A False Sense of Feminism in Chinese Internet Literature: A Case Study of the Web Serial Novel Three Lifetimes, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms

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This paper analyzes the concepts of love and womanhood in the web serial novel Three Lifetimes, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms (hereafter abridged as Three Lifetimes). As one of the most popular and representative works of its subgenre, “love story of immortals in a classical Chinese style,” this novel tells of a romance between Bai Qian, a 140,000-year-old female immortal, and Yehua, a 50,000-year-old male immortal. I argue that the novel offers a false sense of feminism by analyzing its themes of love and womanhood and comparing the protagonists’ personality traits, de/merits, and experiences with those in three other love stories.

I first compare Three Lifetimes with another web serial novel of the same subgenre, A Debt of Peach Blossom. It is a romance between two male immortals, Song Yao and Hengwen. I demonstrate that Bai Qian and Song Yao, the first-person protagonists of the two stories, share certain personality traits including indolence, casualness, and light-heartedness; at the same time, Song Yao does not come from a privileged family background and thus lacks high rank in the heavens as well as peerless physical beauty, the advantages which Bai Qian and Yehua both have. Yehua’s personality traits and merits also include discretion, staidness, courage, patience, self-sacrifice, stead-fastness in pursuing love, and talents in many kinds of fields. Inferior to Yehua, Hengwen is described as a handsome and erudite immortal of lower status.

I then call attention to the difference between Three Lifetimes and two folktales which also present love stories of a female immortal. The female protagonists of both folktales, the Weaver Girl and the Seventh Fairy, are immortals of relatively low status and diligent wives of impoverished, simpleminded farmers, the Cowherd and Dong Yong. Their tragic stories are both thematized by the female immortal’s fearless pursuit of love, self-sacrifice for her mortal husband, and disdain for the sovereignty and glory of the heavens. These themes form a contrast to that of the happy marriage between Bai Qian and Yehua, which is arranged on the basis of their high status.

My analysis demonstrates that Three Lifetimes endows Bai Qian with enviable natural advantages and good fortune, which enable her to win greater admiration than her male counterpart in a contemporary novel and to experience a degree of gender equality absent from the folktales about her female counterparts. The most significant indication of her high status is displayed by Yehua’s efforts to marry her, which results in the major part of her good fortune. Their relationship seems to represent a feminist ideal of love and womanhood. However, I argue that Bai Qian possesses few virtues which deserve admiration and makes little effort to achieve any goals, including her happy marriage. Instead, her good fortune is greatly determined by Yehua’s capabilities and endeavours. In their relationship, the male character plays a leading role, while the female character obeys patriarchal authority and never displays any intention or ability to decide her own destiny. Thus, her happy ending only represents a false sense of feminism.
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