Archive #42 – PDFs of Journey to the West Translations

Note: My blog is not monetized, so I am not making any money from this post. My hope is that the PDFs will make this legendary story more accessible to a wider audience. If you enjoyed the digital versions, please, please, please support the official releases.

Last updated: 08-17-2023

I’m happy to host a number of foreign language translations of the noted Chinese classic Journey to the West (Xiyouji西遊記, 1592 CE). This archive currently houses the following editions:

  1. English
  2. French (only part two of two)
  3. German
  4. Hungarian
  5. Italian (see below)
  6. Polish
  7. Romanian
  8. Russian
  9. Spanish
  10. Thai
  11. Vietnamese

As of this writing, I don’t yet have a modern Japanese translation. But you can read an original copy of the 1835 translation here.

I have also included translations of the unofficial sequel, A Supplement to the Journey to the West (Xiyoubu, 西遊補, 1640), in the following languages:

  1. English
  2. Hungarian

I will add more languages to this archive as they become available. Please let me know if you have access to other editions.

Journey to the West (Xiyouji)

1. English

1.A. Complete

1) This is a PDF for The Journey to the West (2012 Rev. ed.) translated by Anthony C. Yu.

Archive #11 – PDFs of the Journey to the West 2012 Revised Edition

2) This is a text PDF for Journey to the West (1993/2020) translated by W. J. F. Jenner.

PDF File

Click to access Wu-Chengen-Journey-to-the-West-4-Volume-Boxed-Set-2003.pdf

The four-volume box set in my collection (larger version).

1.B. Abridged

1) This is a PDF for Monkey (1942/1984) translated by Arthur Waley in 30 chapters (1 to 15, 18 and 19, 22, 37 to 39, 44 to 46, 47 to 49, and 98 to 100). See past book covers here.

PDF File

Click to access Wu-Chengen_-Arthur-Waley-Monkey-Grove-Press-1984.pdf

2) This is a PDF for The Monkey and the Monk (2006): An Abridgement of The Journey to the West translated by Anthony C. Yu in 31 chapters (1 to 15, 18 and 19, 22 and 23, 44 to 46, 53 to 55, 57 and 58, 84, and 98 to 100)

PDF File

Click to access Anthony-C.-Yu-The-Monkey-and-the-Monk_-An-Abridgment-of-The-Journey-to-the-West-2006.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

1.C. Audio Drama

I just learned of “The Fifth Monkey” and their Journey to the West – An Audio Drama Series, which presents a new English translation alongside the original Chinese. They explain:

One reason that led our team to start this audio drama project is to correct some of the mistranslations found in the Yu/Jenner translations. Most of them are very minor and we certainly understand what could have led to those mistakes, but we think it is worth exploring how we can help bring a more accurate presentation of the original text in the English language (source).

The official logo (larger version).

2. French

This is a PDF for volume two (of two) for La Pérégrination vers l’Ouest (Xiyou ji) (1991) translated by André Lévy in 100 chapters. I was told by one French academic that this edition “is one of the best available in Western languages.” Hopefully I will find a PDF for volume one in the future.

Thank you to jyeet on the Journey to the West discord for locating the file.

PDF Files


Vol. 2

The original two-volume boxed edition (larger version). Image found here.

3. German

This is a PDF for Die Reise in den Westen. Ein klassischer chinesischer Roman (2016) translated by Eva Lüdi Kong in 100 chapters. It was awarded the Leipzig Book Fair prize in 2017. This version was converted from an ebook.

PDF File

Click to access German-JTTW-Die-Reise-in-den-Westen.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

4. Hungarian

These are text PDFs for Nyugati utazás: avagy a majomkirály története (1969/1980) translated by Barnabás Csongor in two volumes. While the work covers the full 100 chapters, I’ve been told that it deletes the poems and occasionally paraphrases long-winded sections of text.

Thank you to Twitter user Jakabfi Károly for locating the files.

PDF Files

Vol 1

Vol 2

The official covers for volumes one and two (larger version). Image found here.

5. Italian

[Note 10-19-23: I was asked to remove the PDF from the archive per the publisher. I’m leaving the title here so others will know an Italian translation exists.]

The Italian text is called Viaggio in occidente (1998/2008). It was translated by Serafino Balduzzi and published in two volumes. It is based on the French edition published in 1991. The work covers all 100 chapters.

6. Polish

This is a PDF for Małpi bunt (1976) translated by Tadeusz Żbikowski. It is a 14 chapter abridgement of the first 20 chapters of the original.

Thank you to Twitter user Friend_Pretend for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Polish-JTTW-Malpi-bunt-1976.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

7. Romanian

This is a text PDF for Călătorie spre soareapune (1971) translated by Corneliu Rudescu and Fănică N. Gheorghe. It appears to be an abridgment.

Thank you to greencicadarchivist on the Journey to the West discord for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Romanian-JTTW-U_Ceng_En_Calatorie_Spre_Soare_Apune_pdf.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

8. Russian

8.1. Complete

These are PDFs for Путеше́ствие на За́пад (1959) translated by A. Rogachev (vols. 1-2) and V. Kolokolov (vols. 3-4). It covers all 100 chapters.

PDF Files

Vol 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3

Vol. 4

The four-volume hardcover edition (larger version).

8.2. Abridged

This is a text PDF for Неприятность в небесах. Из китайской мифологии (1926) translated by Yakov Arakin. It is a poetic retelling of the first seven chapters of the novel.

Thank you to Adelar Eleramo for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Russian-JTTW-poem-Yakov-Arakin.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

9. Spanish

This is a text PDF for Viaje al Oeste: Las aventuras del Rey Mono (2022) translated by Enrique P. Gatón and Imelda Huang-Wang in 100 chapters.

PDF File

Click to access viaje-al-oeste-las-aventuras-del-rey-mono.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

10. Thai

This is a PDF for ไซอิ๋ว (2004/2010). It appears to be based on a four-volume edition translated by one Mr. Tin (นายติ่น) and published from 1906 to 1909. I believe it covers all 100 chapters.

Thank you again to greencicadarchivist for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Thai-JTTW-ไซอิ๋ว.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

11. Vietnamese

This is a text PDF for Tây Du Ký translated by Như Sơn, Mai Xuân Hải, and Phương Oanh. The 100 chapters were originally split between 10 volumes and published from 1982 to 1988. The volumes were later transcribed and combined to make a single eBook via an online community in 2013 (see here). I have converted it into a PDF.

PDF File

Click to access Vietnamese-JTTW-Tay-Du-Ky.pdf

The covers for the original ten volumes (larger version). Image found here.

A Supplement to the Journey to the West (Xiyoubu)

1. English

A) This is a PDF for Further Adventures on the Journey to the West – Master of Silent Whistle Studio (2020) translated by Qianchng Li and Robert E. Hegel.

PDF File

Click to access Further-Adventures-on-the-Journey-to-the-West-Master-of-Silent-Whistle-Studio-2020.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

B) This is a PDF for Tower of Myriad Mirrors: A Supplement to Journey to the West (2000) translated by Shuen-fu Lin and Larry J. Schulz. This version was converted from Mobi.

PDF File

Click to access English-Xiyoubu-Lin-Shuen-fu_Dong-Yue-Schulz-Tung-Yueh-The-tower-of-myriad-mirrors_-a-supplement-to-Journey-to-the-West.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

2. Hungarian

This is a text PDF for Ami a nyugati utazásból kimaradt (1957/1980) translated by Barnabás Csongor.

My thanks again to Twitter user Jakabfi Károly.

PDF File

Click to access Hungarian-Xiyoubu-tung_jue_ami_a_nyugati_utazasbol_kimaradt.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

Update: 08-17-23

I forgot to mention that I have previously archived two other Chinese classics. The first is Creation of the Gods (Fengshen yanyi, 封神演義, c. 1620; a.k.a. Investiture of the Gods), a sort of prequel to JTTW.

Archive #17 – PDFs of Creation of the Gods Library of Chinese Classics Chinese-English Bilingual Edition (Vols. 1-4)

The second is Journey to the South (Nanyouji南遊記, c. 1570s-1580s). This is NOT a direct sequel to JTTW. It instead follows the adventures of a martial god from Chinese folk religion. However, Sun Wukong makes a guest appearance in chapters one and seventeen.

Archive #40 – Journey to the South (Nanyouji) English Translation PDF


These have been posted for educational purposes. No malicious copyright infringement is intended. If you enjoyed the digital versions, please support the official releases.


How Tall are the Main Characters from Journey to the West?

Last updated: 08-26-2023

A member of a Monkey King Facebook group I belong to posted a Chinese informational picture titled “Journey to the West: The Four Body Height Ratios of the Master and His Disciples” (Xiyou ji: Shitu siren shengao duibi, 西游记 师徒四人身高对比) (fig. 1). Each character is depicted with their correct corresponding height, ranging from Sun Wukong as the shortest to Sha Wujing as the tallest. The bottom of the picture provides some measurements:

The original novel describes Bajie’s body as being 1 zhang tall. Three chi is 1 meter. One zhang is around 3.3 meters. Sha Monk is 1.2 zhang, which is close to 4 meters. The Tang monk is 1.8 meters. The Lord Great Sage is 4 chi, or approximately 1.3 meters.


