Monkey King, or known to the Chinese old and young as Xi You Ji (Journey to the West), is one of the renowned classical Chinese novels dated back some four hundred years ago, the other three being Shui Hu (The Water Margins), Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Mansion), and San Guo (Romance of Three Kingdoms).
Monkey King is based on a true story of a famous monk, Xuan Zang of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (602-664). After a decade of trials and tribulations, he arrived on foot to what is today India, the birthplace of Buddhism. He was there for the true Buddhist holy books. When he returned, Xuan Zang translated the Sutras into Chinese, thus making a great contribution to the development of Buddhism in China.
Monkey King is an allegorical rendition of the journey, mingled with Chinese fables, fairy tales, legends, superstitions, popular beliefs, monster stories, and whatever the author could find in the Taoist, Buddhist, and Chinese popular religions. While average readers are fascinated with the prowess and wisdom of the Monkey King, many reviewers agree that the protagonist embodies what the author tried to convey to his readers: a rebellious spirit against the then untouchable feudal rulers.
The monkey is indeed rebellious. He was, according to the story, born out of a rock, fertilized by the grace of Heaven and Earth. Being extremely intelligent, he has learned all the magic tricks and gongfu from an immortal Taoist master. Now he can transform himself into seventy-two different images such as a tree, a bird, a beast of prey, or an insect that can sneak into an enemy's body to fight him or her inside out. Using clouds as a vehicle, he can travel 108,000 miles at a single somersault.
He claims to be The King in defiance of the only authority over the heaven, the seas, the earth and the subterranean world -- Yù Huáng Dà Dì, or "The Great Emperor of Jade." That act of high treason, coupled with complaints from the masters of the four seas and the Hell, incurs the relentless scourge of the heavenly army. In fact, the monkey has fought into the ocean and seized the Dragon King's crown treasure: a huge gold-banded iron rod used as a ballast of the waters. Able to expand or shrink at his command, the iron rod becomes the monkey's favorite weapon in his later feats. The first test of its power came when the monkey stormed into hell and threatened the Hadean king into sparing his and his followers mortal life so that they all could enjoy eternity.
After many showdowns with the fearless Monkey King, the heavenly army have suffered numerous humiliating defeats. The celestial monarch has but to give the dove faction a chance to try their appeasement strategy—to offer the monkey an official title in heaven with little authority. When he has learned the truth that he is nothing but an object of ridicule, the enraged monkey revolts, fighting all his way back to earth to resume his original claim as The King.
Picture courtesy of China-on-site.com, which has a wonderful Monkey King cartoon.
Eventually, the heavenly army, enlisting the help of all the god warriors with diverse tricks, manages to capture the barely invincible monkey. He is sentenced to capital punishment. However, all methods of execution fail. Having a bronze head and iron shoulders, the monkey dulls many a sword inflicted upon him. As the last resort, the emperor commands that he be incinerated in the furnace where his Taoist minister Tai Shang Lao Jun refines his pills of immortality. Instead of killing the monkey, the fire and smoke therein sharpened his eyes so that he now can see through things that others can not. He fights his way back to earth again.
At his wit's end, the celestial emperor asks Buddha for help. Buddha imprisons the monkey under a great mountain known as Wu Zhi Shan (The Mount of Five Fingers). The tenacious monkey survives the enormous weight and pressure. Five hundred years later, there comes to his rescue the Tang Monk, Xuan Zang, whom we mentioned at the beginning of the story.
To make surethat the monk can make for the West to get the Sutras, Buddha has arranged for Monkey King to become the monk's escort in the capacity of his disciple. soon on their way to the west, two more disciples, also at the will of the Buddha, join their company. One is the humorous and not uncourageous pig transgressed from an inebrious celestial general for his assault against a fairy; the other a sea monster who also used to be a celestial general now in exile for a misdemeanor.
The party of four was further reenforced by a horse, an incarnation of a dragon's son, start their stormy journey to the West -- a journey packed with actions and adventures that brought into full play the puissance of the monks' disciples, Monkey King in particular.
©1994-2004 Haiwang Yuan
Last updated: March 20, 2004
Also known as SUN-WUKONG, SUN-WU-KONG, SUN-WU-K'UNG, SUN-HOU-ZI, SUN-HOU-TZE, PI-MA-WEN
Star of stage, screen and scroll, MONKEY is the true hero of Journey To The West (Xiyou Ji) — the amazing novel of frivolity and profundity written by Wu Cheng’en in the sixteenth century. (It’s one of China’s Four Great Novels, and we highly recommend it to anyone seeking enlightenment or entertainment.)
From the beginning of time, a certain rock on the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers had been soaking up the goodness of nature and QI energy. One day this pregnant rock released a stone egg, and from it hatched a Stone Ape, who solemnly bowed to the Four Corners of the Earth — then jumped off to have fun.
This was MONKEY. He was high-spirited, egotistical and full of mischievous pranks. He was soon having a wonderful time as King of the Apes. But a niggling worry began to gnaw at him — one which would change his life. The Monkey King feared Death.
