September 23, 2008
“The Asian Monkey King”
The Monkey King, known to the Chinese as Sun Wukong, is one of the most beloved fictional characters in the eastern world, according to Gene Yang. Yang writes, “He is like the Asian Mickey Mouse.” Haiwang Yuan states that the tale is based on the true story of the famous monk, Xuan Zang. After a decade of hardships, Zuan arrived in India on foot in search of the Buddhist holy books. Once he returned to China, he translated them into Chinese, thus making a remarkable impact on Buddhism is China.
The Monkey King is an “allegorical rendition of the journey mingled with Chinese fables, fairy tales, legends, superstitions, popular beliefs, and monster stories.” One the website Adventures in Chinese Culture; The Monkey King’s Story, Julie Kulik, Kaiji Gu and David Patt state that the Monkey King was “born from a rock, fertilized by the grace of heaven and earth. With the intelligence and capability of a human, he instantly becomes a king for the monkeys of Flower Fruit Mountain.” His immortal Taoist master has taught him all of his magic and gongu. The Monkey King is capable of morphing into 72 different images such as a bird, tree, or insect. Clouds are his vehicle and he can travel up to 180,000 miles in a single somersault. According to Haiwang Yuan, the Monkey claimed to king in defiance of the Great Emperor of Jade, with authority over heaven, he seas, the earth, and the subterranean world. After several confrontations with the Monkey
King the heavenly army endured many upsetting defeats. The story is about the Monkey King attempting to steal the throne from the emperor. “With few other choices, the celestial monarch allows the dove faction to offer the Monkey King an official, yet disposable title in heaven” (Yang). The Monkey King soon realizes that he has been mislead and ridiculed and he rebels. The monkey battles his way to earth and regains his title as the Monkey King. Eventually, the heavenly army enlists the help of all of the god warriors who manage to capture the Monkey King. He is then sentenced to capitol punishment, however all methods of execution fail and the monkey is able to fight his way back to earth again. At wit’s end, the emperor asks Buddha for assistance. The Buddha imprisons the Monkey King under a mountain. Xuan Zang, the Tang monk, finally comes to his rescue after 500 years. To ensure that Xuan Zang can make it to the west to find the Buddhist scriptures, Buddha arranges for the Monkey King to become the monk’s body guard. Two more disciples, also at the will of the Buddha, join their company, the daring pig and the sea monster. Now they were able to begin their trip west which was packed with several thrilling adventures. Journey to the West, based on the story of Xuan Zang, is considered to be one of the four greatest Chinese novels. This novel also introduced the eminent Monkey King’s story.
I believe that the Monkey King is especially influential to the Chinese for several reasons. The Monkey King was a content king before he became greedy with power. He sought after becoming an all powerful deity; he wasn’t satisfied with his position as a king which many would have strived for. It is better to be famous for being pleasant than to be notoriously feared.
Kane, Karen. “About a little Monkey: The Origins of Journey to the West.”