An analysis of historical, transcultural, and transmedia adaptation, Transforming Monkey: Adaptation and Representation of a Chinese Epic examines the ever-changing image of Sun Wukong (aka Monkey, or the Monkey King), in literature and popular culture both in China and the United States. A protean protagonist of the sixteenth century novel Journey to the West (Xiyou ji), the Monkey King’s image has been adapted in distinctive ways for the representation of various social entities, including China as a newly founded nation state, the younger generation of Chinese during the postsocialist period, and the representation of the Chinese and Chinese American as a social “other” in American popular culture. The juxtaposition of various manifestations of the same character in the book present the adaptation history of Monkey as a masquerade, enabling readers to observe not only the masks, but also the mask-wearers, as well as underlying factors such as literary and political history, state ideologies, market economies, issues of race and ethnicity, and politics of representation and cross-cultural translation Transforming Monkey demonstrates the social and political impact of adaptations through the hands of its users while charting the changes to the image of Sun Wukong in modern history and his participation in the construction and representation of Chinese identity. The first manuscript focusing on the transformations of the Monkey King image and the meanings this image carries, Transforming Monkey argues for the importance of adaptations as an indivisible part of the classical work, and as a revealing window to examine history, culture, and the world.
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Sun, H. (2018). Transforming Monkey: Adaptation and Representation of a Chinese Epic. Seattle: University of Washington Press
Look up the terms “monkey” or “ape” in the dictionary and you’ll find that they serve as verbs meaning to mimic the movements or actions of another. This is because monkeys and apes have a propensity for observation and mimicry. Being primates ourselves, humans are no different. But interestingly this mimicry sometimes mirrors our primate cousins. Chinese martial arts, for example, has developed several primate-based fighting arts, including White Ape Connected Arms boxing (Baiyuan tongbei quan, 白猿通背拳) and several flavors of Monkey boxing (Houquan, 猴拳), and other styles have even adopted primate techniques, such as the monkey footwork of Praying Mantis boxing (Tanglang quan, 螳螂拳). Humans have long marveled at the physical prowess and acrobatic mastery of apes and monkeys. So it’s only natural that boxers would want to incorporate the powerful arm movements and awe-inspiring leaps and flips of primates into various fighting arts. But how long have our cousins been associated with martial arts in Chinese culture, and when and how did primate-based martial arts develop?
Two approaches can be used in an attempt to answer both questions. The first method involves charting similarities in techniques shared between modern regional primate-based Chinese martial arts styles and relying on folk lineages, ethnographic data, and (when possible) historical manuals to discover the earliest vestiges of primate boxing in China. A second method is to search for references to primate-based martial arts in the historical record. A benefit of the first approach would be pinpointing the areas in China where these styles likely first emerged in recent history. The downside is that martial arts are passed from teacher to student via embodied practices (e.g. fist and weapons forms and sparring), often without the material being recorded in a manual. This means such styles can’t be reliably traced beyond a certain time period. A benefit of the second approach is that it provides a deeper view of history, giving the researcher license to record not only the odd mention of historical boxing styles but also associations between primates and weapons and other forms of physical exercise in ancient folklore, literature, medicine, and religion. Obviously, the best approach would be a combination of the two. However, I lack the necessary encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese martial arts techniques. Such a grand project will have to wait for a more qualified researcher. I have instead decided to adopt the second approach.
This article is divided into five sections. The first presents a folk history for Tai Shing Pek Kwar, a popular modern form of Monkey boxing, to serve as an example of how such styles can be created. The second provides three references to premodern Monkey boxing appearing in military and travel writings of the 16th-century during late Ming (1368-1644), pointing to the commonplace nature of the style. Here I suggest the lack of evidence for pre-Ming references to primate-based boxing points to the style emerging during this time. This section also gives examples of armed techniques associated with apes in military literature of the 16th and 17th-century. The third discusses the story of the noted literary monkey hero Sun Wukong (孫悟空), his portrayal as a master of armed and unarmed fighting, and how he bridges the gap between the aforementioned lack of pre-Ming boxing references and older material associating apes and monkeys with armed combat. The fourth presents ancient stories pitting a magic white ape against the martial skills of legendary Chinese heroes, including the archer Yang Youji (養由基, 7th-c. BCE) and the swordswoman the Maiden of Yue (Yuenu, 越女, 5th-c. BCE). And the fifth discusses ancient animal mimicry and suggests primate-based boxing is tied to war-like shamanic totemic dances and yoga-like daoyin calisthenics (8th-c. to 2nd-c. BCE). 
I. Tai Shing Pek Kwar Monkey boxing
There are three main styles of monkey boxing:
Shaolin Monkey – This combative style is said to have developed among various animal styles at the famed Shaolin Monastery (Shaolin si, 少林寺) in Henan province, China. Matsuda (2013) claims this particular style to be thousands of years old (p. 50); however, this has no basis in history, as will be explained below.
Wushu Monkey – This modern, non-combative style focuses on gymnastic leaps and flips for entertainment purposes. It is used in both Chinese opera and the floor routines of form competitions (video 1) (Matsuda, 2013, pp. 54-56).
Tai Shing Pek Kwar Monkey – This is the Cantonese variant of the Mandarin Dasheng Pigua men (大聖劈掛門), or the “Great Sage Ax School” of boxing. This combative style is said to be quite young, being a little over 100 years old (Matsuda, 2013, p. 56).
Video 1 – The first half of this video shows a youth performing Wushu Monkey for a form competition.
Tai Shing Pek Kwar is a combination of two different styles. The first, which I will only describe briefly, is Pek Kwarkyun (Pigua quan, 劈掛拳), a style that mimics the swinging of an ax, relying on the lively arm movements to generate power much like the Choy Li Fut style of southern China. It is said to have been created over two hundred years ago in Shandong (northern China) by a woodcutter named Ma Chi Ho (Matsuda, 2013, pp. 64-68). The weapons practiced by this style include the double-edged sword (jian, 劍), the single-edged saber (dao, 刀), and the staff (gun, 棍) (Matsuda, 2013, pp. 70-75).
The Tai Shingkyun (Dasheng quan, 大聖拳) style is said to have been founded in northern China around the year 1911 (the end of the Qing dynasty) by a prisoner named Kou Si (寇四).  After being sent to jail for murder, Kou discovered his cell faced a forest where he could observe the day-to-day lives of a troupe of monkeys. He noted five distinct behaviors among them that, when combined with his knowledge of Great Earth boxing (Di tang quan, 地趟拳), a type of ground combat, could be adapted for fighting.
Lost Monkey (Mi Hou, 迷猴) – This form mimics the behavior of a frightened monkey, comprising periods of attack and retreat, with lots of rolling, low kicks, and quick, frantic running low to the ground (video 2).
Stone Monkey (Shi Hou, 石猴) – This form mimics the behavior of an enraged alpha male, comprising slower but drastically more powerful fist, elbow, and knee strikes, all of which are delivered from a low stance.
Tall Monkey (Qi Hou, 企猴) – This form mimics the behavior of a tall monkey, comprising longer, quicker swinging arm strikes and higher-level kicks.
Drunken Monkey (Zui Hou, 醉猴) – This form mimics the behavior of intoxicated monkeys, comprising falls, swaying motions with broken footwork, and circular punches, all of which are delivered from a low stance.
Wooden Monkey (Mu Hou, 木猴) – This form mimics the behavior of an intelligent, deceptive monkey, comprising quick, low attacks and rolls similar to the Lost Monkey, but feigning retreat only to turn and unleash strikes upon the pursuing opponent.
After perfecting the style, Kou Si is said to have named it “Great Sage boxing” in honor of the monkey hero Sun Wukong (Matsuda, 2013, pp. 86-116). This is a reference to the title taken by the character during his rebellion against heaven (see section III below). The weapons practiced by this style include the staff and the metal ring (Matsuda, 2013, pp. 118-131).
Video 2 – The Lost Monkey form.
II. Primates and martial arts during the Ming
Textural evidence for Monkey boxing actually predates Kou Si’s lineage, appearing in late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) records. The first reference appears in the eighteen volume edition of famed general Qi Jiguang‘s (戚繼光, 1528-1588) (fig. 1) New Treatise on Military Efficiency (Jixiao Xinshu shiba juan ben, 紀效新書十八卷本), a military training manual completed in 1561 or 1562. The fourteenth chapter, titled “Chapter on the Fist Canon and the Essentials of Nimbleness” (Quanjing Jieyao Pian, 拳經捷要篇), reads:
Among the past and present fist specialists, the Song Great Founder had the Long Fist system with thirty-two positions. Moreover there are six pace and fist techniques, the Monkey Fist, and the Feinting Fist. The famous positions each have their own names, but in reality they are quite similar and scarcely differ from one another (Gyves, 1993, p. 34).
