Journey to the West is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Originally published anonymously in the 1590s during the Ming Dynasty, and even though no direct evidence of its authorship survives, it has been ascribed to the scholar Wú Chéng'ēn since the 20th century.
In western countries, the tale is also often known simply as Monkey. This was one title used for a popular, abridged translation by Arthur Waley. The Waley translation has also been published as Adventures of the Monkey God; and Monkey: [A] Folk Novel of China; and The Adventures of Monkey.
The novel is a fictionalized account of the legends around the Buddhist monk Xuánzàng's pilgrimage to India during the Táng dynasty in order to obtain Buddhist religious texts called sutras. The Bodhisattva Guānyīn, on instruction from the Buddha, gives this task to the monk and his three protectors in the form of disciples — namely Sūn Wùkōng, Zhū Bājiè and Shā Wùjìng — together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuánzàng's horse mount. These four characters have agreed to help Xuánzàng as an atonement for past sins.
Some scholars propose that the book satirises the effete Chinese government at the time. Journey to the West has a strong background in Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and value systems; the pantheon of Taoist immortals and Buddhist bodhisattvas is still reflective of Chinese folk religious beliefs today.
Part of the novel's enduring popularity comes from the fact that it works on multiple levels: it is an adventure story, a dispenser of spiritual insight, and an extended allegory in which the group of pilgrims journeying toward India stands for the individual journeying toward enlightenment.
The novel comprises 100 chapters. These can be divided into four very unequal parts. The first, which includes chapters 1–7, is really a self-contained prequel to the main body of the story. It deals entirely with the earlier exploits of Sūn Wùkōng, a monkey born from a stone nourished by the Five Elements, who learns the art of the Tao, 72 polymorphic transformations, combat and secrets of immortality, and through guile and force makes a name for himself as the Qítiān Dàshèng or "Great Sage Equal to Heaven". His powers grow to match the forces of all of the Eastern (Taoist) deities, and the prologue culminates in Sūn's rebellion against Heaven, during a time when he garnered a post in the celestial bureaucracy. Hubris proves his downfall when the Buddha manages to trap him under a mountain for five hundred years.
Only following this introductory story is the nominal main character, Xuánzàng, introduced. Chapters 8–12 provide his early biography and the background to his great journey. Dismayed that "the land of the South knows only greed, hedonism, promiscuity, and sins", the Buddha instructs the Bodhisattva Guānyīn to search Táng China for someone to take the Buddhist sutras of "transcendence and persuasion for good will" back to the East. Part of the story here also relates to how Xuánzàng becomes a monk (as well as revealing his past life as the "Golden Cicada" and comes about being sent on this pilgrimage by the Emperor Táng Tàizōng, who previously escaped death with the help of an underworld official).
The third and longest section of the work is chapters 13–99, an episodic adventure story which combines elements of the quest as well as the picaresque. The skeleton of the story is Xuánzàng's quest to bring back Buddhist scriptures from Vulture Peak in India, but the flesh is provided by the conflict between Xuánzàng's disciples and the various evils that beset him on the way.
The scenery of this section is, nominally, the sparsely populated lands along the Silk Road between China and India, including Xinjiang, Turkestan, and Afghanistan. The geography described in the book is, however, almost entirely fantastic; once Xuánzàng departs Cháng'ān, the Táng capital and crosses the frontier (somewhere in Gansu province), he finds himself in a wilderness of deep gorges and tall mountains, all inhabited by flesh-eating demons who regard him as a potential meal (since his flesh was believed to give Immortality to whoever eats it), with here and there a hidden monastery or royal city-state amid the wilds.
The episodic structure of this section is to some extent formulaic. Episodes consist of 1–4 chapters, and usually involve Xuánzàng being captured and his life threatened, while his disciples try to find an ingenious (and often violent) way of liberating him. Although some of Xuánzàng's predicaments are political and involve ordinary human beings, they more frequently consist of run-ins with various goblins and ogres, many of whom turn out to be the earthly manifestations of heavenly beings (whose sins will be negated by eating the flesh of Xuanzang) or animal-spirits with enough Taoist spiritual merit to assume semi-human forms.