The information is overgeneralized and at times conjectural, but I figured the picture would be interesting to my followers on Twitter. Little did I know that it would explode in popularity. As of this writing, my tweet has 940 likes (most of these received in a few days). This indicates that not many people were aware of the great height disparity between the pilgrims. I’ve therefore decided to write an article recording what Journey to the West actually says about each character’s height. 

I believe that the creator of the informational picture got their measurements from this essay, for it has the exact same title and very similar material (Zhongshi Damei Shenghuo [ZDS], 2020). I will use the claims therein to compare and contrast with the actual text from the novel.

Fig. 1 – The Chinese informational picture listing the pilgrims’ heights (larger version). I unfortunately don’t know who the original artist is. A reverse image search didn’t turn up anything. This page has the earliest appearance of the informational picture that I can find.

1. Measurements

ZDS (2020) uses a mixture of the ancient Chinese chi (尺) and zhang (丈) and the modern meter (mi, 米). The chi (and subsequently the zhang) varied at the local level at different times. During the Ming (1368-1644), when Journey to the West was published, the measurements equaled:

  • One chi (尺) = roughly 31.8 cm (12.3 in)
  • Ten chi = one zhang (丈)
  • one zhang (丈) = roughly 3.18 m (10.43 ft) (Jiang, 2005, p. xxxi).

Yes, the novel is set during the Tang (618-907), but many elements of the story (e.g. language, religion, mythos, martial arts, etc.) are filtered through the lens of the Ming. Therefore, it’s appropriate to use Ming-era measurements.

2. Heights

The characters are listed below from shortest to tallest.

(Note: I will be relying on the Wu & Yu (2012) translation. But since it uses “feet” instead of the original chi or zhang, I’ll alter the source throughout the article for more accuracy.)

2.1. Sun Wukong

See my previous articles discussing Monkey’s height (here and here).

ZDS (2020) states that Sun is “4 chi, that is less than 1.3 m [4.26 ft] or the same height as a child” (4 chi, yejiushi budao 1.3 mi, gen haitong yiban gao, 4尺,也就是不到1.3米,跟孩童一般高). But they miss an important distinction. The novel twice describes him as being “not four chi tall” (buman sichi, 不滿四尺), meaning that Monkey is an unknown height below 1.272 m (4.17 ft).

The phrase is first spoken by the Monstrous King of Havoc (Hunshi mowang, 混世魔王) in chapter 2:

When the Monstrous King saw him, he laughed and said, “You’re not four chi tall (emphasis added), nor are you thirty years old; you don’t even have weapons in your hands. How dare you be so insolent, looking for me to settle accounts?” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 128).


The second is said hundreds of years later by the Great King Yellow Wind (Huangfeng dawang, 黃風大王) in chapter 21:

The old monster took a careful look and saw the diminutive figure of Pilgrim—less than four feet (emphasis added), in fact—and his sallow cheeks. He said with a laugh: “Too bad! Too bad! I thought you were some kind of invincible hero. But you are only a sickly ghost, with nothing more than your skeleton left!” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 408).


Some readers may wonder why such a powerful character can be so tiny. This is because the novel describes Sun as a literal monkey. Refer back to this article for more information.

2.2. The Tang Monk

I have yet to formally write about Tripitaka‘s height.

ZDS (2020) suggests that the “Tang Monk should be about 1.8 m [5.90 ft]” (Tangseng yinggai zai 1.8 mi zuoyou, 唐僧应该在1.8米左右). This estimate is based around the size of a stone box used in chapter 49 to imprison him:

Pilgrim … mov[ed] towards the rear of the palace. He looked, and sure enough there was a stone box, somewhat like a trough that people use in a pigpen or a stone coffin. Measuring it, he found it to be approximately six chi in length (emphasis added). He crawled on top of it and soon heard the pitiful sound of Tripitaka’s weeping coming from inside (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 347).

行者 … 徑直尋到宮後看,果有一個石匣,卻像人家槽房裡的豬槽,又似人間一口石棺材之樣,量量足有六尺長短。卻伏在上面,聽了一會,只聽得三藏在裡面嚶嚶的哭哩。

Six chi is 1.9 m or 6.25 ft. Tripitaka would obviously be shorter given the inside thickness of the stone walls, but the novel doesn’t provide such detailed information. This means that the 1.8 m estimate is conjecture. So, what other proof is there?

ZDS (2020) also cites a poem from chapter 54 as evidence that the Tank Monk is “tall and handsome” (yougao youshuai, 又高又帅):

What handsome features!
What dignified looks!
Teeth white like silver bricks,
Ruddy lips and a square mouth.
His head’s flat-topped, his forehead, wide and full;
Lovely eyes, neat eyebrows, and a chin that’s long.
Two well-rounded ears betoken someone brave.
He is all elegance, a gifted man.
What a youthful, clever, and comely son of love,
Worthy to wed Western Liang’s gorgeous girl! (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol.  3, p. 55). [1]


But, as can be seen, the verse mentions nothing about his height, only his beauty.

Hence, there isn’t enough information in the novel to officially say how tall Tripitaka is. But for those demanding some sort of answer, we can always speculate using real world data.

According to one study, out of a sample size of 28,044 Chinese men from 31 provinces/autonomous regions, the average modern height is 169 cm (5.54 ft). Additionally, this Chinese article references a study claiming that men from ancient times up to the Ming were between 165 cm (1.65 m or 5.41 ft) and 167 cm (1.67 m or 5.47 ft). This is obviously shorter than the 1.8 m suggested above.

Therefore, the most we can say is that the Tang Monk would be average historical height.

2.3. Zhu Bajie

I’ve written about Zhu Bajie’s height in the past (see here).

ZDS (2020) writes that Zhu’s “snout is 3 chi long” (zui chang 3 chi, 嘴长3尺). This is based on a descriptive poem from chapter 85:

A snout, pestlelike, over three chi long (emphasis added)
And teeth protruding like silver prongs
Bright like lightning a pair of eyeballs round,
Two ears that whip the wind in hu-hu sound.
Arrowlike hairs behind his head are seen;
His whole body’s skin is both coarse and green.
His hands hold up a thing bizarre and queer:
A muckrake of nine prongs which all men fear.

(Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 4, p. 149).


But, again, an important distinction is missed. Zhu’s nose is “over three chi long,” or larger than 95.4 cm (3.12 ft), which is over half the height of an average humanZDS (2020) says this measurement indicates that: “According to the laws of biology, (Zhu’s) body is approximately 3.5 m [11.48 ft]” (Anzhao shengwuxue de guilu, shenti yue 3.5 mi zuoyou, 按照生物学的规律,身体约3.5米左右). However, they never explain what laws they are referring to.

The only other information about Zhu’s size that I’m aware of appears in chapter 29. Upon entering a new kingdom, Tripitaka describes his two remaining disciples. [2] He starts with the pig spirit:

“My elder disciple has the surname of Zhu, and his given names are Wuneng and Eight Rules. He has a long snout and fanglike teeth, tough bristles on the back of his head, and huge, fanlike ears. He is coarse and husky, and he causes even the wind to rise when he walks (emphasis added) …” (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 2, p. 51).

我那大徒弟姓豬,名悟能八戒,他生得長嘴獠牙,剛鬃扇耳,身粗肚大,行路生風 …

This tells us that Zhu has a large body capable of stirring the wind when he moves. But it’s important to note that Tripitaka’s subsequent dialogue assigns Sha Wujing a specific height (see below). This points to Zhu being shorter in comparison.

Therefore, just like the Tank Monk, there isn’t enough info to officially say how tall Zhu is. But we can again speculate using real world data.

My friend Barbara Campbell (blog) suggested that I use extinct prehistoric pigs as reference. A prime example is Megalochoerus homungous, which has been estimated to be 3.8 m (12.46 ft) long, 1.8 to 2.2 m (5.9 to 7.21 ft) at the shoulder, and up to 1,600 kg (3,527.39 lbs) (Uchytel, n.d.). A reconstruction by the paleo artist Roman Uchytel presents a towering creature with a head half as long as a man’s body (fig. 2). This is quite similar to the size of Zhu’s nose. Even with it’s head facing forward, a bipedal M. homungous would still be around 3.8 m (12.46 ft) tall. But as you’ll read below, this is too tall if Zhu is supposed to be shorter than Sha.

So how tall is Zhu? Your guess is as good as mine. But for those demanding some sort of answer, we can use human arm span to body height ratio, which is roughly 1:1. Using 1.8 m (5.9 ft), or the lower estimate for M. homungous‘ shoulder height, Zhu could be as much as 3.6 m (11.81 ft). But I am in no way comfortable with this estimate. It’s 100% pure conjecture, and I think it is still too tall.

Fig. 2 – A reconstruction of M. homungous by Roman Uchytel (larger version). Mr. Uchytel graciously gave me permission to use a watermarked version of his art for free. Please consult his website here.

2.4. Sha Wujing

I’ve previously mentioned Sha’s height in an article about Zhu Bajie’s appearance (refer back to here).