While Qi believed boxing had no place in armed conflict, he thought such training was useful as it strengthened soldiers’ bodies, coordinated their limbs, improved their weapons skills, and bolstered their courage (Gyves, 1993, pp. 33-37). Qi gathered what he considered the most efficient techniques to achieve this goal, meaning he consulted with many martial artists in the process. The fact that he mentions Monkey boxing suggests it was a common style among fighters of this time.
The second reference appears in Zheng Ruozeng’s (郑若曾, 1505-1580) Strategic Situation in Jiangnan (Jiangnan jinglue, 江南經略, 1564), which was written in response to the ever-present threat of the Woukou (倭寇), a conglomeration of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean sea bandits, invading China’s coastline. In the eighth volume, Zheng provides a long list of armed and unarmed martial arts, including the “thirty-six roads (forms) of Monkey boxing” (Houquan sanshiliu lu, 猴拳三十六路) (Zheng, 1564). Again, this suggests Monkey boxing was quite common.
The third appears in scholar Wang Shixing’s (王士性, 1547-1598) A Journey to Mt. Song (Song you ji, 嵩遊記), a travel log of the mountain on which the famed Shaolin monastery is located:
Martial monks again each came to present skills. With fists and staves contending, they struck as if flying. Their teacher with folded hands looked on. Among them was a monkey striker, spinning and leaping, just like a monkey… (Wells & Chang, 2004, p. 23).
This shows a single Shaolin warrior monk practiced Monkey boxing. But does this mean the style was part of the monastery’s official curriculum at this time? The answer is no. According to Shahar (2008), textual evidence suggests Shaolin officially took up boxing in the proceeding 17th-century, and the first styles practiced were Drunken Eight Immortals boxing (Zui baxian quan, 醉八仙拳) and Lost Track boxing (Mizong quan, 迷蹤拳), possibly followed by Plum Flower boxing (Meihua quan, 梅花拳) in the 18th-century. The monks adopted pugilism as a form of calisthenic exercise, later combining it with Daoyin (導引) calisthenics and spirituality to create a new form of self-cultivation.  Prior to this, the Shaolin monks were only known for their proficiency with the staff. Therefore, given the seeming commonplace nature of Monkey boxing during the late Ming, the monk could have learned the style from an outside source.
Modern folklore associated with one primate-based style, White Ape Connected Arms Boxing (Baiyuan tongbei / bi quan, 白猿通背 / 臂拳), traces its origins to religious and military figures of the Song dynasty (960-1279), centuries prior to the Ming (Lu, 2006, pp. 103-105, for example). However, it should be said that having a Song-era foundation is a reoccurring theme in many martial arts legends. For instance, the famed Song general Yue Fei (岳飛, 1103-1142) is commonly attributed Eagle Claw boxing (Yingzhao quan, 鷹爪拳) and Form-Intent boxing (Xingyi quan, 形意拳) (Liang & Yang, 2002, pp. 15-16, for example). But textual evidence for these styles don’t appear until the Ming and Qing, respectively.  Most importantly, the oldest source associated with White Ape Connected Arms Boxing, titled the Connected Arms Boxing Manual (Tongbi quan pu, 通臂拳谱), was written during the late Ming and finally published in 1665 during the early Qing (List of surviving Ming period martial arts, 2017). Likewise, concrete references to primate-based boxing do not predate the Ming. This might suggest such styles arose during this time when there was an explosion in the popularity of pugilism. But this tells us nothing about how primate-based boxing may have developed. The history of animal mimicry in Chinese martial arts can be traced to much older concepts based in medicine and religion. This is discussed in section V below.
Fig. 2 – A compilation of images of the sword-fighting apes from the Collection of Military Works (c. 1621) (larger version). By the author. Fig. 3 – A compilation of the original stick figures and Japanese calligraphy from the fourteen volume edition of the New Treatise on Military Efficiency (1584) (larger version). From Qi, 1584/2001, p. 83. Note the similarities in stance and the position of the blades.
As for the association between primates and armed combat during the Ming, the animals are occasionally referenced in the named fighting techniques of military literature. For example, the tenth volume of Qi Jiguang’s aforementioned manual includes a feinting lance technique titled “White Ape Trailing Sword Stance” (Baiyuan tuo dao shi, 白猿拖刀勢) (Yang & Xie, 1995, p. 336). The 35th volume of the Collection of Military Works (Wubei zhi, 武備志, c. 1621), a Ming treatise on military armaments and fighting techniques compiled by Mao Yuanyi (茅元儀, 1594-1640), includes “White ape exits cave” (Baiyuan chudong shi, 白猿出洞勢), a stance appearing in the sequence for an overhead sword guard.  (Incidentally, this is also the name of a fist set practiced in some lineages of Praying Mantis boxing). Additionally, the same volume includes a two-section sword manual, the first section of which portrays fanciful images of apes practicing with the “Sprout saber” (miaodao, 苗刀) (Mao, 1621), a long, two-handed blade similar to the Japanese Katana (fig. 2). These strange images differ from the human-based figures in the rest of the source. It’s important to note that the original sword manual, called Saber Techniques of the Xinyou-era (i.e. 1561) (Xinyou daofa, 辛酉刀法), is taken directly from the fourth volume of the revised fourteen volume edition of Qi’s New Treatise on Military Efficiency (Jixiao Xinshu shisi juan ben, 紀效新書十四卷本, 1584). The first of the aforementioned two sections reproduces a series of sword-wielding stick figures taken from a Shadow School (Kage-ryu, 影流 / 陰流) manual of Japanese sword fighting. The section is prefaced by lively Japanese calligraphy, and the few words recognizable to readers of Chinese include “ape flying” (yuanfei, 猿飛) and “ape returning” (yuanhui, 猿回) (fig. 3), both of which are Kenjutsu techniques still practiced today (video 3).  This then might explain why the stick figures were changed to apes when the material was reproduced in the Collection of Military Works decades later. But I would also like to suggest that the change (as well as the allusion to the sword-wielding white ape from the lance technique mentioned earlier) was influenced by a famous first-century Chinese story about a talented swordswoman who has her skills tested by a magic white ape. This is discussed in section IV below.
Video 3 – A modern demonstration of the “ape-flying” technique.
III. Sun Wukong the Monkey King
By far, the most famous weapon-bearing primate of the late Ming-period is Sun Wukong (a.k.a. “Monkey”), the simian protagonist of the highly popular Chinese novel Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592). According to the tale, the stone-born monkey rules a mountain utopia before learning magic, martial arts, and thesecret of immortality under a Buddho-Daoist sage. He soon thereafter acquires a magic, size-changing iron staff, which he uses to wage war against the celestial realm (fig. 4), proclaiming himself the “Great Sage Equaling Heaven” (Qitian Dasheng, 齊天大聖, hence the name for Kou Si’s Monkey boxing). But his rebellion is eventually quelled by the Buddha, who imprisons the indestructible monkey demon beneath a mountainfor his crimes. Five hundred years later, the repentant immortal is called upon to use his great strength, martial arts, and powers of transformation to protect the monk Tripitakaon a journey to procure scriptures from India.
The narrative portrays Sun as a well-rounded martial artist proficient in both weapons and boxing. For example, during his rebellion with heaven, he trains his monkey children as soldiers, teaching them troop movement and weapons, including swords, spears, axes, and bows and arrows. But he is best known for his skill with the staff (fig. 5). One episode sees Monkey give a display of his martial prowess while he and his master travel through a spooky mountain. His skill is so great that the story likens it to the strategy taught in two of the Seven Military Classics of China:
“Going through this tall mountain and rugged cliff must have made master [Tripitaka] rather apprehensive, that’s all. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! Let old Monkey put on a show for you with my rod to calm your fears somewhat.” Dear Pilgrim! Whipping out his rod, he began to go through a sequence of maneuvers with his rod as he walked before the horse: up and down, left and right, the thrusts and parries were made in perfect accord with the Six Secret Teachings and Three Strategies [Liu Tao San Lue, 六韜三略)].  What the elder saw from the horse was a sight incomparable anywhere in the world (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 105).