Chapters 13–22 do not follow this structure precisely, as they introduce Xuánzàng's disciples, who, inspired or goaded by Guānyīn, meet and agree to serve him along the way, in order to atone for their sins in their past lives.
Chapter 22, where Shā is introduced, also provides a geographical boundary, as the river that the travelers cross brings them into a new "continent". Chapters 23–86 take place in the wilderness, and consist of 24 episodes of varying length, each characterized by a different magical monster or evil magician. There are impassably wide rivers, flaming mountains, a kingdom ruled by women, a lair of seductive spider-spirits, and many other fantastic scenarios. Throughout the journey, the four brave disciples have to fend off attacks on their master and teacher Xuánzàng from various monsters and calamities.
It is strongly suggested that most of these calamities are engineered by fate and/or the Buddha, as, while the monsters who attack are vast in power and many in number, no real harm ever comes to the four travelers. Some of the monsters turn out to be escaped heavenly animals belonging to bodisattvas or Taoist sages and spirits. Towards the end of the book there is a scene where the Buddha literally commands the fulfillment of the last disaster, because Xuánzàng is one short of the eighty-one disasters he needs to attain Buddhahood.
In chapter 87, Xuánzàng finally reaches the borderlands of India, and chapters 87–99 present magical adventures in a somewhat more mundane (though still exotic) setting. At length, after a pilgrimage said to have taken fourteen years (the text actually only provides evidence for nine of those years, but presumably there was room to add additional episodes) they arrive at the half-real, half-legendary destination of Vulture Peak, where, in a scene simultaneously mystical and comic, Xuánzàng receives the scriptures from the living Buddha.
Chapter 100, the last of all, quickly describes the return journey to the Táng Empire, and the aftermath in which each traveler receives a reward in the form of posts in the bureaucracy of the heavens. Sūn Wùkōng and Xuánzàng achieve Buddhahood, Wùjìng becomes an arhat, the dragon is made a Naga, and Bājiè, whose good deeds have always been tempered by his greed, is promoted to an altar cleanser (i.e. eater of excess offerings at altars).
The classic story of the Journey to the West was based on real events. In real life, Xuanzang (born c. 602 - 664) was a monk at Jingtu Temple in late-Sui Dynasty and early-Tang Dynasty Chang'an. Motivated by the poor quality of Chinese translations of Buddhist scripture at the time, Xuanzang left Chang'an in 629, despite the border being closed at the time due to war with the Gokturks. Helped by sympathetic Buddhists, he travelled via Gansu and Qinghai to Kumul (Hami), thence following the Tian Shan mountains to Turfan. He then crossed what are today Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, into Gandhara, reaching India in 630. Xuanzang travelled throughout the Indian subcontinent for the next thirteen years, visiting important Buddhist pilgrimage sites and studying at the ancient university at Nalanda.
Xuanzang left India in 643 and arrived back in Chang'an in 646 to a warm reception by Emperor Taizong of Tang. He joined Da Ci'en Monastery (Monastery of Great Maternal Grace), where he led the building of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in order to store the scriptures and icons he had brought back from India. He recorded his journey in the book Journey to the West in the Great Tang Dynasty. With the support of the Emperor, he established an institute at Yuhua Gong (Palace of the Lustre of Jade) monastery dedicated to translating into Chinese the scriptures he had brought back. His translation and commentary work established him as the founder of the Dharma character school of Buddhism. Xuanzang died on March 7, 664. The Xingjiao Monastery was established in 669 to house his ashes.
Popular stories of Xuánzàng's journey were in existence long before Journey to the West was written. In these versions, dating as far back as Southern Song, a monkey character was already a primary protagonist. Before the Yuan Dynasty and early Ming, elements of the Monkey story were already seen.