ZDS (2020) writes that Sha is “One zhangchi, nearly 4 m” (yizhang erchi, chabuduo 4 mi le, 一丈二尺,差不多4米了). This is based on Tripitaka’s continued dialogue with the foreign king in chapter 29:

“… My second disciple has the surname of Sha, and his religious names are Wujing and Monk. He is one zhang two chi tall and three span wide across his shoulders (emphasis added). His face is like indigo, his mouth, a butcher’s bowl; his eyes gleam and his teeth seem a row of nails” (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 2, p. 51).


This tells us that the monstrous monk is a whopping 3.816 m (12.51 ft) tall, with an exceptionally broad body.

Fun fact: Sha Wujing’s height is based on his giant antecedent, an obscure desert spirit appearing in the 7th-century biography of  the historical monk Xuanzang (on whom Tripitaka is based). The spirit comes to the cleric in a dream to admonish him for sleeping on the journey to India:

[Xuanzang] dreamed that he saw a giant deity several zhang tall (emphasis added), holding a halberd and a flag in his hands. The deity said to him, “Why are you sleeping here instead of forging ahead?” (based on Huili & Li, 1995, p. 28).


“[S]everal zhang” would be 3 zhang (9.54 m or 31.29 ft) or more tall! That’s one big spirit!

3. Conclusion 

Journey to the West: The Four Body Height Ratios of the Master and His Disciples” is an informational picture that depicts the pilgrims with their correct corresponding heights. The bottom of the picture also provides measurements to supplement the illustration. These numbers were likely borrowed from ZDS (2020), an online article with the exact same name and very similar material. According to the essay, Sun Wukong is less than 1.3 m (4.26 ft), the Tang Monk is about 1.8 m (5.90 ft), Zhu Bajie is 3.5 m (11.48 ft), and Sha Wujing is nearly 4 m (13.12 ft). However, this information is overgeneralized and at times conjectural.

The original Chinese text of Journey to the West naturally gives more accurate information. But, unfortunately, the book only lists specific heights for two characters: Monkey is shorter than 1.272 m (4.17 ft) and Sha is 3.816 m (12.51 ft). As for the other two, not enough information is given for Tripitaka or Zhu to officially say how tall they are. However, speculating with real world historical height data suggests that the literary monk could be somewhere between 1.65 m (5.41 ft) and 1.67 m (5.47 ft), which is obviously shorter than the 1.8 m cited above. But even using prehistoric pigs as a reference, Zhu Bajie is the hardest to calculate since the novel indirectly implies that he is shorter than Sha. I used the lower end shoulder height estimate of the extinct M. homungous to suggest that Zhu could be as much as 3.6 m (11.81 ft) tall. But I think this is still too big.

On an interesting note, Sha’s great height is based on his giant antecedent, a desert spirit appearing in the historical Xuanzang’s 7th-century biography. The spirit is described as being 9.54 m (31.29 ft) or more!

Update: 08-26-23

Tumblr user digitalagepulao has drawn lovely versions of the JTTW pilgrims (fig. 3). And while some of their heights may differ slightly from those discussed above, the overall ratios are correct. I love the designs.

This is for digitalagepulao’s own “Expedition to the West au” (alternate universe) JTTW storyline based on a previous article of mine.

Fig. 3 – The height ratios for digitalagepulao’s JTTW character designs (larger version). Used with permission.


1) “Western Liang’s gorgeous girl” is referring to the Queen of Womanland.

2) The Tang Monk had previously expelled Monkey from the group in chapter 27 (Wu & Yu, vol. 2, pp. 26-28).


Huili, & Li, R. (1995). A Biography of the Tripiṭaka Master of the Great Ci’en Monastery of the Great Tang Dynasty. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist translation and research.

Jiang, Y. (2005). The Great Ming Code / Da Ming Lu. Vancouver, Wa: University of Washington Press.

Uchytel, R. (n.d.). Megalochoerus. Prehistoric Fauna. Retrieved from

Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The Journey to the West (Vols. 1-4) (Rev. ed.). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Zhongshi Damei Shenghuo. (2020, August 18). Xiyou ji: Shitu siren shengao duibi [Journey to the West: The Four Body Height Ratios of the Master and His Disciples]. Sohu. Retrieved from



A Realistic Retelling of Journey to the West?

Last updated: 11-04-2023

I was recently asked about the existence of a realistic retelling of Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592) that follows the adventures of the historical monk Xuanzang (玄奘, 602-664). To my knowledge, it doesn’t exist, but this is something I’ve thought about to some extent. In this article, I would like to discuss what a realistic journey might be like.

1. Literature vs History

There are some important distinctions that first need to be made between the literary and historical stories before we can speculate about our version.

1.1. Literature

  1. The story is set in a syncretic Buddho-Daoist universe modeled on Hindo-Buddhist cosmic geography. This flat world-disc features four cardinal continents (of various shapes) floating in a great ocean around the four faces of Mt. Sumeru. The Daoist heaven sits atop this mountain, taking the place of the “Heaven of the Thirty-Three” from the original Buddhist structure. China is located in the Southernmost continent (the original structure, however, associated this with India). India and the Buddha’s paradise are moved to the Westernmost continent (since it is West of China in OUR world).
  2. The literary Xuanzang (fig. 1) is the final reincarnation of “Master Golden Cicada” (Jinchan zi, 金蟬子), the fictional second disciple of the Buddha who was exiled to China for ten lifetimes as punishment for being inattentive during a heavenly lecture.
  3. His father, Prefect Chen (陳), is murdered by a bandit, who takes his government post and pregnant wife for his own. Chen’s son is born in Jiangzhou (Jiangxi) sometime after, forcing his mother to float the baby down the river in a basket (à la Moses) in order to save his life. He is found and raised by the old abbot of a Buddhist temple. Eighteen years later, after receiving his ordination, the monk Xuanzang is reunited with his mother and magically-revived father, and the bandit-turned-official is arrested and executed (ch. 9).
  4. He leaves China in 640 with the blessing of the Tang emperor (ch. 13) and returns in 654 (ch. 100). [1]
  5. The expressed purpose of his mission is to obtain the correct scriptures needed to perform a grand mass to release untold souls from suffering in hell (see note #1 here).
  6. He is portrayed as a proponent of the Chan (禪; Sk: Dhyāna) school of Buddhism.
  7. Xuanzang is an extremely whiny character modeled after a Confucian official who is blindly loyal to the throne, extolls virtues of propriety, and complains about everything. He is depicted as having an encyclopedic knowledge of Buddhist scripture, but he doesn’t always understand the underlying meaning, something that Monkey sometimes explains to him (see note #8 here).
  8. He initially leaves with a few human disciples, who are eventually eaten (ch. 13), and takes on the monstrous disciples Sun Wukong (ch. 13), Zhu Bajie (ch. 19), and Sha Wujing (ch. 22) along the way.
  9. These latter disciples aren’t “Chinese”. They come from different countries among said continents. For example, Monkey’s Flower Fruit Mountain is an island located to the east of the Easternmost continent (refer back to here).
  10. Xuanzang spends all of his time traveling or trying to escape from a monster or spirit who has kidnapped him. No time is spent studying languages or scripture.
  11. All of the kingdoms encountered conveniently speak (and to some extent dress) like the Chinese.
  12. The group receives the scriptures directly from the Buddha in the Western Paradise of India and are magically transported back to China.
  13. After performing the grand mass, Xuanzang and his disciples are magically returned to the Western Paradise, where they receive an elevation in spiritual rank (ch. 100) (Wu & Yu, 2012).

Fig. 1 – A print of the literary Xuanzang from a Qing-era edition of Journey to the West (larger version). Originally found on Wikimedia Commons. Fig. 2 – An anonymous 14th-century Japanese painting of the historical Xuanzang on the road to India (larger version). Originally found on Wikipedia.

1.2. History

  1. The real Xuanzang (fig. 2) obviously existed in OUR world, the Earth.
  2. He was born in Luoyang (Henan) to the aristocratic Chen (陳) family, the youngest of four boys.
  3. He followed in his oldest brothers footsteps by becoming a monk at eleven, receiving full ordination at twenty.
  4. He left China illegally in 629 and returned a celebrity in 645.
  5. The expressed purpose of his mission was to obtain scriptures that resolved contradictions in and expanded the corpus of the Chinese Buddhist canon.
  6. He initially traveled by himself within China, but later joined caravans in Central Asia and India, even having his own royal escorts at different times.
  7. He was exposed to different cultures, languages, and religions, the latter including Zoroastrianism and Vedism (early Hinduism).
  8. He was a proponent of the Yogācāra (Sk: “Yoga practice”; Ch: Weishi zong, 唯識宗, “Consciousness Only”) school of Buddhism.
  9. He was super brave and intelligent, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Buddhist and even Vedic literature. Apart from Buddhist schooling in his youth, much of this knowledge was gained during prolonged study abroad.
  10. He faced many problems on the trip back to China, even losing some of his hard-won scriptures in a fording accident.
  11. Xuanzang returned home with hundreds of scriptures, over one hundred Buddha relics, and tens of statues. He spent the remainder of his life translating texts, while also battling his celebrity. He died at the age of 61 (Brose, 2021).