Fig. 5 – A modern action figure of Sun Wukong with his magic staff (larger version).
Furthermore, Monkey displays a mastery of unarmed fighting (fig. 6) in two episodes. A poem in chapter 51, for example, is important because it describes a battle between Sun and a rhinoceros demon in which they use real boxing techniques, many of which are still known and practiced to this day:
Hitching up his clothes and walking forward, the fiend assumed a boxing posture; his two fists upraised looked truly like two iron sledge hammers. Our Great Sage also loosened his legs at once and moved his body to attack; right before the cave entrance, he began to box with the demon king. This was quite a fight! Aha!
Opening wide the “Four Levels Posture”; The double-kicking feet fly up. They pound the ribs and chests; They stab at galls and hearts. “The Immortal pointing the Way”; “Lao Zi Riding the Crane”; “A Hungry Tiger Pouncing on the Prey” is most hurtful; “A Dragon Playing with Water” is quite vicious. The demon king uses a “Serpent Turning Around”; The Great Sage employs a “Deer Letting Loose its Horns.” The dragon plunges to Earth with heels upturned; The wrist twists around to seize Heaven’s bag. A green lion’s open-mouthed lunge; A carp’s snapped-back flip. Sprinkling flowers over the head; Tying a rope around the waist; A fan moving with the wind; The rain driving down the flowers. The monster-spirit then uses the “Guanyin Palm,” And pilgrim counters with the “Arhat Feet.” The “Long-Range Fist,” stretching, is more slack, of course. How could it compare with the “Close-Range Fist’s” sharp jabs? The two of them fought for many rounds— None was the stronger, for they are evenly matched (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, pp. 12-13).
While the techniques are not Monkey boxing, the narrative certainly helped solidify the connection between primates and martial arts during the late Ming when references to the style were recorded.
Fig. 6 – Sun teaching a young human apprentice martial arts. Drawing by Celsohenrique on deviantart (larger version).
Sun Wukong’s image as a master of armed and unarmed combat led to his veneration among northern Chinese martial artists at the end of the Qing. As noted in this article, fighters of the anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) were known to channel the spirit of the Monkey King (among other deities) in order to gain his martial prowess. A German catholic missionary active in Shandong in the late-19th and early-20th-century recorded how four boxer youths were chosen as possible vessels, and after a ritual enticed the deity to earth, the “possessed” individual performed a frightening saber dance, indicating the Great Sage had taken control. Additionally, Dudbridge (1970) cites one 17th-century source that describes Sun’s veneration in the southern Chinese province of Fujianfor “appear[ing] in the clouds to beat back an attack from Japanese pirates” (p. 158). This refers to the preceding 16th-century when China’s coast was plagued by the aforementioned Wokou pirates. Interestingly, Sun Wukong fighting pirates puts him in the same company as the Shaolin warrior monks, who used their martial arts skills to rout the same bandits during the 1550s (Shahar, 2008, pp. 68-70).
Fig. 7 – The Monkey Pilgrim stone relief carving, 1237, from the Kaiyuan Temple Western Pagoda, Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China (larger version).
Monkey is important to this study because he bridges the gap between the lack of pre-Ming references to primate-based boxing and older material associating apes and monkeys with armed combat. Sun first appears as the “Monkey Pilgrim” (Hou xingzhe, 猴行者) in The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures (Da Tang Sanzang qujing shihua, 大唐三藏取經詩話), a seventeen chapter storytelling prompt dated to the late 13th-century. The narrative presents our hero wielding two staves, one a golden-ringed monk’s staff and the other an iron staff, in defense of his Buddhist master. These two staves would later be combined by storytellers to create his signature weapon.
Older still, the Kaiyuan Temple (Kaiyuan si, 開元寺) of Fujian is home to a nearly life-sized carving of the hero (fig. 7), who is presented as a saber-wielding guardian deity. He appears alongside other such wrathful gods, as well as bodhisattvas, arhats, patriarchs, and eminent monks, on a stone pagoda that was erected in the year 1237. So Monkey was associated with various weapons as far back as the 13th-century.
Fig. 8 – A Han-era stone tomb rubbing showing a sword-wielding hero striking at a fleeing white ape (center). A woman can be seen held captive in a teardrop-shaped cave (left). The hero is followed by an assistant beating a gong (right) (larger version). From Wu, 1987, p. 88.
Apart from possible Indian influences, Sun Wukong’s origins can be traced to a body of Han (206 BCE-220 CE) and Tang (618-907 CE) dynasty tales in which a magical white ape or gibbon (baiyuan, 白猿) kidnaps human woman and spoils their innocence (fig. 8). For example, the unnamed primate antagonist of “A Supplement to Jiang Zong’s Biography of a White Ape” (Bu Jiang Zong baiyuan zhuang, 補江總白猿傳, c. late 7th-c.) is described as a 1,000-year-old hermit who lives in a mountain utopia, practices Daoist longevity arts, wields the power to fly and change his shape, and has supernatural strength and an iron-hard, nigh-invulnerable body immune to most efforts to harm him. Most importantly, he is depicted as a master of armed combat, one displaying a fondness for sword dancing. His blade is said to “circl[e] his body as fast as lightning and as round as a full moon”.  As noted above, this is not the first story involving a magic white ape who is fond of swordplay.
IV. Magic apes and ancient Chinese heroes
The Chinese classic theWater Margin(Shuihu zhuan, 水滸傳, c. 1400) describes the literary heroes Hou Jian(侯健),Lin Chong(林沖), andZhang Qing(張清) (fig. 9) each having ape-like arms, denoting their great strength and agility. This same nickname was applied to powerful archers of the past. Ma (2010) writes:
[I]t is said that the Xiongnu warrior Liu Chong ‘had arms like an ape, was skilled at archery (yuanbei shanshe 猿臂善射), and could pull a bow of three hundred jin’ 斤(Book of Wei《魏書》). Similarly, History of Ming describes General Chang Yuchun 常遇春 as ‘distinguished looking, with peerless courage and strength, had arms like those of an ape and was skilled at archery’; and in the same vein, Tang poet Cui Daorong 崔道融 wrote that ‘the ape-armed general runs as if on wings, sparing no one with his bow from a hundred paces’ (General Li’s Biography [Ti Li jianjun zhuan 題李將軍傳]) (p. 24).
Fig. 9 – A woodblock print of the hero Zhang Qing by Kuniyoshi produced between 1827 and 1830 (larger version). It is part of the artist’s “One of the 108 Heroes of the Popular Water Margin” series (Tsuzoku Suikoden goketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori, 通俗水滸傳濠傑百八人一個). Original image found here. Look closely and you’ll notice that the tattoo on Zhang’s back portrays Sun Wukong producing magical clones of himself from his mouth.
Oddly enough, the earliest tales mentioning archers and magic white apes do not liken one to the other. In fact, they are diametrically opposed. For example, a third-century BCE tale about the famed archer Yang Youji (養由基, 7th-c. BCE) portrays the creature as an elusive target for his arrow:
Once in the palace of Jing 荊 there was a supernatural white ape. Even the skillful archers of Jing could not hit it. Then the king of Jing asked … Yang Youji to shoot it. Yang straightened his bow and went to the palace with arrows in his hands. Before shooting he aimed at a place where the [moving] ape had not yet arrived. When he let the arrow fly, the ape fell immediately. Thus Yang Youji could be called the archer who could hit a target before it was there (Wu, 1987, p. 103; see also Gulik, 1967, p. 41).
A similar version of the tale states the ape recognizes Yang’s supernatural skill, anticipating the arrow and crying out in pain moments before actually being struck (Wu, 1987, p. 103; Gulik, 1967, p. 41).
Perhaps the most famous story associating the magic white ape with martial arts is the “Maiden of Yue” (Yuenu, 越女, 1st-c. BCE), named after its protagonist, a peerless swordswoman of the 5th-century BCE. The story describes how she participates in a sparring match with the shape-changing ape:
The Young Woman of Yue travelled north for her audience with the king [Goujian of Yue]. On the way, she met an old fellow who said his name was “Old Mr. Yuan” [Yuan Gong, 袁公].
He said to the young woman, “I hear you fight well with a [sword]. I’d like to see a demonstration.”
She replied, “I wouldn’t presume to keep anything from you: you are welcome to test my skill, Sir.”
