Xishi ranked top among the four major beauties in ancient China, symbolizing the image of beauty in traditional Chinese culture. The place where the legend originated –Zhuji City in the central north of Zhejiang Province, was once capital of the state of Yue during the Spring and Autumn Period.
The Legend of Xishi originated in the late Spring Autumn Period. It started as a dictation folktale and the earliest record was found in The Commentary of Mozi and The Commentary of Mencius. Thanks to circulation of generation after generation, it spread more widely with its content constantly enriched. With the war between the State of Wu and the State of Yue as the historical background, the legend took the life of Xishi as the main thread and various related stories as details concerning people (Dongshi: The Copycat of Xishi), names of places (The White Fish Pool), fruit delicacy (Torreya grandis), and legend (Sangjiangkou Water Lamp). It sings high praise for Xishi in terms of her beauty, kindness and sacrifice for the country.
The Legend of Xishi is a time-honored one, spanning a history of over 2,500 years from beginning up till now. Its area of circulation has been so wide as to cover not only Zhuji, but also Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and the whole country and Southeast Asian countries like Korea, Japan and Singapore as well as areas of overseas Chinese worldwide. The legend is substantial and varied, involving almost all of the elements of folk literature such as people, names of places, local products, and custom and social practice. Apart from story-telling as folktale, the legend is also circulating in various forms such as traditional opera and play.
Xishi on the stage
As one of the colorful legends of people in China, the Legend of Xishi is of great value in other aspects besides the inherent significance as folk literature and art:
1) literary value: as popular literature, it circulates widely and suits readers both young and old. It has always been the source of creation for other literary initiatives and literary productions based on the Legend of Xishi have been many and varied. Meanwhile, by means of communication in literary forms, the influence of the legend has been widened and the content consolidated. And studying the interactive relationship is of great importance to the thriving of literature and art;
2) aesthetic value: as symbol of aesthetics, Xishi has taken an exclusive place in the aesthetic history of Chinese nation, which is worthwhile to explore further from the perspective of aesthetics;
3) value of cognition and history: with war between the states of Wu and Yue as the background, the Legend of Xishi was a folk interpretation of history and culture of ancient Wu and Yue, which is of reference value to the studies of history of the Spring and Autumn Period;
4) humanistic value: the praise for truth, good and beauty and the advocacy of heroism and sacrifice are all conducive to spreading the quintessence of humanism.
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