2. Speculation

This is not meant to be exhaustive since trying to adapt every character and event from the novel would make it much too long. The point is to give the reader a basic understanding of what Xuanzang’s historical journey was like.

Everything prior to his birth would be nearly the same, including the monk’s previous incarnations and Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing’s respective early lives and punishments. But since the story will take place on Earth, the location of literary events will have to be placed in a real world context. For example, Monkey would have to be born on an island east of China. Japan is certainly an interesting option, with Mt. Fuji (Fujisan, 富士山) being a good candidate for his birthplace. Taiwan’s Mt. Jade (Yushan, 玉山) is another (see the 02-14-23 update below). This would REALLY piss off the PRC. Fun fact: Taiwan is known for its “Rock Macaques” (fig. 3). This is a fitting name considering that Sun is born from stone.

Fig. 3 – A Taiwanese Rock Macaque (larger version). Originally found here.

Placing Monkey’s past in a real world context opens the door to interesting possibilities in this adaptation. The novel describes him studying Buddho-Daoist arts under the Patriarch Subodhi in the Westernmost continent (i.e. India). But since Daoism didn’t exist in ancient India, he would have likely learned Hindo-Buddhist spiritual cultivation techniques and philosophy, thereby becoming a competent (albeit short-tempered and naughty) rishi. Therefore, he would know how to read and speak the Pali/Sanskrit language of the different Buddhist and Vedic texts that Xuanzang would come to study. One implication is that Sun would be able to help his master if any language or philosophical barriers popped up. This means that his assistance would indirectly contribute to Xuanzang’s later translation of Buddhist scriptures in China!

2.1. Traveling to and Life in India

Xuanzang’s initial request to leave China was denied by the Tang court of Emperor Taizong. Undeterred, the monk traveled in secret towards the northwestern reaches of the empire in 629, eventually learning from a sympathetic official that he was to be arrested if caught (Brose, 2021, p. 16). He would likely have come across Monkey just prior to leaving China. Remember that chapter 13 also refers to Five Elements Mountain as the “Mountain of Two Frontiers” (Liangjie shan, 兩界山), the eastern half belonging to the Middle Kingdom and the western half belonging to Turkic peoples (Dada, 韃靼; a.k.a. “Tartars“) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 305). The Heavenly Mountain (Tianshan, 天山) (fig. 4) would therefore be a good spot for the trickster god’s earth prison as it stretches from Northwestern China into Central Asia.

Communication between master and disciple wouldn’t be an issue since Monkey would have likely picked up some Chinese during his early life and rebellion. The other disciples would be added at different spots along the route through Central Asia (see the 10-10-22 update below). But since Zhu and Sha have memories of their previous lives, they too would likely know Chinese.

Fig. 4 – The Heavenly Mountains (larger version). Originally found on Wikipedia.

Xuanzang’s Central Asian route took him through Sūyāb (Kyrgyzstan), Samarkand (Uzbekistan), the Kunduz River valley (Afghanistan), and then Balkh (Afghanistan). Here, the monk stopped for a month to study Sanskrit literature under Prajñākara, before both of them left to cross the Hindu Kush Mountains. After Bamiyan (Afghanistan), both of them attended the required three-month “Rainy Retreat” at a Buddhist monastery in Kapisā (Afghanistan). This was a time of intense study (Brose, 2021, pp. 23-28). Xuanzang likely attended the three-month retreat every year of his journey, making this aspect of the historical story a major divergence from the novel. This means that, unless the various monsters or spirits tried attacking him in monasteries, his disciples would only see action during the time (days or weeks) that it took the group to travel to a new location.

Since the story is set in the real world, Daoism’s influence would fade as the group traveled westward. This then begs the question: If Sun Wukong requires divine assistance to help identify or defeat a powerful foe in, say, Central Asia, would he zip back to the Daoist heaven in China, or would he simply consult the local foreign gods and spirits? The former possibility would allow us to stick closer to the novel, but the latter would be far more interesting. The Iranic, Judeo-Christian, or Greek gods in that area might be willing to help thanks to the Buddha’s request. I could see this leading to some comical inter-faith drama: 

Foreign god: “Monkey Man, you have no power over us in this region!”

Sun Wukong: “Oh, really? Let me introduce you to my two friends [holds up fists], RIGHT and LEFT!”

But this might make the story a little too complex. And since Buddhism was present throughout Central Asia at one point or another, it would make more sense for Monkey to call on Buddhist deities for help. Either way, the story would have to be changed to accommodate gods and spirits outside of Daoism.

Prajñākara stayed in Kapisā, while Xuanzang headed for northern India. His travels took him through Nagarahāra (Afghanistan), Gandhāra (Afghanistan/Pakistan), the Swat Valley (Pakistan), Taxila (Pakistan), and Kashmir (India). He studied in the latter city for two years, while a team of twenty royally-appointed scribes copied extensive scriptures for him. For the next three years after this, he traveled through Cīnabhukti, Jālandhara, Śrughna, Matipura, and Kānyakubja, staying for a month or as long as a year in certain places to study with specialists in Buddhist and Vedic literature. Xuanzang later sailed down the Ganges River, where, according to legend, his priceless collection of Buddhist scriptures and imagery attracted the attention of Hindu pirates. When captured, he sunk into deep meditation while awaiting a sacrificial death by fire, but a strong, supernatural wind began throwing the world into chaos. Thinking that the attempted murder of the monk displeased their goddess Durga, the pirates begged for his forgiveness (Brose, 2021, pp. 30-35). This seems like a perfect demonstration of Sun Wukong’s powers. He would use this trick in place of outright murdering the bandits in order to avoid punishment via the golden headband.

Xuanzang traveled through areas of India where Buddhist institutions once flourished but had fallen into decay, some places being taken over by Hindu and Jain ascetics who practiced extreme forms of austerities. During this time, he also went about visiting all of the famous locations associated with the historical Buddha’s life but was dismayed to see some of those in ruins and/or abandoned. These included the garden where the Enlightened one was born (Lumbini, Nepal) (fig. 5), his father’s palace (Kapilavastu), where he lived as an adult (Jetavana), and the forest where he died (Kuśinagara). Xuanzang took the declining state of Indian Buddhism as proof that his time was the Latter Day of the Dharma (Brose, 2021, pp. 30-32 and 35-38). This surely strengthened his resolve to learn all he could and take back as many scriptures as possible to China in order to ensure that the religion continued to thrive there. His monstrous disciples would be the ones to tote this huge collection in place of human laborers.

Fig. 5 – A 2nd to 3rd-century Gandharan stone carving depicting the Buddha’s birth from his mother’s side in Lumbini (larger version). Originally found on Wikipedia.

The idea of monsters and spirits attacking the monk while he visits these once flourishing but now dilapidated Buddhist sites is somewhat comical. I think that the evil would live in the various ruins or in the forests and hills around said locations. This would mean that demonic mountain strongholds from the novel would be a rarity in this retelling.

Thankfully, though, Xuanzang was able to visit two places associated with the Buddha’s life that still flourished, namely the park where he gave his first sermon (Sarnath) and the area where he achieved enlightenment (Bodh Gayā). The monk was later invited to a grand Buddhist complex in Nālandā, where he became a disciple of Śīlabhadra, a learned master of the Yogācāra school. He studied in Nālandā for five years, receiving a special status that freed him from community duties so he could focus on his studies (Brose, 2021, pp. 37-45). After a failed trip to Sri Lanka, Xuanzang traveled around southern India and eventually studied for two years in Parvata. After returning to Nālandā and learning from various local masters for a few months, he studied for two years with Jayasena, a very knowledgeable lay disciple of Śīlabhadra (Brose, 2021, pp. 50-53).

The total of Xuanzang’s time spent studying in Nālandā and Parvata alone adds up to an astounding nine years. That is an awfully long time for Sun, Zhu, and Sha to see no action. Perhaps they too would live the life of monks and possibly resume their spiritual cultivation in order to better themselves. They could even help teach the clerics at the various institutions how to protect themselves, much like the famous Shaolin Monks (fig. 6). This might replace the episode in chapter 88 in which Monkey and his religious brothers accept three Indian princes as students. Sun could instead give a chosen cadre of monks super strength and divine longevity in a similar fashion.

Fig. 6 – A group of Shaolin monks practicing martial arts (larger version). Originally found here.

Xuanzang’s final year in India was apparently an eventful one. Apart from saving Nālandā from destruction by accepting a tyrannical king’s invitation to visit, he evidently took part in a number of life or death religious debates against Brahmins and Mainstream Buddhists. However, there is no evidence that the grandest of these ever took place. It might even be a later embellishment by Xuanzang’s disciple (Brose, 2021, pp. 53-60). Therefore, I think it should be left out of the retelling.

2.2. Return to and Life in China

I’m going to skip over the events just prior to Xuanzang leaving India, as well as the various trials and tribulations that he faced along the road to China. His disciples would certainly continue protecting him from any evil that still wished to capture the monk. This means that the various episodes could be spread out to the return journey as well.