So Old Man Yuan drew out a length of Linyu bamboo. But the bamboo was rotten at one end. The end fell to the ground and the young woman immediately snatched it up. The old man wielded the top end of the staff and thrust towards the young woman, but [she] parried straight back, thrust three times, and finally raised her end of bamboo and drove home her attack against Old Man Yuan [fig. 10]. Old Man Yuan hopped off up a tree, turning into a white ape [baiyuan, 白猿, hence the surname]. Then each went their own way, and she went on to meet with the king. 
Upon meeting the king, the Maiden reveals the secret to her fighting ability is the application of yin and yang energy, which are metaphorically described as the opening and closing of large and small swinging doors. This is “[t]he earliest extant published exposition of [the] theory applied directly to the martial arts” (Henning, 2001, p. 746), predating the artificial categorization of Chinese boxing into “internal” (neijia, 内家) and “external” (waijia, 外家) styles during the 17th-century (Henning, 2007, p. 26). Therefore, the importance of the story in the annals of Chinese martial arts history can’t be overstated. Nor can the inclusion of the white ape. His supernatural challenge and subsequent defeat respectively tests and confirms the effectiveness of the theory.
This tale likely influenced the association between white apes and swordplay in later sources, such as the sword-dancing antagonist of the Tang-era “Supplement to Jiang Zong’s Biography of a White Ape” (section III) and the sword-wielding primates of military literature (section II). For example, “White Ape Trailing Sword Stance”, the aforementioned feinting lance technique from New Treatise on Military Efficiency (c. 1561/1562), may refer to Old Mr. Yuan’s defeat.
Fig. 10 – A modern drawing of the Maiden of Yue fighting Old Mr. Yuan by martial historian Stan Henning (larger version). From Henning, 2007, p. 24.
Our heroes’ respective stories make no reference to animal mimicry, the cornerstone of primate-based boxing. In fact, it’s the reverse in the second narrative: an ape mimics man.  The tales instead promote the idea of trained human skill conquering the raw, often magical, power of nature. In the case of the Maiden of Yue, her mastery of yin and yang energy enabled her to best the magic white ape. Yang Youji is more of a mythic figure capable of miraculous feats, such as sinking an arrow into a boulder simply because he mistook it for a rhino (i.e. mind over matter) (Selby, 2000, p. 131). But he succeeded in falling a white ape when many archers failed. These tales are therefore the antithesis of primate-based boxing, representing what might have been considered more “civilized” or “noble” forms of martial arts, namely the armed disciplines of archery and swordplay.
V. Animal mimicry in Chinese medicine and religion
I suggested above that primate-based styles may have arisen during the Ming. But how the styles developed is likely tied to the long history of animal mimicry in China. For example, around the year 60 BCE (during the Han), the courtier Tan Changqing (檀長卿) is said to have been reprimanded for violating ritual norms by performing the dance of the “dog and macaque combat” (wu wei mu hou yu gou dou, 舞為沐猴與狗鬭) while at a drunken party (Harper, 2001, p. 18). This dance may have some connection to a funerary motif appearing in Han-era stone tombs in which dogs are shown intimidating apes, the motif representing the conquering of evil influences.  Tan’s display can’t be assigned a martial role, however, because it was likely a comical pantomime.  But this shows mimicking primates served a variety of purposes in Chinese culture.
Primate-based movements figure in a number of ancient therapeutic exercises. For instance, the monkey appears in the Five Animals’ Frolic (Wuqin xi, 五禽戲), a 3rd-century system of daoyin calisthenics, which mimics the movements or behaviors of the tiger, deer, bear, monkey, and bird (in that order), each animal set strengthening a particular area of the body (Kohn, 2008, pp. 163-169). Movements mimicking the bear, monkey, and bird actually predate this system, appearing among forty-four exercises listed in the Illustrations of Guiding and Pulling (Daoyin tu, 導引圖, 168 BCE), the oldest known diagram of daoyin exercises, discovered in Mawangdui (馬王堆) (fig. 11 and 12). Primate-based exercises include the “Monkey Bawling to Pull Internal Hotness” (muhou guan yinling zhong, 沐猴灌引靈中) (#35) and “Gibbon Shouting” (yuanhu, 猿謼) (#40) (fig. 13 and 14) (Harper, 1998, pp. 315 and 316). 
The Masters of Huainan(Huananzi, 淮南子, 139 BCE), a compendium of Daoist, Confucian, and Legalist thought, references another primate-baseddaoyinset in a section criticizing such exercises as inferior to spiritual cultivation:
If you huff and puff, exhale and inhale, blow out the old and pull in the new, practice the Bear Hang [xiongjing, 熊經], the Bird Stretch [niaoshen, 鳥伸], the Duck Splash [fuyu, 鳧浴], the Ape leap [yuanjue, 蝯躩], the Owl Gaze [chishi, 鴟視], and the Tiger Stare [hugu, 虎顧]:
This is what is practiced by those who nurture the body. They are not the practices of those who polish the mind (Liu & Major, 2010, p. 236).
Fig 11 – (Top left) The Illustrations of Guiding and Pulling, 2nd-c. BCE, paint on silk, 142 x 70 cm (55.9 x 27.5 in) (larger version). Image originally found here. Fig. 12 – (Top right) A modern reconstruction (larger version). Image originally found on Wikipedia. Harper (1998) warns such reconstructions “should be regarded as conjectural in many details” since the original is in such poor condition (p. 191). Fig. 13 – (Bottom left) The reconstruction of “Monkey Bawling to Pull Internal Hotness” (larger version). Fig. 14 – (Bottom right) The reconstruction of “Gibbon Shouting” (larger version).
These therapeutic exercises likely find their origin in ancient Shamanic animal dances designed to drive away demonic illness and influences (Harper, 1985, pp. 487-488). One such dance was the seasonal Da Nuo (大儺 / 難; Jp: Tsuina, 追儺) ritual in which a bearskin-clad exorcist (Ch: fangxiangshi; Jp: hōsōshi, 方相氏) and his army of fur, feather, and horn-clad youths, representing twelve animal deities, expelled evil spirits from human dwellings. Evidence suggests it may have been performed as early as the Shang (17th to 11th-c. BCE), but the earliest concrete references come from the Eastern Zhou (8th to 3rd-c. BCE) (Poo, 2009, p. 286). What’s interesting for our purposes is that the exorcism has a martial aspect; not only does the exorcist bear a lance and shield for ritual combat (fig. 15), but also the group travels throughout the given location dancing and shouting, with the youths beating drums and commanding twelve spirits by name to devour or eviscerate anthropomorphic representations of malevolent influences (Poo, 2009, pp. 287-288). So by wearing animal products, the exorcist and his ritual army gained the strength of animal deities to combat dark forces.
Fig. 15 – A Japanese woodblock print portraying the Da Nuo exorcist expelling a “pestilence” spirit with his lance and shield (larger version). Originally found here. Note the four-eyed mask. This is based on the four golden-eyed bear skin worn by the exorcist in ancient Chinese records (Poo, 2009, p. 287).
It’s possible that the “twelve animals” of the Da Nuo exorcism refer to some precursor of the Chinese zodiacal animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig). If true, monkey fur could have been among the animal products worn by the ritual army. After all, monkeys have long been associated with curing illness and expelling evil in East Asia.  A modern example of exorcists who don monkey fur are the shamans of the Qiang ethnic group of Sichuan. The Qiang worship monkeys as the source and savior of their sacred knowledge, as well as the progenitor of their people, the latter being a myth cycle common among ethnic groups of Tibet and southwestern China.
Henning (2001) highlights the connection between animal totemism and animal boxing:
Another view is that at least some animal forms may hark back to a distant totemic past that still occupies a place in the Chinese psyche. This totemic influence is difficult if not impossible to trace in majority Han Chinese boxing styles; however, it can be seen in the combination of martial arts and dance practiced by some of China’s many national minorities. Cheng Dali, in his Chinese Martial Arts: History and Culture, points to Frog Boxing, practiced by the Zhuang Nationality of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, as an example, the frog being considered their protector against both natural and man-made disasters (p. 16).
Therefore, the primate-based martial arts of the Ming could descend from totemic mimicry of apes and monkeys in Chinese spiritual practices. The development could have gone something like this:
Early shamanic dances drawing on the totemic power of primate deities (via their fur) to exorcise evil influences through ritual combat, including the bearing of weapons, drumming, dancing, and the shouting of spells.
The animal fur and martial dancing give way to calisthenics drawing on primate mimicry to expel sickness and strengthen the body.
These calisthenic movements are adapted for fighting.
