Transforming Gender and Emotion

The Butterfly Lovers Story in China and Korea

Subjects: Asian Studies, China, Korea, Literary Studies, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies
Hardcover : 9780472130634, 312 pages, 6 x 9, March 2018
Open Access : 9780472900855, 312 pages, 6 x 9, March 2018

This open access version made available with the support of libraries participating in Knowledge Unlatched.
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Illuminates how one folktale serves as a living record of the evolving cultures and relationships of China and Korea


The Butterfly Lovers Story, sometimes called the Chinese Romeo and Juliet, has been enduringly popular in China and Korea. In Transforming Gender and Emotion, Sookja Cho demonstrates why the Butterfly Lovers Story is more than just a popular love story. By unveiling the complexity of themes and messages concealed beneath the tale’s modern classification as a tragic love story, this book reveals the tale as a rich academic subject for students of human emotions and relationships, comparative geography and culture, and narrative adaptation. By examining folk beliefs and ideas that abound in the narrative—including rebirth and a second life, the association of human souls and butterflies, and women’s spiritual power—this book presents the Butterfly Lovers Story as an example of local religious narrative. The book’s cross-cultural comparisons, best manifested in its discussion of a shamanic ritual narrative version from the Cheju Island of Korea, frame the story as a catalyst for inclusive,  expansive discussion of premodern Korean and Chinese literatures and cultures. This scrutiny of the historical and cultural background behind the formation and popularization of the Cheju Island version sheds light on important issues in the Butterfly Lovers Story that are not frequently discussed—either in past examinations of this particular narrative or in the overall literary studies of China and Korea. This new, open approach presents an innovative framework for understanding premodern literary and cultural space in East Asia.

Sookja Cho is Assistant Professor of Korean at Arizona State University.

Transforming Gender and Emotion is the most comprehensive study to date of a major story-cycle in China known as the Liang-Zhu story. It is also virtually the only study to explicitly address the issue of the migration of the story to Korea in imperial times. Comprehensively exploring themes of female cross-dressing, women and education, and tragedy in love—as well as noting differences between Chinese and Korean versions—this volume thus fills a gap in knowledge and will be welcomed by those in the field.”
—Anne McLaren, University of Melbourne