Instead, I’d like to briefly discuss Xuanzang’s life after returning to the Middle Kingdom. Despite his illegal departure, the monk was welcomed home in 645 with open arms and became an instant celebrity. Emperor Taizong shortly thereafter asked him to compose an account of his travels, [2] the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (Datang xiyou ji, 大唐西域記), which was finished in 646. The year before, he and a team of experts from all around the empire began translating the scriptures, but fame, official duties, and later unwanted changes to group members by the proceeding Emperor Gaozong hindered the project over the years. The monk was expected to entertain aristocratic guests and donors, and he often traveled to perform the ordination of hundreds of monks at newly built monasteries. This took a toll on his body, which was apparently plagued by a chronic illness that affected his heart and bones. Wishing to escape his celebrity and return to more steady translation work, he requested and failed many times over the years to be relocated to more remote institutions. Instead, he was forced to stick close to the Tang capital, where, years later, he was lucky to escape political upheaval in the court that saw some of his official friends exiled or even executed. Apart from this, Xuanzang was forced to defend himself against critiques on two fronts. On one side were Daoists who disliked his fame and railed against the foreign nature of Buddhism (Daoism was after all the state religion at that time). And on the other, some Buddhists heavily criticized his translation method, as well as his Yogācāra philosophy, which differed from other Mahāyāna teachings. At the end of his life, the poor monk injured his leg in an accident and was bedridden for two months before dying at the age of 61 in 664. His death was apparently followed by miraculous lights in the sky. [3]

Now, I can already hear some of my readers asking: What happened to his disciples? Does everyone still achieve an elevation in spiritual rank? Monkey and his religious brothers would have left by this time. Whereas the pilgrim’s meet the Buddha face to face in India at the end of the novel, he would instead manifest before them (or at least jointly in their dreams) after they successfully transported the scriptures to China. This is when he would offer them their respective promotions, Monkey becoming a Buddha, Sha Wujing an arhat, and Zhu an altar cleaner. They would thereafter leave to enjoy their divine lives in the Western Paradise (see the 11-04-23 update below). However, I think Xuanzang would postpone his enlightenment until he finished translating the scriptures. Monkey might even visit his former master in his dreams and encourage him to continue his work even when he is old and sick. The many hardships that the monk faces towards the end of his life would therefore make his final ascension all the more bittersweet.

I’m interested to hear reader’s ideas on where they might insert famous episodes into this more realistic setting. Please let me know in the comments below or in an email (see the “contact” button above).

Update: 10-10-22

It turns out that Sha Wujing would be the first disciple recruited on the road to India in our more realistic retelling. As I show in this article, his antecedent appears in various retellings of Xuanzang’s journey as a stern, encouraging spirit or even a heaven-sent protector.

The monk’s embellished biography notes that, while traveling west of the Jade Gate, he chose to bypass various watchtowers on his illegal journey by trekking though the 800 li Gashun Gobi desert (Mohe yanqi, 莫賀延磧). But after only 100 li, Xuanzang lost his surplus of water when the heavy bag slipped from his hands. He went without drink for four days, all the while chanting the name of Avalokiteśvara (i.e. Guanyin) for deliverance, as well as the Heart Sutra to keep demons at bay (Huili & Li, 1995, pp. 26-27). On the early morning of the fifth day, a divine mist lulled him to sleep, where:

[He] dreamed that he saw a giant deity several tens of feet tall, holding a [halberd] and a flag in his hands. The deity said to him, “Why are you sleeping here instead of forging ahead?” (Huili & Li, 1995, p. 28).


After he awoke and mounted his horse, it veered in a different direction than Xuanzang intended and arrived at a much needed oasis, which was apparently provided by Guanyin (Huili & Li, 1995, p. 28).

However, a Tang-era Japanese source appearing in a work of the 11th-century states that the “Spirit of the Deep Sands” (Shensha shen, 深沙神) physically interacted with Xuanzang, calling himself the monk’s “guardian spirit” and even providing him with food and water (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 19). The same source also states that he had previously appeared before the earlier monk Faxian (法顯, 337-422) in a ghastly, demonic form (fig. 7):

I am manifested in an aspect of fury. My head is like a crimson bowl. My two hands are like the nets of heaven and earth. From my neck hang the heads of seven demons. About my limbs are eight serpents, and two demon heads seem to engulf my (nether-) limbs… (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 20).

Fig. 7 – A 13th or 14th-century Japanese carving of the Spirit of the Deep Sands (larger version).

The spirit’s great height influenced Sha’s whopping twelve Chinese foot (zhang er丈二; 12.6 feet / 3.84 m) frame (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 2, p. 51), his necklace of heads was the model for our hero’s necklace of skulls (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 1, p. 230), and the “Moving Sands” (Liusha, 流沙) of his harsh desert home served as the basis for Wujing’s “Flowing-Sands River” (Liusha he, 流沙河) (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 1, p. 421).

I would like to combine details from the Chinese and Japanese sources, making the Spirit of the Deep Sands a physical being, and instead of the pearly thread-wrapped wooden staff wielded by Sha in the novel (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 428), the deity would use the aforementioned halberd. I’d also borrow from the novel, having him exiled to earth for an offense in heaven, but in place of the Flowing-Sands River, be banished to the desert to await the coming of Xuanzang (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 1, p. 210).

Another interesting change that just occurred to me would be to completely reverse the order of Xuanzang’s disciples. Even though the literary monk happens upon them in the order of Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing, Guanyin first recruits them in the order of Sha, Zhu, and Sun (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 1, pp. 207-216). Making Monkey the lowest-ranking, yet most powerful religious brother would lead to some funny situations. Sha and Zhu might try to order him around at first, but they would soon learn not to test the powerful monkey rishi’s patience. I can see them begging him to intervene when they can’t defeat a given evil.

Perhaps Zhu would be recruited in Central Asia, while Monkey might be discovered under a mountain closer to India. What say you?

Update: 12-17-22

Journey to the West characterizes the Buddha as having a corporeal form. This is revealed in chapter 55 when a Scorpion Spirit (Xiezi jing, 蝎子精) stings and hurts him:

Once upon a time she [the scorpion] happened to be listening to a lecture in the Thunderclap Monastery. When Tathagata saw her, he wanted to push her away with his hand, but she turned around and gave the left thumb of the Buddha a stab. Even Tathagata found the pain unbearable! (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 72).

他前者在雷音寺聽佛談經,如來見了,不合用手推他一把,他就轉過鉤子,把如來左手中拇指上扎了一下。如來也疼難禁 …

I take this to mean that the Scorpion Spirit was imbued with “dharma power” (fali, 法力) while listening to the Enlightened One’s lectures. This makes sense as Campany (1985) explains that this is the penultimate power in the novel’s Buddho-Daoist universe.

(Baring a discrepancy in chapter six, [4] the Scorpion Spirit is the only figure in all of Journey to the West shown capable of piercing the Monkey King’s adamantine hide (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 65). She does so with her “horse-felling poison stake” (daoma du zhuang, 倒馬毒樁), which is actually her stinger (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 72).)

But since this article focuses on a real world journey set over a 1,000 years after the Enlightened One’s death, I would like to suggest that similar exposure to the spiritual power of the Buddha might give other demons or spirits a similar boost. In this case, the items granting this power would be relics associated with Shakyamuni.

Strong (2004) notes that there are three main types of Buddha relics: 1) those of the body left over from his cremation (hair, teeth, nails, bones, and Śarīra beads); 2) those that he used (walking staff, alms bowl, robes, etc.); and 3) those that he taught (i.e. lessons from scripture) (p. 8). I think that the first and second categories would be perfect for our story, especially the Śarīra (Sheli/zi, 舍利/子). These pearl-like beads were associated with the wish-fulfilling Cintāmaṇi (Ruyi baozhu, 如意寶組) jewel in East Asia (Strong, 2004, p. 10), so I could see them granting spirits power. [5]

Evil forces might sneak into monasteries to retrieve such items in a bid to gain extra power in order to fuel their nefarious machinations, assert their will on the surrounding populous, and/or to defeat Monkey and his religious brothers, thereby allowing them to gain immortality by eating the Tang Monk. Protecting the relics would, therefore, be one reason to keep the demon disciples busy during Xuanzang’s long years of study.

Update: 12-29-22

It turns out that Journey to the West has śarīra beads. In fact, they are mentioned at least 18 times throughout the novel. One example is a treasure belonging to the Yellow-Robed Demon (Huangpao guai, 黃袍怪). Chapter 31 reads:

Leading Pilgrim [Sun Wukong], the fiend [Yellow Robe] took his companion into the murky depth of the cave before spitting out from his mouth a treasure having the size of a chicken egg. It was a śarīra [shelizi, 舍利子] of exquisite internal elixir. Secretly delighted, Pilgrim said to himself, “Marvelous thing! It’s unknown how many sedentary exercises had been performed, how many years of trials and sufferings had elapsed, how many times the union of male and female forces had taken place before this śarīra of internal elixir was formed. What great affinity it has today that it should encounter old Monkey!” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 80-81). [6]


As can be seen, Yellow Robe’s śarīra is portrayed as the hard-won product of spiritual cultivation. This agrees with Strong’s (2004) statement that Buddhists believed such beads were “brought on not only by the fire of cremation but also by the perfections of the saint (in this case the Buddha) (emphasis added) whose body they re-present” (p. 12).

But in our realistic retelling, Yellow Robes could have stolen the treasure from a monastery or stupa.