It’s even possible that the war-like shamanic dancing gave way directly to boxing. Martiality (wu, 武) and dance (wu, 舞) have long been associated in Chinese history, for drums and gongs were used to direct the movements of both troops and dancers (Lorge, 2012, p. 26-27). Musical accompaniment remains a staple of folk martial arts performances. A modern example of totemic mimicry, dancing, and martial arts is the Lion Dance (wushi, 舞獅) popular in Asian communities throughout the world (video 4).
Video 4 – Five lion dancing teams performing before a crowd.
Apes and monkeys have been associated with armed and unarmed martial arts in Chinese culture for over two thousand years. Tai Shing Pek Kwar, a popular modern combat style of Monkey boxing created in the early 20th-century, is predated by even older instances of Monkey boxing alluded to in military and travel writings of the 16th-century, suggesting it was a common form of pugilism. Additionally, military literature of the 16th and 17th-century associates white apes with swordplay. The lack of historical references to primate-based boxing prior to the Ming (1368-1644) suggests such styles developed during the explosion in popularity of pugilism at this time. The image of the highly popular late Ming literary monkey hero Sun Wukong as a master of armed and unarmed martial arts, as well as his association with staff and sword fighting in 13th-century oral literature and Buddhist art, respectively, helps bridge this gap between the lack of historical boxing references and older material associating primates with armed combat. He can be traced to a body of Han (206 BCE-220 CE) and Tang (618-907 CE) dynasty stories about magic white apes who, due to their supernatural abilities, were portrayed as the ultimate test of a warrior’s martial skills. The most famous of these tells how the Maiden of Yue, a talented swordswoman of the 5th-century BCE, vets her yin-yang theory-based sword style by defeating a white ape-turned-old man in a sparring match. This story is important because it’s the first recorded association of yin-yang theory and martial arts in Chinese history. This tale and another involving the mythic archer Yang Youji are the antitheses of primate-based boxing because each touts the superiority of trained human skill over the raw, magical power of nature. Despite this, animal mimicry played a large role in early therapeutic yoga-like Daoyin calisthenics, such as the Five Animals Frolic (3rd-c. CE) and those appearing in the Illustrations of Guiding and Pulling (168 BCE), which copied the movements of monkeys and apes (among other animals) to strengthen given areas of the body. These exercises likely find their origin in ancient war-like Shamanic animal dances designed to drive away demonic illness and influences, one example being the seasonal Da Nuo exorcism of the Eastern Zhou (8th to 3rd-c. BCE). The Da Nuo exorcist and his ritual army wore animal products (fur, horns, feathers, etc.) to invoke the power of animal deities capable of driving away malevolent forces. Monkey fur may have been worn by members of the ritual army because the animal and its products have long been associated with curing illness and expelling evil in East Asia. Shamans among the modern Qiang ethnic group of Sichuan worship monkeys and draw on the power of their fur to perform exorcisms. Animal totemism plays a part in some animal-based martial arts, such as the Frog boxing of the Zhuang ethnic group. Therefore, the primate-based martial arts of the Ming may have been influenced by the ancient totemic mimicry of apes and monkeys in Chinese spiritual practices, those that formed the basis of later animal-based therapeutic exercises. This is where the historical study would benefit from modern ethnographic field research. A follow-up study might bridge the gap between the historical data and modern practice.
1) A shorter paper with a similar focus is Ma (2010). The editor of the Journal of Chinese Martial Studies was gracious enough to provide me with a PDF copy of the article when I was nearing completion of this paper.
2) Regarding the name of the creator of Monkey boxing, Kou Si (寇四), kou (寇) means “bandit, foe, or enemy”. I find this especially interesting given he was imprisoned for murder, the reasons for which range from accidentally killing a villager in a fight to purposely killing a military official to avoid service (Matsuda, 2013, pp. 86-87). It’s possibly this name is simply a folk title given to an unknown creator, or one known to have been active in crime.
3) See chapters three and four.
4) The earliest mention of Eagle Claw appears in Qi Jiguang’s training manual. It refers to “Eagle Claw Wang’s grappling methods” (Yingzhao Wang zhi na, 鷹爪王之拿) (Gyves, 1993, p. 35). Qing-era manuals and family histories suggest Xingyi was created by a certain Ji Jike (姬際可, fl. 1650) (Shahar, 2008, pp. 134-135).
5) For an English translation of the sword technique mentioning the stance, see Chen, 2018, pp. 73-75.
6) Qi, 1584/2001, p. 83. I’m indebted to the operator of the Great Ming Military blog for explaining the connection between the ape images and the visible characters from the Japanese calligraphy, as well as providing me with a digital copy of the fourteen volume edition of Qi’s training manual.
7) The original English translation omits the two named books from the Chinese version. It reads, “…the thrusts and parries were made in perfect accord with the manuals of martial arts” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 105).
8) Chen, 1998, p. 84. Some readers may have noticed the sword is a reoccurring theme in Sun Wukong’s history: 1) The Qing-era boxers are said to have performed a saber dance under his possession; 2) he is depicted with a saber on the Kaiyuan temple pagoda in Fujian; and 3) the magic white ape on whom he is likely based loves performing sword dances. In addition, two other sources mention Monkey’s association with the sword. First, a 15th-century Zaju play describes Guanyin giving Sun Wukong a Buddhist saber (jiedao, 戒刀) (apart from other magic items) to protect his master on the eve of their journey. Second, a 17th-century tale set in Fujian describes the Great Sage magically afflicting a merchant with painful leg sores using a “Bodhisattva Saber” (Pusa dao, 菩薩刀).
I don’t think these have any unifying significance, however. For example, the saber requires less training and is cheaper than other implements of war. So it was often the go to weapon for soldiers and bodyguards. Monkey’s association with the saber on the pagoda is likely tied to this same concept. As a guardian deity, he is portrayed with the same weapon used by mortals to protect others in times of need. The magic white ape is portrayed as a Daoist gentleman, one in possession of a pair of treasure swords (baojian, 寶劍), the kind used in Daoist ritual. His fancy for the sword may be based on Old Mr. Yuan from the Maiden of Yue (see section IV). Another literary character with Buddhist sabers is Wu Song from the Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan, 水滸傳, c. 1400). I explain in this article (footnote #2) that his sabers are based on real world Buddhist knives issued to monks. The same concept is no doubt tied to Monkey’s weapon from the play. Having said that, I will admit, though, that the saber from the pagoda may have had some influence on that mentioned in the 17th-century story. After all, the pagoda example is portrayed with a lick of heavenly flame, just like one would expect from a celestial sword. Also, both the story and the pagoda take place/are located in Fujian, home to the Great Sage’s cult.
9) Selby, 2000, pp. 155-156. The famous Tang poet Li Bai (李白) referenced Mr. Yuan’s defeat in one of his poems. A line reads “The White Ape was ashamed of his fencing” (Ma, 2010, p. 24). This is fascinating as Li Bai was also known to have been a proficient swordsmen in his youth (Liu, 1967, pp. 46-47).
10) This is based on an old concept in which primates were thought to progress through a type of magical evolution, similar to modern day Pokémon. The Baopuzi (抱朴子, 2nd-c. CE) states a monkey will transform into a gibbon after 800 years of life. It will then change into several legendary apes over some 3,500 years, before evolving into an old man (Ball, 1927, p. 117). Gulik (1967) cites a tale in which the soothsayer Zhou Qun (周羣 / 周群) learns the secrets of divination from a gibbon-turned-old man (p. 50).
11) As noted in this article, Sun Wukong’s capture at the mouth of Lord Erlang’s hound is tied to the Han-era tomb motif of dogs intimidating apes.
12) Ma (2010) translates the historical passage, noting those at the party were “drinking wine and making merry, then Tan Changqing, the high official of Changxin Palace, starts to dance, to imitate a monkey fighting with a dog, bringing laughter to all present” (p. 25).
13) Harper (1998) suggests an alternate reading for “Gibbon shout” (yuanhu, 猿謼) is “Gibbon Jump” (yuanjue, 蝯躩) based on graphical similarities to an exercise from the Huainanzi. (淮南子, 139 BCE) (p. 316, n. 1).
14) This is tied to a Song-era (and likely older) superstition from Sichuan where people would place monkeys in stables to ward off equine sickness (Eberhard, 1969, p. 52). This is why heaven appoints Sun Wukong the Bimawen (弼馬溫, “Keeper of the (Heavenly) Horses”), which is a pun on Bimawen (避馬瘟, “Avoid the horse plague”). Due to his former exalted position, earthly horses are shown to fear the Monkey King throughout the narrative (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 309, for example).