Xuánzàng (玄奘) (or Táng-Sānzàng (唐三藏), meaning "Táng-dynasty monk" — Sānzàng (三藏) or "Three Baskets", referring to the Tripitaka, was a traditional honorific for a Buddhist monk) is the Buddhist monk who set out to India to retrieve the Buddhist scriptures for China. He is called Tripitaka in many English versions of the story. Although he is helpless when it comes to defending himself, the bodhisattva Guānyīn helps by finding him powerful disciples (Sūn Wùkōng, Zhū Bājiè, and Shā Wùjìng) who aid and protect him on his journey. In return, the disciples will receive enlightenment and forgiveness for their sins once the journey is done. Along the way, they help the local inhabitants by defeating various monsters. The fact that most of the monsters and demons are trying to obtain immortality by eating Xuánzàng's flesh, and are even attracted to him as he is depicted as quite handsome, provides much of the plot in the story.
Sūn Wùkōng is the name given to this character by his teacher, Patriarch Subhuti, and means "the one who has Achieved the Perfect Comprehension of the Extinction of both Emptiness and non-Emptiness"; he is called Monkey King or simply Monkey Emperor in English.
He was born out of a rock that had been dormant for ages in Flower Fruit Mountain that was inhabited/weathered by the sun and moon until a monkey sprang forth. He first distinguished himself by bravely entering the Cave of Water Curtains (pinyin:Shuǐlián-dòng) at the Mountains of Flowers and Fruits (Huāguǒ-shān); for this feat, his monkey tribe gave him the title of Měi-hóuwáng ("handsome monkey-king"). Later, he started making trouble in Heaven and defeated an army of 100,000 celestial soldiers, led by the Four Heavenly Kings, Erlang Shen, and Nezha. Eventually, the Jade Emperor appealed to Buddha, who subdued and trapped Wukong under a mountain. He was only saved when Xuanzang came by him on his pilgrimage and accepted him as a disciple.
His primary weapon is the rúyì-jīngū-bàng ("will-following golden-banded staff"), which he can shrink down to the size of a needle and keep behind his ear, as well as expand it to gigantic proportions (hence the "will-following" part of the name). The staff, originally a pillar supporting the undersea palace of the East Sea Dragon King, weighs 13,500 pounds, which he pulled out of its support and swung with ease. The Dragon King, not wanting him to cause any trouble, also gave him a suit of golden armor. These gifts, combined with his devouring of the peaches of immortality and three jars of immortality pills while in Heaven, plus his ordeal in the eight-trigram furnace of Lao Tzu (which gave him a steel-hard body and fiery golden eyes), makes Wukong the strongest member by far of the pilgrimage. Besides these abilities, he can also pull hairs from his body and blow on them to transform them into whatever he wishes (usually clones of himself to gain a numerical advantage in battle). Although he has mastered seventy-two methods of transformations, it does not mean that he is restricted to seventy-two different forms. He can also do a jīndǒuyún ("cloud somersault"), enabling him to travel vast distances in a single leap. Wukong uses his talents to fight demons and play pranks. However, his behavior is checked by a band placed around his head by Guanyin, which cannot be removed by Wukong himself until the journey's end. Xuanzang can tighten this band by chanting the Tightening-Crown spell (taught to him by Guanyin) whenever he needs to chastise him. The spell is referred to by Xuanzang's disciples as the "Headache Sutra", and is as follows:- "Om-munney pud-meyon", which is spoken quickly and repeatedly.
Wukong's child-like playfulness is a huge contrast to his cunning mind. This, coupled with his acrobatic skills, makes him a likeable hero, though not necessarily a good role model. His antics present a lighter side in what proposes to be a long and dangerous trip into the unknown.