Update: 01-04-2023

I mentioned in the original post that Sun Wukong would study Hindo-Buddhist arts and become a talented rishi. The Saṃyutta Nikāya (Sk: संयुक्त निकाया; Ch: Xiang ying bu, 相應部, c. 250 BCE) notes that such cultivators develop a host of supernatural powers once they master the four mental qualities (Pali: Iddhipāda):

  1. Multiplying the body
  2. Vanishing and reappearing
  3. Passing through solid objects (walls, ramparts, mountains, etc.)
  4. Diving into the earth like water
  5. Walking on water like earth
  6. Traveling through space
  7. Touching the sun and moon
  8. Hearing all sounds, both human and divine
  9. Knowing the minds of others
  10. Having memories of all of one’s past lives
  11. Knowing the future rebirths (and their causes) of all beings
  12. Liberation from the filth of the world through supreme wisdom (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1727-1728)

Monkey already exhibits several of these powers in the original narrative.

Update: 01-29-23

Here’s another example of the śarīra beads appearing in Journey to the West. Chapter 62 reads:

This all came about because our All Saints Old Dragon once gave birth to a daughter by the name of Princess All Saints, who was blessed with the loveliest features and the most extraordinary talents. She took in a husband by the name of Nine-Heads, who also had vast magic powers. Year before last, he came here with the Dragon King and, exerting great divine strength, sent down a rainstorm of blood to have the treasure pagoda defiled. Then he stole the sarira Buddhist treasure from the building. Thereafter the princess also went up to the great Heaven where she stole the nine-leaved agaric, which the Lady Queen Mother planted before the Hall of Divine Mists. The plant and the Buddhist treasure are both kept now at the bottom of the lagoon, lighting up the place with their golden beams and colored hues night and day (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 172).


This supports the idea of evil attacking monasteries, and raining down blood would be one method of deconsecrating said locations.

Update: 02-14-23

Above, I mentioned that Japan or Taiwan would be good candidates for the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, but I now feel that I didn’t give enough context. As I explain in this article (and briefly in sec. 1.1 above), Buddhist cosmic geography portrays the world as four cardinal continents surrounding a great mountain. Journey to the West changes the original system by associating China with the southern continent and moving India to the western continent. If we continue this trend by associating the other two continents with real countries, the north would be Russia or Mongolia and the east would be Korea (fig. 8). And since the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit is said to be an island east of the eastern most continent, Japan would be the best choice (fig. 9). This means Sun would be a Snow Macaque.

 Fig. 9 – A top view of Buddhist cosmic geography overlaid with the names of real world countries (larger version). Adapted from Buswell & Lopez, 2014, pp. xxxi. Fig 10 – Detail from a map of East Asia (larger version). Map found here.

Update: 08-26-23

Tumblr user digitalagepulao has drawn lovely versions of the JTTW pilgrims (fig. 11). This is for their own “Expedition to the West au” (JTTW alternate universe) storyline based on the info presented above in the original article. They explain their design choices based on the countries where the disciples are recruited:

Sha Wujing (435cm): His outfit is mostly inspired by Mongolian clothes since he’s found in the Gobi desert stretch of the journey. His bangles are made of fossil bone, and he can use the waist cloth as a headwrap during adverse weather. His markings are inspired by African Lungfish and Mudfish fins, as they are species that exist somewhere between water and dry air. The beasts on his knees are an extension of him, and he can see and speak through them as needed. His beard and long hair can have Ghibli physics depending on his mood and emotions.

Zhu Wuneng (~300cm): Inspired by Northern Tibetan clothes, as that’s the region the group recruits him. Traditional clothes tend to have way more accessories and golden details so I had to simplify a bit. His features are a mix of wild boars and Indonesian babirusa, with the iconic bristles on his head. I leaned on ceremonial Tibetan swords and necklace beads for the decorations on his rake. His vest can be closed, he just prefers not to most of the time.

Sun Wukong (125cm): I’ve already commented on his design over here, but I’ll elaborate that the yellow shirt is the one he gained from Tripitaka soon after he was released, while the pants and red half-robe were the garments he was given by Guan Yin. The hoops on his feet and purple beads were reacquired back in Huaguoshan when he first fled the pilgrimage, heading to his family instead of Ao Guang’s palace. (A-ma and Jinju gave them to him so he’ll always have something to home to remember them by, as well as where he first started, as the beads were gained during his lessons with Subodhi.)

Tripitaka (163cm): This is but one of his many outfits since travel can be rough on clothes, and even more so when you get kidnapped by demons and thrown off your horse all the time. He wears the usual orange monk robes, with some kind of travel clothes over them. He gains some fur boots from Boquin for cold weather but usually prefers sandals most of the time. He seldom uses the cassock and crown he received from Guan Yin, save for when he pays respects to temples and holy sites, but the staff is a constant companion.

Ao Lie (167cm, 130cm at the shoulder as horse): Being effectively in exile until the journey is complete, he wears less fancy clothes than he usually would as a prince, but his status still shows. I tried to balance more casual hanfu of the era with some armor parts, like the waist guard and armored boots. He was given the skill to shapeshift into a horse by Guan Yin when she commanded him to wait for the chosen pilgrim monk, so he can shift at will, but preferably when the tack has been taken off. Speaking of, tack is lost and replaced multiple times during the journey, so I didn’t depict any specific one.

Fig. 11 – Digitalagepulao’s JTTW character designs (larger version). Used with permission.

Update: 11-04-2023

Above, I stated: “They [Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing] would thereafter leave to enjoy their divine lives in the Western Paradise.” But I’ve never really liked the idea that Monkey would forever abandon his people. This is especially true since his rebellion led to heaven decimating the monkeys and burning their cave (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 31). So, I think a better ending for this historical version would be for the “Victorious Fighting Buddha” (fig. 12) to return to the Mountain of Flower and Fruit, where he transforms it into his own Pure Land (Jingtu, 淨土). The monkeys killed in years passed would be reborn there, and everyone would receive periodic lessons on the dharma between bouts of play. It would be a paradise even grander than when the Great Sage was at the height of his power.

Fig. 12 – A religiously accurate drawing of Monkey as the Yuddhajaya Buddha by NinjaHaku21 (larger version).


1) The novel adds four more fictional years to a historical reign period (see section 1 here).

2) The Emperor’s true purpose in asking for the travelogue was to gain information pertinent to military campaigns against Turkic forces west of China (Brose, 2021, pp. 75-76).

3) See chapter 3 in Brose (2021).

4) Chapter six reads: “They bound him with ropes and punctured his breastbone with a knife, so that he could transform no further” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 186). But this is not stated or implied to be a form of physical punishment. It serves only to keep Monkey in his base form. The blade is mentioned again in chapter seven: “Arriving at the Tushita Palace, Laozi loosened the ropes on the Great Sage, pulled out the weapon from his breastbone, and pushed him into the Brazier of Eight Trigrams” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 189).

5) I guess the beads would be swallowed or kept close to the body. Their holy power would surely kill lesser devils but empower cultivator-demon kings.

6) Source altered slightly. I’ve made it more accurate.


Bodhi, B. (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya; Translated from the Pāli by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Vols. 1-2). Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Brose, B. (2021). Xuanzang: China’s Legendary Pilgrim and Translator. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Buswell, R. E. , & Lopez, D. S. (2014). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press.

Campany, R. (1985). Demons, Gods, and Pilgrims: The Demonology of the Hsi-yu Chi. Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR), 7(1/2), 95-115. doi:10.2307/495195

Dudbridge, G. (1970). The Hsi-Yu Chi: A Study of Antecedents to the Sixteenth-Century Chinese Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Huili, & Li, R. (1995). A Biography of the Tripiṭaka Master of the Great Ci’en Monastery of the Great Tang Dynasty. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist translation and research.

Strong, J. S. (2004). Relics of the Buddha. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The Journey to the West (Vols. 1-4). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

The Origins and Evolution of Sha Wujing

Did you know Sha Wujing can be traced to an obscure Chinese desert spirit who was venerated as a minor Buddhist protector deity in Japan? This god is first mentioned in a 7th-century account of the historical Xuanzang, a.k.a. Tripitaka, titled Da Tang Daciensi Sanzang Fashi Zhuan (大唐大慈恩寺三藏法師傳, A Biography of the Tripitaka Master of the Great Ci’en Monastery of the Great Tang Dynasty). According to the text, Xuanzang spilled his surplus of water while in the deserts near Dunhuang, and after several days without drink, he had a fevered dream in which a tall, halberd-wielding spirit chastised him for sleeping instead of continuing his journey to retrieve scriptures from India. The monk immediately awoke and mounted his horse, which took him to an oasis with green grass and fresh water (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 18-19).