In Japan, monkeys were also associated with horses and healing via the warding of evil. Apart from monkeys being kept in stables like their Chinese counterparts, their fur was applied to the harnesses and quivers of Samurai because the warriors believed it gave them more control over their mounts. Furthermore, monkey body parts have been consumed for centuries as curative medicines, and their hides have even been stuffed to make protective amulets (kukurizaru) to ward off illness. Likewise, a genre of painting depicts divine monkeys (saru gami), messengers of the mountain deity, performing Da Nuo-like dances to ensure a good rice harvest (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1987, pp. 43-50)
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Chen, J. (2018). Ancient art of Chinese long straight sword. (n.p.): Chen Jiayi.
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Gulik, R. H. (1967). The gibbon in China: An essay in Chinese animal lore. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
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Harper, D. (2001). Poets and Primates: Wang Yanshou’s Poem on the Macaque, Asia Major 14(2), pp. 1-25.
Henning, S. (2001). Written Texts: China In T. A. Green (Ed.), Martial arts of the world: An encyclopedia, volume two: r–z (pp. 745-748). Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.
Henning, S. (2007). The maiden of Yue: Fount of Chinese martial arts theory. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 16(3), pp. 24-27.
Kohn, L. (2008). Chinese healing exercises: The tradition of Daoyin. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Liang, S. Y., and Yang, J. M. (2002). Xingyiquan: Theory, applications, fighting tactics and spirit. Boston: YMAA Publication Center.
Did you know the battle between Monkey and Lord Erlang is tied to Han Dynasty funerary rights and folklore? Wu (1987) notes that, during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE), the people of Sichuan often buried their dead in stone tombs decorated with brave heroes, such as archers and crossbowmen, and fierce animals, such as tigers and hounds. Regarding the latter, the canines are sometimes depicted attacking or intimidating apes, which were considered emblems of disease or bad luck (fig. 1). Therefore, by portraying the subjugation of such evil forces, the carvings are thought to have served the ritual function of protecting deceased loved ones from dark influences on their wayward journey to the afterlife (pp. 100-101).
The idea of dogs overcoming apes should bring to mind Sun Wukong’s capture at the mouth of Lord Erlang’s loyal hound at the end of chapter six.
One recurring motif depicts an archer drawing his bow to fall an ape in a tree (fig. 2). This is based on a third-century BCE tale about the legendary Chu archer Yang Youji (養由基) shooting an elusive white ape held in the palace of the King of Jing. This in turn is based on an even older tale about the archer Yi (羿) bringing order to the primordial earth by killing nine of ten suns that took the form of monstrous crows. Han era tombs are known to portray Yi drawing a bow to shoot said birds flying around a tree, so it most likely influenced the motif of Yang shooting the ape in a tree (Wu, 1987, pp. 102-106). Despite his later connection with the three-pointed polearm, Erlang was also portrayed as an archer in early media.
Fig. 1 – (Top left) A Han Dynasty tomb rubbing of oversized dogs intimidating apes (larger version). Fig. 2 – (Bottom left) A Han tomb decoration depicting an archer shooting at an ape (larger version). Fig. 3 – (Center bottom) The 13th-century painting depicting Erlang and his soldiers rounding up and executing ape demons. A captive ape can be seen on the bottom left between the two soldiers (larger version). Fig. 4 (Center right) A detail from the 15th-century painting showing the ape, his humanoid wives, and their gibbon-like children being rounded up (larger version). This section is located in the last four-fifths of the scroll. Fig. 5 – (Right) A detail showing Erlang near the front of the same scroll (larger version). His armor differs slightly from that of the 13th-century version. Also take note of how a young page holds his bow, while a spirit soldier bears his (slightly obscured) three-pointed polearm.
Lord Erlang was originally worshiped during the Han as a hunting god and queller of mountain ghosts by the Qiang (羌) ethnic group of the western Sichuan region. His cult grew and absorbed other deities and heroes under his mantle. For instance, Wu (1987) writes:
The Er-lang cult became even more popular in Sichuan under the patronage of the Later Shu emperor, Meng Chang 孟昶 (r. 934-65), and in 965, when the Song dynasty conquered the kingdom, it adopted the cult, erecting temples for the god in the capital and throughout the country.
When the Er-lang cult became increasingly popular in Sichuan, the previous divine archers such as Yang Youji and Yi, (like many other legendary demon-quellers), were mologized into this new cult, and their defeat of an ape demon became an important part of the Er-lang legend. Er-lang’s traits in later stories and art works clearly disclose this transformation (pp. 107-108).
It should also be noted that Erlang was at some point associated with the historical engineer Li Bing (李冰, c. 3rd-cent. BCE) and the official Zhao Yu (趙昱, c. 6th/7th-cent CE), both of whom were worshipped for defeating flood demons (Wu, 1987, p. 107). I suggest this may have led to his cult being connected to that of Yu the Great (大禹), the flood-queller par excellence in Chinese folklore. This is important because Tang Dynasty legends state Yu battled a simian water demon and eventually imprisoned it under a mountain (see Andersen, 2001). Sound familiar? This may have been another avenue in which Erlang was associated with quelling ape demons.
One anonymous 13th-century album leaf ink painting portrays Erlang seated in a kingly fashion and watching as his spirit soldiers round up and execute ape demons (fig. 3). One anonymous 15th-century scroll painting reproduces the scene in color, along with other animal spirits (fig. 4 and 5). The image of the deity as a queller of ape monsters culminated in an anonymous Yuan-Ming Dynasty play called The God Er-lang Locks up the Ape-Demon “Great Sage-Equal to Heaven” (二郎神鎻齊天大聖, Er-lang Shen suo Qitian Dasheng). Much like JTTW, the god is sent to capture a magical primate, in this case an ape, who has stolen immortal food and wine from heaven. (Wu, 1987, pp. 108-109). This no doubt influenced Monkeys mischief in heaven and subsequent battle with the deity.
This is the third and final installment in my investigation of the history of the Monkey King’s staff from the great Chinese classic Journey to the West (Xiyouji,西遊記, 1592). The previous two articles discussed historical staves and an imperial monument that may have influenced the weapon. The current piece will focus on the name of the staff, the “As-you-wish gold-banded cudgel” (Ruyi jingu bang, 如意金箍棒). This title comes from an inscription appearing on the pole. As the novel states: “There was a line of inlaid writing near the end which said that it was ‘The As-you-wish Gold-Banded Cudgel. Weight: 13,500 Catties’” (17,550 lbs / 7,960 kg) (Ruyi jingu bang zhong yiwan sanqian wubai jin, 如意金箍棒重一萬三千五百斤).  The significance of the gold bands (jinggu, 金箍) was discussed in the first article, so it will not be covered here. This leaves “As-you-wish” (ruyi, 如意) and “Weight: 13,500 catties” (zhong yiwan sanqian wubai jin, 重一萬三千五百斤). In this paper, I will trace the origin of each concept and tie them back to Chinese literature, history, and religion. As always, I hope this will be of interest to layman and researchers.
Stating the weight of a weapon follows a tradition in Chinese Military Romance literature in which great heroes brandish heavy polearms and blades. For example, in Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi, 三國演義, 14th-century), General Guan Yu (關羽) is said to have a glaive weighing 82 catties (107 lbs. / 48.5 kg).  This is referenced in a subsequent novel set hundreds of years later entitled the Water Margin (Shuihu Zhuan, 水滸傳, c. 1400). In the story, the bandit-turned-Buddhist monk Lu Zhishen (魯智深) asks a blacksmith to make him a monk’s staff (chanzhang, 禪杖, lit: Chan staff) weighing 100 catties (130 lbs. / 59 kg). But when the latter refuses on the grounds that not even the legendary general would be able to lift it, Lu asks for a staff weighing just as much as Guan’s polearm (here stated as 81 catties) to prove his equal. After some minor bickering, the two finally settle on a more reasonable 62 catties (81 lbs. / 37 kg).  The ability of these heroes to efficiently wield such weapons sets them apart from normal humans. Likewise, the extraordinary weight of Monkey’s staff sets him apart from his lowly human counterparts. He is after all a transcendent immortal capable of supernatural feats of strength. This then might explain the number appearing on the staff. Thirteen thousand five hundred is divisible by nine, which Chinese numerology considers to represent “infinity”.  So it’s possible the number (infinity multiplied) was meant to convey that the staff was heavy beyond comprehension, something that only a divine hero such as Monkey would be able to wield.
