Myth in the History and Modern World of She People: The Preservation, Transmission and Uses of Epic Stories in the Ethnic Group of South-Eastern China

Sai Yan


This article gives an ethnographic account of the epic tradition of She people in China, noting the dual transmission methods of stories, in which the core of the story is preserved in pictorial depictions within primarily sacred contexts, whilst more flexible oral retellings fit the stories to the daily life of the She in modern China. The article contrasts western views of myth as a feature of a pre-modern way of life which has lost its relevance in the modern world with common understandings of myth in China as factually based and relevant to contemporary life. The article shows how the She deploy their mythic heritage to reinforce their ethnic identity and to pursue material interests within the context of modernizing Chinese state, numerically and politically dominated by the Han majority, and draws upon the work of Claude Levi-Strauss to suggest that myth remains an important component of Chinese modernity.

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Asian Culture and History   ISSN 1916-9655(Print)   ISSN 1916-9663 (Online)   Email:

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