I. Close ties with Japan

The Tang Sanzang ji (唐三藏記, Record of the Tang Monk Tripitaka), a book of seemingly unknown date appearing in an 11th-century Japanese collection of tales known as Jōbodai shū (成菩堤集), states Xuanzang was magically provided food and drink by a deva while in the “Flowing Sands” (Liusha, 流沙) desert, a term commonly used for the harsh environment of China’s northwestern region. [1] The compiler of the Jōbodai shū explains: “This is the reason for the name Spirit of the Deep Sands (Shensha shen, 深沙神)” (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 19). After returning from a pilgrimage to China (838-839), the Japanese Buddhist monk Jōgyō (常曉, d. 865) wrote a report which describes Tripitaka’s fabled exchange with the deity, as well as equates Shensha shen with King Vaiśravaṇa, one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. [2] Therefore, the Tang Sanzang ji most likely hails from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Jōbodai shū also states the god manifested itself before the famous Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian (法顯, 337-c. 422) during his pilgrimage to India. Shensha shen describes himself thus:

I am manifested in an aspect of fury. My head is like a crimson bowl. My two hands are like the nets of heaven and earth. From my neck hang the heads of seven demons. About my limbs are eight serpents, and two demon heads seem to engulf my (nether-) limbs…(Dudbridge, 1970, p. 20).

Monk Jōgyō’s aforementioned 9th-century report on Shensha shen appears to have initiated veneration of the spirit as a Buddhist guardian (no doubt thanks to his association with King Vaiśravaṇa). This deity was at some point given the title Jinja Taishō (深沙大將, “General of the Deep Sands”) and appeared in late Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura (1185-1333) period art (Wong, 2002, pp. 61 and 63). One 12th-century ink on paper painting follows the iconography from the Jōbodai shū and depicts his legs with demonic elephant knees and bird-like talons (fig. 1). This same depiction most likely served as the basis for an exquisite wooden statue from the Kamakura period (fig. 2). The god never lost his association with Xuanzang, for one well-known 14th-century painting of the monk depicts him wearing Jinja Taisho’s necklace of skulls (fig. 3 and 4). Another painting of the same period depicts the pair standing on either side of a celestial crowd paying reverence to the Buddha. [3] It appears to be based on an earlier Chinese Song Dynasty painting (Fig. 5, 6, and 7). Regarding the Japanese image, Wong (2002) notes:

Even though Xuanzang, of human origin, and Shensha shen, a demonic figure, were of low status in the Buddhist hierarchy, they are represented because of their role in the transmission of the Heart Sutra, and become elevated in rank by being shown with the deities and bodhisattvas that protect the sacred text (p. 63).

Sha Wujing Origins - 1

Fig. 1 – 12th-century Japanese ink on paper painting (larger version); Fig. 2 – 13th to 14th-century Japanese Kamakura wooden statue (larger version); Fig. 3 – Famous 14th-century Kamakura painting of Xuanzang (larger version); Fig. 4 – Detail of the skull necklace (larger version); Fig. 5 – Chinese Song Dynasty painting of the Buddha’s heavenly retinue, including Shensha shen (bottom center left) and Xuanzang (bottom center right) (larger version); Fig 6 – Detail of Shensha shen (larger version); Fig. 7 – Detail of Xuanzang (larger version).

II. Mention in Chinese literature

The concept of Shensha shen was well enough established in China by the 13th-century to be included in the eighth chapter of The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures, the earliest version of Journey to the West. But instead of being a benevolent deity, he is portrayed as a bloodthirsty monster who had several times eaten Xuanzang’s past reincarnations. The demon tells him, “I am the one who devoured you twice before, monk. Slung from my neck are all your dry bones!” (Wivell, 1994, p. 1190). The monster only helps the monk and his retinue cross the “Deep Sands” via a magical golden bridge once he is threatened with heavily retribution. Memorial poems therefore note that Tripitaka releases the spirit from a five hundred-year-long curse, and Pilgrim (Sun Wukong) promises to speak highly of him when they finally meet the Buddha.

Sha Wujing first appears in the 22nd chapter of the final 1592 edition as an ogre-like beast living in the “Flowing Sands River” (Liusha he, 流沙河), a callback to the similarly named desert from earlier sources .

A head full of tousled and flame-like hair;
A pair of bright, round eyes which shone like lamps;
An indigo face, neither black nor green;
An old dragon’s voice like thunderclap or drum.
He wore a cape of light yellow goose down.
Two strands of white reeds tied around his waist [fig. 8].
Beneath his chin nine skulls were strung and hung;
His hands held an awesome priestly staff (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 422).

Like The Story, Sha Wujing is persuaded to help the group cross the river, but this time it is after Xuanzang takes him as his third and final disciple (he had previously been pacified and converted by the Bodhisattva Guanyin). The water spirit takes off his skull necklace and, with the aid of a heaven-sent magic gourd, transforms the accoutrements into a boat on which Tripitaka rides to the other side.


Fig. 8 – A modern depiction of Sha Wujing by Tianwaitang on deviantart (larger version).

III. Origin of Shensha Shen and Sha Wujing’s skull necklace

The skull necklace (Sanskrit: muṇḍamālā) can be tied to Esoteric Buddhism. For instance, the Sadhanamala (“Garland of Methods”), a compilation of esoteric texts from the 5th to 11th-centuries, describes the wrathful protector deity Hevajra (fig. 9) wearing such a necklace:

He wields the vajra in the right hand and from his left shoulder hangs the Khatvanga [staff] with a flowing banner, like a sacred thread. He carries in his left hand the kapala [skull cap] full of blood. His necklace is beautified by a chain of half-a-hundred severed heads [Fig. 10]. His face is slightly distorted with bare fangs and blood-shot eyes. His brown hair rises upwards and forms into a crown which bears the effigy of Aksobhya [Buddha]. He wears a kundala [ear decoration] and is decked in ornaments of bones. His head is beautified by five skulls (Donaldson, 2001, p. 221).

This attire is traceable to that worn by adherents of Heruka, another wrathful deity, as prescribed in the Indian Buddhist Hevajra Tantra (Ch: 大悲空智金剛大教王儀軌經, Dabei kongzhi jingang dajiao wang yigui jing, 8th-century): “The yogin must wear the sacred ear-rings, and the circlet on his head; on his wrists the bracelets, and the girdle round his waist, rings around his ankles, bangles round his arms; he wears the bone-necklace and for his dress a tiger-skin…” (Linrothe, 1999, p. 250). Compare this description with, for example, the Song Dynasty painting of Shensha shen (fig. 6). Many of the elements are present.

Statue with necklace detail

Fig. 8 – The Buddhist Deity Hevajra, late 11th to early 12th-century, copper alloy (larger version). Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Fig. 9 – Detail of the necklace (larger version).

IV. Conclusion

Sha Wujing is traceable to an obscure Chinese desert spirit first mentioned in an embellished 7th-century account of the historical Xuanzang’s travels. This and later accounts portray him as a benevolent guardian watching over the monk and providing Tripitaka with subsistence on his journey through the harsh “Flowing Sands” desert of northwestern China. The Japanese Monk Jōgyō wrote a 9th-century report in which he mentioned the deity and associated him with King Vaiśravaṇa. This appears to have led to his veneration in Japan, for sources from the 11th-century onward not only provide him with the titles Shensha shen (“Spirit of the Deep Sands”) and Jinja Taisho (“General of the Deep Sands”), but also lay out a prescribed iconography for him. He is generally portrayed in late 12th to 14th-century Japanese art as a fierce warrior with flame-like hair, a necklace of skulls, serpent arm adornments, demonic knees, and (sometimes) bird-like talons.

This spirit appears in The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures (13th-century), the earliest version of Journey to the West, but is instead portrayed as a bloodthirsty desert demon who revels in having eaten Xuanzang’s last two incarnations. A necklace of dry bones serves as proof of his murderous hobby. He only decides to help the monk pass the Deep Sands when threatened with heavenly retribution. This episode served as the basis for Sha Wujing’s origin in the final 1592 version of the novel. He is similarly portrayed as a flesh-craving, skull necklace-wearing demon. Even his home, the aquatic realm of the “Deep Sands River”, is based on the former’s desert home. But after helping Tripitaka cross the river, Sha Wujing differentiates himself from his literary precursor by serving as the monk’s disciple and stalwart protector.

The skull necklace can be traced to wrathful Esoteric Buddhist deities and their accoutrements. For example, an 11th-century esoteric text describes the deity Hevajra wearing a “necklace…beautified by a chain of half-a-hundred severed heads”. This is ultimately based on one of the five kinds of ritual adornments worn by Indian Buddhist yogin adherents of the wrathful deity Heruka during the 8th-century.


1) The original source says “Moving sands” (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 19 n. 3), but I have changed the wording to conform with that commonly used in various English translations of the tale.

2) Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 19-20. It’s interesting to note that King Vaiśravaṇa influenced another character from Journey to the West, Heavenly King Li Jing. Li Jing (李靖, 571-649) was a historical Tang dynasty general who won many battles in China and Central Asia. Shahar (2013) notes Li was deified after his death, and that the cult centered around him existed into the Song Dynasty. Most importantly, “The general [was] celebrated in a large body of oral and written fiction, which gradually associated him with the Indian god [Vaiśravana].” He continues, “Storytellers and playwrights [eventually] merged the Tang general with the martial Heavenly King” (28). This merging may have happened as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) (Shahar & Kieschnick, 2013, p. 224 n. 18).

3) I unfortunately couldn’t find a high res version of this painting. All those I could find were either too blurry or to small for focusing on specific areas for details. The above linked webpage with the Song Dynasty variant includes a low res version of the Japanese painting.