“As-you-wish” (ruyi, 如意), originates with a ritual scepter of that name shaped like an arching snake with a head in the form of a lingzhi mushroom (靈芝, a.k.a., “fungus of immortality”) (fig. 1). They are often seen carried by emperors and Buddhist and Daoist deities in Chinese art. Prior to the 10th-century, the scepter was closely associated with the Bodhisattva Manjusri (Wenshu, 文殊) and his famous debate with the householder Vimalakirti (Weimojie, 維摩詰).  Engravings of the event show him holding the object in the form of a tanbing (談柄), or “discussion stick”, an elongated, shoe horn-shaped wand historically used by religious and secular groups to designate the right to speak before an assembly (similar in function to the Native American “talking stick”) (fig. 2).  This implement was sometimes portrayed with vegetal features. For instance, a Chinese stele from the 6th-century shows Manjusri debating while holding a sprig (fig. 3).  J. Leroy Davidson suggests that this type of scepter has its origin in an Indian Buddhist Jataka tale in which a group of royal sisters use branches to initiate debates with suitors and Buddhist priests.  The term ruyi comes from the “wish-fulfilling” Kalpavriksha tree of Hindu mythology.  This is suggested by a Chinese source from the 7th-century which notes that, during the celebration of Upavasatha,  lay hosts often gifted “ruyi shu” (如意樹), or “As-you-wish trees” (no doubt saplings or branches), to Indian Buddhist priests . It’s possible that these gifts served as unofficial symbols of the priests’ authority and combined with the aforesaid tradition of debating with branches. This would explain why an instrument of debate would carry the ruyi title.
Upon entering China with Buddhism, this symbol of authority was adopted by the upper echelons of society.  Early records describe emperors, generals, and ministers wielding the object as a means to assert or signify their power. For instance, during the Jin Dynasty (265–420), the court official Shi Chong (石崇, 249–300) used a metal ruyi to smash a coral tree, an imperial gift belonging to a rival aristocrat.  Jin General Xie Wan (謝萬, 320–361) used the object to point at his captains and direct his orders to them. . General Wei Rui (韋叡, 442–520) of the Liang Dynasty (502–557) took this one step further and directed his troops in battle with a bamboo scepter.  Legend states that Northern Wei Dynasty (386–535) Emperor Xiaowen (孝文, 467–499) placed a bone ruyi (among other items) before his sons; the boy who chose it became his heir because it signified the right to rule.  During a time of war, Emperor Wu of Liang (梁武帝, 464–549) gave one of his generals a ruyi because, as one scholar suggests, it was sure to bring him victory in battle. 
Fig. 2 – Examples of tanbing-style ruyi from 8th-century Japan (larger version). Due to slow culture transmission, these could be reminiscent of early Chinese scepters. Fig. 3 – Manjusri holding a sprig while debating Vimalakirti. Detail from a Chinese Buddhist stele dated 533–543 (larger version).
Due to its historical association with military command, Literati ignorant of the scepter’s original function as an instrument of religious debate and authority came to consider the ruyi a type of weapon. For example, the Song Dynasty (960–1279) archaeologist Zhao Xigu (趙希鵠, c. 1195–post 1242) described the object as an iron club used for self-defense: “The men of old used the Ruyi for pointing or indicating the way, and also for guarding themselves against the unforeseen. It was made of wrought iron, and was over two feet in length…”  Zhao’s words were later echoed by the art collector Wen Zhenheng (文震亨, 1585–1645) during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).  The concept of an “As-you-wish” iron club used for self-defense no doubt influenced monkey’s staff. This is especially true since Wen shows the idea was current during the time that the Ming version of the novel was published.
So how did the scepter come to have its signature serpentine curve and ornate head? J. Leroy Davidson believes this is a simple case of misidentification. He cites material from the Song Dynasty concerning people digging up a “a bronze box in which was a white ruyi decorated with motives of a dragon and tiger”.  Davidson suggests this archaeological artifact was actually a belt hook commonly worn during the Zhou and Han Dynasties (11th-c. BCE to 3rd-c. CE). Said hooks have an S-shaped curve and the accompanying buckles are often decorated with real and imagined creatures like those mentioned above (fig. 4 and 5).  It’s easy to see then how ancient belt buckles—perhaps the features weathered by time—could have been confused with a mushroom.
Fig. 4 – A profile comparison of a Han-era belt hook (top) and a ruyi (bottom) (larger version). Fig. 5 – A Han belt buckle featuring a dragon (larger version).
Just like the Vedic Soma and the Greek Ambrosia, the Chinese also had a magical, life-prolonging substance which they called Zhi (芝).  The Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji, 史記, c. 90 BCE) mentions that the emperors Qin Shihuangdi (秦始皇帝, 260–210 BCE) and Han Wudi (漢武帝, 156–87 BCE) sent thousands of men over many years in search of magical islands housing this immortal herb.  It was during the time of the latter that the substance was equated with lingzhi (靈芝, Ganoderma), a genus of spade-shaped mushroom with a lacquered appearance (fig. 6).  This fungus became the subject of esoteric texts starting from the Han Dynasty, many of which are now lost. Drawing on these extinct texts, the Daoist adept Ge Hong (葛洪, 283–343) was the first to classify the lingzhi into five major types.  Methods For Planting the Zhi Plants (Zhong zhicao fa, 種芝草法), a late Six Dynasties (220–589) text attributed to the Daoist god Laozi (老子), details how to seed this magical fungus by burying precious substances, such as gold or cinnabar, on a mountain side during solstices and equinoxes.  Originally written during the Song Dynasty, a Ming edition of Classification of Supreme Numinous Treasure Mushrooms (Taishang lingbao zhicao pin, 太上靈寶芝草品) lists one hundred twenty-six different kinds of immortality-bestowing fungi. It’s important to note that this text became part of the official Daoist Canon (Daozang, 道藏) during the mid-15th-century.  This means immortal mushrooms are a central tenet of Daoism.
Daoism adopted the ruyi centuries prior to the Song Dynasty when the lingzhi mushroom was associated with the scepter.  It was one of the few ritual objects permitted Daoist monks living in medieval Chinese monasteries.  In fact, one early Tang Dynasty text states that it is among the items that “are essential for all Daoists, whether male or female, when they present offerings”.  Possibly taking a cue from Buddhist depictions of Manjusri, Daoists of the Tang began to depict some of their supreme deities with the scepter. For example, a late 7th- or early 8th-century statue of Laozi depicts him holding a straight tanbing-style ruyi (fig. 7).  After the lingzhi imagery was absorbed into the scepter, it became closely associated with the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure (Lingbao Tianzun, 靈寶天尊), one of the Three Pure Ones (Sanqing, 三清), a trinity representing different aspects of the Dao (道). A 14th-century woodblock print depicts this deity holding a large mushroom ruyi—called by one scholar “his principle attribute”—while sitting on a heavenly throne surrounded by a sea of celestial beings (fig. 8).  The scepter was later associated with other Daoist deities during the Ming.  Therefore, the long association of the ruyi with Daoist immortals explains why Monkey would come to wield such an instrument with that name.
Fig. 7 – A late-7th- or early-8th-century statue of Laozi holding a straight tanbing-style ruyi (larger version). Fig. 8 – A 14th-century woodblock print depicting the Celestial Worthy holding a linzhi ruyi (larger version). Fig. 9 – Detail of a Cintamani, or “wish-granting pearl” (larger version).
Unlike their Daoist counterparts, Buddhists during the Tang looked upon the scepter as a somewhat base object. For example, although he listed it as a “lecture baton”, the monk Daoxuan (道璿, 702–760), an expert on monastic law, placed the ruyi in the same category as non-ritual items like satchels and spittoons. Furthermore, he described it as being one of the objects not among the “tools of the way”.  Sources from this time and the Song Dynasty equate the object with a simple backscratcher.  This shows that the ruyi lost any association that it may have had with wish-granting (as the term implies) upon entering China. So how did it regain its magic properties? This probably happened because it was equated with the Buddhist Cintamani, or “wish-granting pearl” (fig. 9).  This is suggested by the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term, Ruyi zhu (如意珠).  The association between the two was surely established by the Ming as Monkey’s staff has the magical ability to grow or shrink according to his wishes.  This is best exemplified by a poem appearing in Chapter seven of Journey to the West:
A spirit beam filling the supreme void— That’s how the rod behaves accordingly. It lengthens or shortens as one would wish; Upright or prone, it grows or shrinks at will. 
