Chinese Monkey King from Journey to the West

The Monkey King represents many positive traits in Chinese culture; they are thought of intelligent, dignified, optimistic, romantic, sociable, quick-witted, confident, agile, motivators, curious and gregarious. The year before last year, 2016, was a great year to have a baby (as was 2004, 1992 and 1980 and so on..), since they were the year of monkey. Considering we all have monkeys on our minds, it seems pertinent to take a look at China’s most famous literary monkey character: The Monkey King.

As the most famous monkey in China, perhaps also in the world, he has different titles: Great Sage Equalling Heaven, the Protector of Horses in Heaven, Wukong (Realize the great nothing) and the Monkey King.

Monkey King
A poster from the 2016 movie The Monkey King

孙悟空 (Sūn Wùkōng)

Wukong is one of the main protagonists in the classic 16th century novel, 西游记 (Xīyóu Jì, Journey to the West). The novel follows the legendary pilgrimage of a Buddhist monk to the “western regions” (central Asia and India) and his ensuing adventures and misadventures. Wukong is a playful, curious monkey born with supernatural powers. He grows up to rebel against Heaven in the first part of the book and then goes on to accompany the monk on his long pilgrimage. It’s truly an epic tale!

西游记 (Xīyóu Jì, Journey to the West)

Here is a kid’s movie trailer based on him for you to take a look, you can find the full movie in Chinese with English subs on Youtube too!

It’s safe to say, Sūn Wùkōng is every little boy’s superhero in China. You can get a sense from his other name: 齐天大圣(equally powerful with heaven) that he is a pretty amazing guy. His eyes can see through any disguises, he can travel 108,000 li (13,468 miles) in a somersault, and he also knows the 72 earthly transformations, which allow him to transform into various animals and objects. Sūn Wùkōng’s body is as hard as metal, and his hairs can become miniature versions of him. They can break off and transform into a small army. These capabilities are just the tip of the iceberg. He’s also a supremely-skilled fighter that can beat the most powerful fighters from heaven. His weapon, 如意金箍棒 (rú yì jīn gū bàng, The Compliant Golden-Hooped Rod), can shrink as small as a toothpick, so he can keep it in his earhole. It can also expand to the size of a massive pillar that is called 定海神针(the magical needle that controls the ocean) and can easily flood the world.

Sūn Wùkōng’s story is as legendary as his powers if not greater. He was born from a rock that absorbed the holy sprits from the sky and the earth. Before he learned all the fighting skills, he jumped into a cave behind a massive waterfall when no other monkeys could, so he became the monkey king. He later became putizushi(a respectful Taosim God)’s apprentice and learned all his skills. Then, he robbed the dragon’s palace and took 定海神针 as his weapon. He also went to hell and crossed out his name from the mortal’s lifespan book, which made him immortal. Heaven was so scared of his power, so they gave his the official title 弼马温Bìmǎwēn, and made him think it’s a high-level position but actually, it was a lower rank — to raise the heavenly horses. He found out the truth and was furious, abandoned the job, defeated the heavenly deities and forced 天帝, the emperor of the heaven, to give him the title 齐天大圣 and built a mansion in heaven for him. There he got drunk, ate the god’s peaches, and took Tiashang Laojun’s medicines. Therefore his body became indestructible. He then fell into Tianshang Laojun’s Oven and was grilled by the heavenly fire for 49 days. This gave him the powers of heaven’s fires, golden eyes that could see through any the disguise, and transformation powers.

Since he created such chaos, the 天帝 Tiāndì sent deities to fight and arrest him, but he defeated them all. Eventually, the Buddha came and imprisoned him under a mountain for 500 years for introspection.

500 years later, the monk Tang Sanzhang came and released him, and he accompanied him to travel to the west (India) for retrieving the Buddhist sutras. After the mission was accomplished, he became a buddha himself —- 斗战胜佛Dòu Zhàn Shèng Fó (Buddha of Victorious Strife)

There are four other members in the team: Monk Xuanzang, Pig Bajie, Sha Wujing and the White Dragon Horse. Each of them has their own character. Xuanzang, a devout eminent monk, is the spiritual leader of the team. Bajie the pig isn’t very faithful sometimes and is often attracted by beautiful women, which turned out to be demons who want to eat Xuanzang, so they can turn immortal. Wujing, Monk Sand, is faithful enough but not of very strong power to protect Xuanzang. The Monkey King is capable to protect the team. But his straightness sometimes annoys Xuanzang, especially when he killed the demons who pretended to be common folks. (Xuanzang is a very kind monk believing a man should not kill in any circumstance.) But his loyalty and firm faith eventually lead the team to the destination, after they have gone through 81 hardships.

In China’s long history, there have been many classical Mandarin Chinese books. Children learning Chinese will love to read the story of Monkey King! Below are a couple of famous quotes from the book:

Zhǐyào nǐ xīnchéng zhìjiān, niànniàn huíshǒu chù, jíshì língshān.


“Nothing in this world is difficult, but thinking makes it seem so. Where there is true will, there is always a way.”

Yíyè fú píng guī dàhǎi, rénshēng hé chù bù xiāngféng.

“一叶浮萍归大海, 人生何处不相逢。”

“A duckweed will float to the sea in the end; people will eventually meet somewhere.”
This basically means, “we will see each other (again) eventually.” It’s appropriate as a phrases for when you’re not sure when you’ll meet (again).

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