Dudbridge, G. (1970). The Hsi-yu chi: A study of antecedents to the sixteenth-century Chinese novel. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Linrothe, R. N. (1999). Ruthless compassion: wrathful deities in early Indo-Tibetan esoteric Buddhist art. Boston, Mass: Shambhala.

Shahar, M., & Kieschnick, J. (2013). India in the Chinese Imagination: Myth, Religion, and Thought. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Shahar, M. (2013). Indian mythology and the Chinese imagination: Nezha, Nalakubara, and Krshna. In Meir Shahar and John Kieschnick. India in the Chinese imagination: Myth, religion, and thought (pp 21-45). University of Pennsylvania Press.

Wivell, C.S. (1994). The story of how the monk Tripitaka of the great country of T’ang brought back the Sūtras. In Mair, Victor H. The Columbia anthology of traditional Chinese literature (pp 1181-1207). New York: Columbia University Press.

Wong, D. C. (2002). The making of a saint: Images of Xuanzang in East Asia. Early Medieval China 8, pp. 43-95.

Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The journey to the West: Volume 1. Chicago, Illinois : University of Chicago Press.

Modern Depictions of Sha Wujing’s Weapon and its Origins

Last updated: 07-02-2023

Sha Wujing (沙悟淨), or “Sandy” for short, is commonly portrayed in modern media wielding a Crescent Moon Spade (Yueya chan, 月牙鏟, a.k.a. “Monk’s Spade“), a wooden polearm capped with a sharpened spade on one end and a crescent-shaped blade on the other (fig. 1). But did you know that Sandy never wields this kind of weapon in the novel? Chapter 22 contains a poem that describes the actual weapon and its pedigree. A section of it reads:

For years my treasure staff has enjoyed great fame,
Originally a tree of the sala variety in the moon, [1]
Wu Gang cut down from it one limb.
Lu Ban then made it, using all his skills.
Within the hub is “as-you-will” metal. [2]
Outside it’s wrapped by countless pearly threads.
It’s called the Treasure Staff Perfect for Subduing Monsters, [3]
[…] (based on Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 428)

名稱寶杖善降妖 …

As you can see, it is described as a wooden staff devoid of any metal blades. So how did Sandy become associated with the Monk’s spade? It can be traced to a common motif appearing in late-Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) woodblock prints. Sandy is just one of a number of famous literary staff-wielding monks to be portrayed brandishing a polearm topped with a small crescent shape (fig. 2). Others include Huiming (惠明) from the Story of the Western Wing (Xixiangji, 西廂記, c. 1300) (fig. 3) and Lu Zhishen (魯智深) from the Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan, 水滸傳, c. 1400) (fig. 4) (Shahar, 2008, p. 97).

#12 - Sha Wujing pics for blog entry

Fig. 1 – A modern depiction of Sandy wielding a Monk’s Spade (larger version). Fig. 2 – A late-Ming Dynasty print of Sha Wujing with the crescent staff (larger version). Fig. 3 – A 1614 woodblock print of Monk Huiming with a crescent staff (larger version). Fig. 4 – A late-Ming woodblock of Lu Zhishen with a crescent staff (larger version). Fig. 5 – Sandy from Ehon Saiyuki (circa 1806) (larger version). Fig. 6 – Sandy from Xiyou yuanzhi (1819) (larger version). Fig. 7 – A detail from a Long Corridor painting (circa 1890) (larger version).

The exact origin or purpose of the blade is unknown, however. Martial historian Meir Shahar (2008) comments:

Future research may determine the origins of the crescent shape, which is visible in some Ming period illustrations of the staff. Here I will mention only that an identical design is common in a wide variety of twentieth-century martial arts weapons, whether or not they are wielded by Buddhist clerics. The crescent’s significance in contemporary weaponry can be gauged by its appearance in the names of such instruments as the “Crescent-Shaped (Yueya) [Monk’s] Spade,” “Crescent-Shaped Spear,” “Crescent-Shaped Battle-ax,” and “Crescent-Shaped Rake” (pp. 97-98).

A woodblock print appearing in the first section of The Illustrated Journey to the West (Ehon Saiyuki, 画本西遊記), published in 1806, depicts Sandy holding a staff with a large crescent blade (fig. 5), showing how the once small accent had been enlarged by this time to become a more prominent feature of the polearm. This same weapon is echoed in a print from The Original Intent of The Journey to the West (Xiyou yuanzhi, 西遊原旨, 1819) (fig. 6), as well as in multiple circa 1890 JTTW-related paintings from the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing (fig. 7, for example). So Ming depictions of Sandy wielding a crescent-tipped staff were most likely associated with the Monk’s Spade due to their physical similarities, and this probably took place no earlier than the early 20th-century.

Update: 02-25-18

Unlike Sha Wujing, there is a monster in the novel who wields a Crescent Moon spade. Chapter 63 describes the Nine-Headed Beast (Jiutou chong, 九頭蟲), [4] the son-in-law of a dragon king, using this bladed polearm in a battle against Monkey:

Enraged, Pilgrim shouted, “You brazen thievish fiend! What power do you have that you dare mouth such big words? Come up here and have a taste of your father’s rod!” Not in the least intimidated, the son-in-law parried the blow with his crescent-tooth spade; a marvelous battle thus broke out on top of that Scattered-Rock Mountain (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 183).

行者大怒,罵道:「這潑賊怪,有甚強能,敢開大口?走上來,吃老爺一棒。」那駙馬更不心慌,把月牙鏟架住鐵棒,就在那亂石山頭 …

There existed during the Ming Dynasty a military spade with a crescent blade on the top and a dagger-like blade on the bottom (武備志 (四十三) , n.d.) (fig. 8). This is likely the weapon used by the monster. Notice the similarities with figures five to seven. It’s easy to see how the crescent-tipped staff from the Ming woodblock prints could have later been associated with this military weapon. The difference is one of degree and not kind. This polearm was later modified into the modern Monk’s Spade, leading to depictions of Sandy wielding the weapon.

Fig. 8 – A Crescent Moon Spade from the Collection of Military Works (Wubei zhi, 武備志, c. 1621), a Ming treatise on military armaments and fighting techniques (larger version).

Update: 05-15-18

Feng Dajian of Nankai University was kind enough to direct me to this woodblock print (fig. 9) from the original 1592 publishing of Journey to the West. Sandy’s staff is more evident in this piece. It even lacks the aforementioned crescent shape.

Fig. 9 – The 1592 JTTW print of Sandy vs Pigsy (larger version).

Update: 07-02-23

The woodblock prints from the original 1592 JTTW are extremely inconsistent. For example, figure nine shows Sha’s staff as a straight, black line. However, another print (fig. 10 & 11) depicts it with the crescent finial, and yet another (fig. 12 & 13) shows it as a twisting tree branch. The latter is my favorite because it aligns more with the weapon’s origin as presented above in the introduction.

Fig. 10 (top left) – A detail of the crescent staff (larger version). Fig. 11 (top right) – The full print (larger version). Fig. 12 (bottom left) – A detail of the tree branch staff (larger version). Fig. 13 (bottom right) – The full print (larger version).


1) The original translation reads: “At first an evergreen tree in the moon” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 428). But the Chinese identifies the tree as suoluo pai (梭羅派), which literally means a “(family) branch of the sala tree.” I chose “a variety of” to avoid confusion with “tree branch.” And while the sala is technically a kind of evergreen in wet environments, it has deciduous-looking leaves. I chose to use the actual name of the tree to avoid confusion with pine evergreens. Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) incorrectly identifies the suoluo tree as “Cunninghamia [l]anceolata,” a type of Chinese pine evergreen (vol. 4, p. 391 n. 7).

2) The original translation reads: “Within the hub one solid piece of gold” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 428). But the Chinese states that the inside is jin chenxin (金趁心), or “satisfactory metal/gold.” This is likely referring to the Chinese idiom chenxin ruyi (趁心如意), or “as one desires.” This important as the novel reveals that Sha’s weapon is capable of growing or shrinking on command just like Monkey’s cudgel, the “As-You-Will Gold-Banded Staff” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 429). Thank you to Irwen Wong of the Journey to the West Library blog for reminding me of this fact.

3) Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) skipped over shan (), or “good at, apt, perfect,” in his translation (vol. 1, p. 428).

4) The creature’s name is originally translated as the “Nine-Headed Insect,” but its true form is that of a monstrous reptilian bird (Wu & Yu, vol. 3, p. 184). While chong (蟲) usually means “insect, worm, or pest,” it can also mean “tiger.” For instance, Da chong (大蟲, “great beast”) is the name of the tiger killed by the hero Wu Song in the Water Margin (c. 1400) (Børdahl, 2007). So a better name for our villain would be “Nine-Headed Beast.”


Børdahl, V. (2007). The Man-Hunting Tiger: From “Wu Song Fights the Tiger” in Chinese Traditions. Asian Folklore Studies, 66(1/2), 141-163. Retrieved January 7, 2021, from

Shahar, M. (2008). The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts. University of Hawaii Press.

Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The Journey to the West (Vols. 1-4) (Rev. ed.). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

武備志 (四十三) . (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2018, from