To find immortality, MONKEY became the disciple of Father Subodhi, a rather dour DAOist sage. The sage, unimpressed with his simian tricks, gave the Monkey King a new title: ‘Disciple Aware of Emptiness’. MONKEY was very pleased with this epithet, not realizing it referred to the vacuum in his head. After much haggling, Father Subodhi uttered the words of Illumination, explained the process of Cloud-Flying — and also revealed the secret of the Seventy-Two Transformations. Which, thought MONKEY, was extremely good value for money.
Returning home to his monkey subjects, he discovered they were under siege by a fearsome monster. Magic tricks were no good — what he needed was a weapon. So he whizzed off to the Dragon King AO-KUANG and cajoled his way into the Treasury. There he found the great Magic Wishing Staff, a huge rod of black iron which Heaven had used to flatten the bed of the Milky Way. It weighed 13,000 pounds but could expand to fill the Universe or shrink to the size of a needle. MONKEY was delighted with this Weapon of Mass Destruction and used it to bludgeon many a demon thereafter.
It wasn’t long before reports of MONKEY’s tricks started to reach the austere ears of the JADE-EMPEROR. First the LONG-WANG Ocean Dragons complained of rudeness and theft. Then YEN-LO-WANG, the God of Death, lodged a formal protest. "That intolerable ape has just vandalized my filing system and made monkeys immortal. What are you going to do about it?"
Not wishing to shed needless karma, the JADE-EMPEROR invited MONKEY to Heaven and gave him a job. Without pay, of course. This plan to keep the peace was amazingly successful for an entire day. Then MONKEY discovered that his post as Keeper of the Heavenly Stables was so lowly, even the horse manure ranked higher than him.
Insulted beyond belief, MONKEY ran amok, burst into the JADE-EMPEROR’s court and dared to threaten his august person. The Ruler of the Universe sighed, consulted his advisors and bestowed a new title upon him: Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven. "That’s much better," said MONKEY, impressed.
But by his very nature the Great Sage was irrepressibly naughty. He just couldn’t help it. He gobbled up LAO-ZI’s Longevity Pills, stuffed his face with the precious Peaches of Immortality, gatecrashed official parties and made insulting gestures to all and sundry. Finally he left Heaven in disgust, claiming it wasn’t good enough for him.
Now the JADE-EMPEROR finally lost his esteemed cool. He sent the Heavenly army to obliterate MONKEY once and for all. Nothing could withstand this mighty force... But the Great Stone Ape — immortal, spiritually illumined and filled with Heavenly essences — was not only indestructible but also pretty handy in a fight. The forces of Heaven made an embarrassing display and slunk off in defeat. There was nothing for it — the Ruler of Heaven called for BUDDHA.
Now BUDDHA, in his infinite wisdom, knew better than to subdue MONKEY by force. Instead he offered him a wager. "If you’re so clever, jump off the palm of my hand. If you can do that, I’ll demote the Emperor and give Heaven to you. But if you can’t, I’ll expect a full apology and penance."
The Monkey King laughed. He could travel thousands of miles in a single leap. The bet was on. BUDDHA stretched out his hand and MONKEY jumped...
Several thousand miles later, the Great Sage landed in a desolate plain with great columns reaching up the sky. "These must be the Five Pillars of Wisdom at the end of the Universe", he thought. "That BUDDHA is just plain stupid to make such a silly bet." And, to show his disrespect, he pissed all over the nearest pillar and jumped back to claim his reward.
"Is the Emperor packing his bags yet?" asked MONKEY as he landed. The Holy One raised a sublime eyebrow. "I don’t know why you’re grinning," he said, "you’ve been on my palm the whole time." An astonished MONKEY rubbed his eyes and stared at the five familiar-looking pink pillars of BUDDHA’s hand. Then he smelt the stench of monkey pee and trembled.
The next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground with a mountain on top of him. And there he stayed for five hundred long years, being fed molten copper and iron pills by an attendant demon while the moss grew in his ears. By the time GUAN-YIN came along, the Great Sage Equal of Heaven was a thoroughly humble creature.
As told in Journey To The West, GUAN-YIN enlisted MONKEY as chief disciple of the young Buddhist monk TRIPITAKA. Together with SANDY and PIGSY, he protected the boy on his quest to India, battling demons and righting wrongs along the way. His natural monkey trickery now had a holy purpose which he unleashed with much enthusiasm — and his uncontrollable ego was kept firmly in place by a little device of GUAN-YIN’s devising: a head-band made of gold.
The unsuspecting Great Sage was not prepared for the terrible torture of the Headache Sutra! Whenever MONKEY misbehaved, TRIPITAKA recited the Sutra and the golden fillet squeezed until his very eyeballs felt like bursting. Try as he might, he could not remove it. There was no defense except submission, and pretty soon MONKEY was the most humble disciple the world has ever known. Usually.
After many many many many adventures, the travelers fulfilled their quest. MONKEY was rewarded for all his efforts with the title ‘Buddha Victorious Against Disaster’ and finally made his peace with Heaven. We don’t know what the Great Sage gets up to nowadays, but presumably he keeps himself occupied.
Name : MONKEY
Pronunciation : Soon Woo Korng
Alternative names : SUN-WUKONG, SUN-WU-KONG, SUN-WU-K'UNG, SUN-HOU-ZI, SUN-HOU-TZE, PI-MA-WEN
Location : China
Gender : Male
Type : deity
In charge of : Mayhem
God of : Trickster, Mischief, Mayhem