Zhū Bājiè ("Pig of the Eight Prohibitions") is also known as Zhū Wùnéng ("Pig Awakened to Power"), and given the name Pigsy, Monk Pig or just simply Pig in English.
Once an immortal who was the Tiānpéng-yuánshuǎi ("Field Marshal Tianpeng") of 100,000 soldiers of the Milky Way, during a celebration of gods, he drank too much and attempted to flirt with Cháng'é, the beautiful moon goddess, resulting in his banishment into the mortal world. He was supposed to be reborn as a human, but ended up in the womb of a sow due to an error at the Reincarnation Wheel, which turned him into a half-man half-pig monster. Staying within Yúnzhan-dòng ("cloud-pathway cave"), he was commissioned by Guanyin to accompany Xuanzang to India and given the new name Zhu Wuneng.
However, Wuneng's desire for women led him to Gao Village, where he posed as a normal being and took a wife. Later, when the villagers discovered that he was a monster, Wuneng hid the girl away. At this point, Xuanzang and Wukong arrived at Gao Village and helped subdue him. Renamed Zhu Bajie by Xuanzang, he consequently joined the pilgrimage to the West.
His weapon of choice is the jiǔchǐdīngpá ("nine-tooth iron rake"). He is also capable of thirty-six transformations (as compared to Wukong's seventy-two), and can travel on clouds, but not as fast as Wukong. However, Bajie is noted for his fighting skills in the water, which he used to combat Sha Wujing, who later joined them on the journey. He is the second strongest member of the team.
Shā Wùjìng (literally meaning "Sand Awakened to Purity"), given the name Friar Sand or Sandy in English, was once the Curtain Raising General, who stood in attendance by the imperial chariot in the Hall of Miraculous Mist. He was exiled to the mortal world and made to look like a monster because he accidentally smashed a crystal goblet belonging to the Heavenly Queen Mother during the Peach Banquet. The now-hideous immortal took up residence in the Flowing Sands River, terrorizing the surrounding villages and travelers trying to cross the river. However, he was subdued by Sūn Wùkōng and Zhū Bājiè when the Xuānzàng party came across him. They consequently took him in to be a part of the pilgrimage to the West.
Shā Wùjìng's weapon is the yuèyáchǎn ("Crescent-Moon-Shovel" or "Monk's Spade"). Aside from that, he knows eighteen transformations and is highly effective in water combat. He is about as strong as Bājiè, and is much stronger than Wùkōng in water. However, Bājiè can beat Wujing in a test of endurance, and Wùkōng can beat him out of water.
Shā Wùjìng is known to be the most obedient, logical, and polite of the three disciples, and always takes care of his master, seldom engaging in the bickeries of his fellow-disciples. Perhaps this is why he is sometimes seen as a minor character; the lack of any particular perks confers the lack of distinguishing and/or redeeming characteristics.
Wùjìng eventually becomes an Arhat at the end of the journey, giving him a higher level of exaltation than Bājiè, who is relegated to cleaning every altar at every Buddhist temple for eternity, but is still lower spiritually than Wùkōng or Xuānzàng who are granted Buddhahood.
