“Monkey King”, also known as “Journey to West” written by Wu Ch’eng-en (1500?-1582) a scholar-official, is one of the renowned classical Chinese novels about an allegorical rendition of the journey, mingled with Chinese fables, fairy tables, legends ,superstitions, popular beliefs, monster stories, and whatever the author could find in the Taoist and Buddhist religions.
It was based on a true story of a famous Chinese monk, Xuan Zang (602-664). After years of trials and tribulations, he travelled on foot, budgeting what resources he could to make it to what is today India, the birthplace of Buddhism, to seek for the Tripitaka, the Buddhist holy teachings. This was before the time of unlimited conference calls, so a great physical journey was necessary and travel to the source of knowledge. When he returned to China, or the Great Tang as was called that time, he started to translate the sutras into Chinese, thus making a great contribution to the development of Buddhism in China.
Monkey King is a rebellious extraordinary being, born out of a rock, fertilized by the grace of Heaven, Being extremely smart and capable, he learned all the magic tricks and gongfu from a master Taoist, being able to transform himself into seventy-two different images such as a tree, a bird, a beast of prey or a bug as small as a mosquito so as to sneak into an enemy’s belly to fight him inside or out. Using clouds as a vehicle he can travel 180,000 miles a single somersault and a huge iron bar that supposedly serves as ballast of the seas and can expand or shrink at its owner’s command as his favorite weapon in his later feats.
Monkey claims to be the king in defiance of the only authority over heaven, the seas, the earth and the subterranean world — Yu Huang Da Di, or the “Great Emperor of Jade” in Chinese. An act of high treason, coupled with complaints from the masters of the four seas and hell, invites the relentless scourge of the Heavenly army. After many showdowns, the emperor had to offer Monkey an official title to appease him. Enraged he revolted, fighting all his way back earth to resume his own claim as a king after learning that the position he held was nothing but a stable keeper.
Eventually, the heavenly army subdued him, only after many a battle, with the help of all the god warriors. However having a bronze head and iron shoulders, all methods of execution failed and the monkey dulled many a sword inflicted upon him. As a last resort, the emperor commanded that he be burned in the furnace where his Taoist minister Tai Shang Lao Jun refines his pills of immortality. Instead of killing him, the fire and smoke added to Monkey a pair of fiery golden crystal eyes that can see through what people normally can not. He fought his way down again.
Finally, under Buddha’s help,the monkey was suppressed under a great mountain known as the Mount of Five Fingers and he could not move. Only five hundred years later, there came to his rescuer, the Tang Monk, Xuan Zang, whom we mentioned at the beginning of the story. The Monkey King become the disciple of the monk and escort him with Buddha’s arrange to insure that he could make for the West to get the sutras, along with two other disciples they later came across, (actually also arranged by the Buddha). One is the humorous and courageous pig transgressed from a heavenly general for his crime of assaulting a fairy, and the other a used-to-be sea monster.
There started the four’s stormy journey west which was packed with actions and adventures that brought into full play the puissance of the monks’ disciples, the Monkey King in particular. The story of Journey to the West is divided into three parts: (1) an early history of the Monkey spirit; (2) pseudo-historical account of Tripitaka’s family and life before his trip to fetch the sutras in the Western Heaven; (3) the main story, consisting of 81 dangers and calamities encountered by Tripitaka and his three animal spirit disciples – Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy .
The average reader will be fascinated with the Monkey King, all prowess and wisdom, while many critics agree that the protagonist embodies what the author tried to convey to his readers: a rebellious spirit against the then untouchable feudal rulers. Anyway, with its attracted story and its special feature of language, the novel will certainly stay.