a lady is not a serpent slaying teenager.
This battle of gender continues throughout the myth as an underlying theme, but it is shown subliminally through the serpent, which serves as a phallic symbol. In plain understanding the battle of the serpent and Chi Li can translate into Chi Li defying her set duties as a woman.
Another theme in this myth is that the only consequence of not being brave is living in fear and also dying in it. This is demonstrated through the civilians of the village that were unable to defeat the serpent. They only feared it and continued to lose several women because of the serpent’s demands. Also, Chi Li showed that the timidity of the previous girls before her were the reason why they died. If they had done something brave, even if they did not succeed, they would have died with honour.
The first modern connection is that to this day, women still face a battle with men with regards to basic rights, jobs and discrimination. Chi Li demonstrated her struggle as a girl living in China, where boys were preferred because of their ability to work and provide for their family. Although present day women are not seen as housewives with a lower importance than men, there is still discrimination over the capabilities of a woman
The second modern connection is, regardless of the situation, bravery will always improve the outcome. If Chi Li did not possess the bravery to fight the Serpent, her skull would join the many others in the cave. Likewise, we should always try our best to win situations that we, and many others may be afraid of.