|Demon (English)||Demon (Chinese)||Identity||Power||Fate|
|Demon King of Chaos||混世魔王||unknown||superior strength||killed|
|King of Black Wind||黑風大王||black bear||martial arts||surrendered to Guanyin|
|Demon of Yellow Wind||黃風怪||marten of Griddhkuta, dwelling place of the Buddha||sandstorm||returned to Lingji Bodhisattva|
|Succubus of White Bones||白骨精||undead skeleton||transformation, trickery||killed|
|Demon in Yellow Robe||黃袍怪||wood wolf of Gui (or Andromeda)||martial arts, transformation||returned to heaven|
|King of Gold Horn, King of Silver Horn||金角大王、銀角大王||servants of Laotzu||most of Laotzu's magical talismans||captured by Laotzu and returned to heaven|
|Imposter King of Wuji||假烏雞國王||azure lion of Wenshu Bodhisattva||transformation||returned to Wenshu|
|Red Boy||紅孩兒||son of Buffalo Demon-King||samadhi fire||surrendered to Guanyin|
|Tortoise dragon||鼉龍||Tortoise dragon||marine, martial arts||surrendered to his cousin (the Dragon Prince of Western Seas)|
|Deity of Tiger Power, Elk Power, Antelope Power||虎力大仙、鹿力大仙、羊力大仙||tiger, elk, antelope||Taoist sorcery||killed|
|King of Spiritual-touch||靈感大王||gold fish of Guanyin||marine, martial arts||surrendered to Guanyin|
|King Rhino||兕大王||azure bull of Laotzu||martial arts, Laotzu's magical bracelet||surrendered to Laotzu|
|Deity of Wishes||如意真仙||bull, younger brother of Buffalo Demon-King||martial arts|
|Pipa Demon||琵琶精||Scorpion||poisonous sting||killed by the Sun Rooster of Ang (or Pleiades)|
|Six-ear Macaque||六耳獼猴||macaque with six ears||transformation, imitation, martial arts||killed|
|Princess Iron Fan||鐵扇公主||rakshasi woman, wife of Buffalo Demon-King||iron fan (wind)||surrendered|
|Buffalo Demon-King||牛魔王||Bull, sworn brother of Sun Wukong||transformation, martial arts||surrendered|
|Nine-headed bird||九頭蟲||Nine-headed bird, son-in-law of the dragon king of Azure Lake||martial arts, nine heads, marine/flight||wounded by Erlang Shen|
|Buddha with Yellow Brow||黃眉老祖||servant of Maitreya Buddha||Maitreya's magical talisman||surrendered to Maitreya|
|Python demon||巨蟒怪||Great python||killed|
|Golden dog-dragon||金毛犼||Golden dog-dragon, ride of Guanyin||Guanyin's talisman (dog-dragon's neck collar)||surrendered to Guanyin|
|Spider demoness||蜘蛛精||7 spiders||spider web, insect demons||surrendered to Vilamba Bodhisattva, mother of Sun Rooster of Ang (or Pleiades)|
|Centipede Demon||蜈蚣精||Centipede with a thousand eyes||poisonous golden light||killed|
|Azure lion demon||青獅精||ride of Wenshu Bodhisattva||martial arts||surrendered to Wenshu|
|White elephant demon||白象精||ride of Puxian Bodhisattva||martial arts||surrendered to Puxian|
|Great Roc demon||大鵬精||brother of the Buddha's godmother (who is Mayura, a peacock)||martial arts, flight||surrendered to the Buddha|
|the queen of the Bhikkhus||比丘國王后||fox||killed|
|father-in-law of the king of Bhikkhus||比丘國國丈||deer, ride of the God of Longevity||surrendered to the God of Longevity (or Canopus)|
|Lady Earth Flow||地涌夫人||albino mouse of Griddhkuta, dwelling place of the Buddha; adopted sister of Nezha||cave labyrinth||surrendered to Nezha|
|King of Southern Mountains||南山大王||leopard||trickery||killed|
|Yellow lion demon||黃獅精||lion||killed|
|Saint of nine spirits||九靈元聖||Nine-headed lion, ride of Taiyi Tianzun||martial arts, nine heads||surrendered to Taiyi Tianzun|
|King of coldguard, heatguard, dustguard||辟寒大王、辟暑大王、辟塵大王||3 rhinoceroses||martial arts||killed and eaten by the four wood animals of heavenly constellations -- wood wolf of Gui, wood jiao (a type of lesser dragon) of Jiao, wood han (an offspring of dragon) of Jing, wood xie (a type of bull-like unicorn) of Dou, as well as the Dragon Prince of Western Seas|
|imposter princess of India||假公主||white rabbit, pet of Chang'e||surrendered to Chang'e|