The magic powers of the staff may be based on a weapon appearing in the earliest version of the novel, The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang, Procures the Scriptures (Da Tang Sanzang qujing shihua, 大唐三藏取經詩話). In this 13th-century adaptation, our protagonist changes a ringed monk’s staff into a “gigantic yaksha whose head touched the sky and whose feet straddled the earth”.  This means that the Song and Ming Dynasty versions of the staff both have the ability to change their size and shape as Monkey wishes. I suggested in the second article that the initial description of the weapon in chapter one as a giant pillar of black iron is based on the famous Iron Pillar of Delhi, a religio-political Indian monument of the 4th-century. A warrior wishing to wield such a pillar would naturally need to shrink it down. Therefore, the “wish-granting” ruyi concept was probably associated with the shape-changing abilities of the ringed monk’s staff and applied to monkey’s signature iron weapon.
In conclusion, the inscription on Monkey’s staff stands as a microcosm of Chinese literature, history, and religion. The weight harkens back to Yuan and Ming (13th-c. to 17th-c. CE) Military Romance literature in which great heroes are distinguished from normal humans by their ability to brandish extremely heavy weapons. Monkey’s ability to wield a staff weighing nearly nine tons elevates him above his human counterparts as a divine hero with herculean strength. The ruyi (如意) concept is much older and can be traced back to ancient India. The term is based on the Kalpavriksha, or “wish-granting” tree, of Hindu mythology. This element of Hindu culture was absorbed by Indian Buddhism and mixed with a separate tradition to become a symbol of religious debate and authority. Upon entering China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), this branch was stylized into a tanbing (談柄), or “Discussion Stick”, which later became the emblem of the Bodhisattva Manjusri. It was simultaneously adopted by aristocrats and military commanders in subsequent dynasties as a sign of their secular power. The object attained its current S-shape and ornate head during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) when historical archaeologists happened upon ancient Chinese belt hooks and buckles from the Zhou and Han Dynasties (11th-c. BCE–3rd-c. CE) and confused them for such scepters.
There are three reason for the ruyi term being applied to Sun Wukong’s magic weapon. First, due to its historical association with military commanders, literati during the Song and Ming Dynasties came to look upon the object as an iron club used for self-defense. This would be perfect for protecting Monkey’s Buddhist master Xuanzang (玄奘) during their journey to India. Second, the head of the scepter was associated with the immortality-bestowing lingzhi mushroom (靈芝) during the Song Dynasty and became the emblem of the highest gods of Daoism, most notably the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure (靈寶天尊). This makes the ruyi an excellent weapon for an immortal macaque possessed of Daoist magic. Third, the scepter was equated with the Buddhist Cintamani, or “wish-granting pearl”; this was associated with the magic, shape-changing abilities of a literary precursor of the weapon. Hence, the Ming version of Monkey’s pole gained the ability to magically shrink or grow according to his wishes. So, in the end, we see that both Monkey and his staff straddle the Buddhist and Daoist religions.
I suggested in the above entry that the ruyi may have been equated with the Buddhist cintamani, or “wish-granting pearl”. Well, I just noticed that the lingzhi-style scepter held by the Celestial Worthy from figure 8 appears to have a flaming pearl attached to it (fig. 9).
Fig. 9 – Enhanced version of the Celestial Worthy’s lingzhi ruyi scepter with a flaming pearl (larger version).
If it really is a Cintamani, this shows the association between the two happened by at least the 14th-century. This probably happened earlier considering iconography takes time to become standardized. I’ve found at least one other Chinese painting featuring a flaming pearl ruyi. A Ming work titled “The Lady of the Highest Primordial and the Empress of Earth” (c. 1600) features an attendant of the second deity holding the object (fig. 10).
A prime example of the relationship between the ruyi and the cintamani comes in the form of a 16th-century statue of the Bodhisattva Guanyin (觀音). The deity is usually associated with the flaming pearl, but this statue depicts her holding a scepter (fig. 11). H.A. van Oort comments: “In the mind of the artist, the scepter could well have replaced the cintamani, the “wish-fulfilling jewel”; in that case the statue is a very free interpretation of the Ju-i Kuan-yin [Ruyi Guanyin, 如意觀音], or Cintamani Avalokitesvara, the Kuan-yin with the wish-fulfilling pearl”. 
I have written an article that discusses the magic powers of the staff. These include the ability to shrink and grow, control the ocean, astral project and entangle with Monkey’s spirit, multiply endlessly, pick locks, and transform into various objects. It also has sentience to a certain degree.
 Wu Cheng’en and W.J.F. Jenner, Journey to the West (Vol. 1). [S.l.]: Foreign Languages Press, 2001), 56. Text altered slightly. Compare with Anthony C. Yu’s translation: “The Compliant Golden-Hooped Rod” (Wu Cheng’en and Anthony C. Yu, The Journey to the West (Vol. 1) (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 135). I prefer the former. Both translations use the word “pounds”; however, the Chinese version of the novel uses jin (斤), known in English as “catty.” Catty and pound are two different measures of weight, the former being heavier than the latter. Therefore, the text has been altered to show this. The catty during the Ming Dynasty when the novel was compiled equaled 590 grams (Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China (New Haven (Conn.): Yale University P, 2004), 491 n. 133). This means 13,500 catties would equal 17,550 lbs.  Luo Guanzhong and Moss Roberts, Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 27.  Shi Naian, Guanzhong Luo, and Sidney Shapiro, Outlaws of the Marsh (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1988), 94-95.  Patricia Bjaaland Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery (North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Pub, 2008), 230.  The Vimalakirti Sutra (c. 100) tells of how the Buddha chose Manjusri to call upon the malingering householder whom no other disciple wanted to visit due to his supernatural intellect. He and Vimalakirti debate Buddhist doctrine before a crowd of celestial onlookers until they realize that they are both equally versed in the dharma (Burton Watson, The Vimalakirti Sutra (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997)). For Manjusri’s association with the Ruyi scepter, see J. Leroy Davidson, “The Origin and Early Use of the Ju-i,” Artibus Asiae 13, no. 4 (1950): 240. The aforementioned sutra was not translated into Chinese until the 5th-century, so this means the ruyi became associated with the deity rather quickly.  Davidson, 241-242. Medieval Chinese dictionaries refer to the ruyi as a type of backscratcher, the idea being that it can reach the areas that “one wishes” (Ibid, 239; John Kieschnick, The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 142).  Ibid, 245. See plate IV for examples of 8th-century ruyi scepters from Japan shaped like Bamboo stalks.  Ibid, 246. Davidson cites a hard to find book that is long out of print. I located an archived scan of the publication online. See “A Manual of Buddhism, in Its Modern Development (1853).” Internet Archive. Accessed December 17, 2014. https://archive.org/details/manualofbudhism00hard. The story appears on page 255.  Davidson, 246. Various Puranas state that such trees arose during the churning of the ocean of milk. The gods allowed humans to wish for whatever their hearts desired until they started asking for evil things. The trees were then transported to heaven beyond the reach of man (Roshen Dalal, Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2010), 189).  A day of religious observance in which the Buddhist lay community renews their commitment to the Eightfold Path. Buddhist priests are invited into homes to help with this process (Yijing, F. Max Müller, and Junjirō Takakusu, A Record of the Buddhist Religion As Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago (A.D. 671-695) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), 35 n. 1).  Davidson, 246-247.  John Kieschnick believes the ruyi is a strictly Chinese invention (Kieschnick, 138-152). I, however, find Davidson’s arguments for an Indian origin more compelling.  Joseph Edkins. “The Ju-i, or, Sceptre of Good fortune”. The East of Asia Magazine III (1904), 238. For a complete translation of the story, see John Minford and Joseph S. M. Lau, Classical Chinese Literature: From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 671-672.  Edkins, 238.  Ibid, 239.  Ibid. See also Kieschnick, 144. Kieschnick refers to him by his temple name Gaozu. I have used his reign name to avoid confusion with other similarly named emperors from subsequent dynasties.  Edkins, 239.  Berthold Laufer, Jade: A Study in Chinese Archaeology and Religion (Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1912), 336 n. 1. Text altered slightly. Laufer describes the ruyi as a blunt sword, but the available information makes the object sound more like a club.  He writes: “The ruyi was used in ancient times to give directions or to protect oneself from the unexpected. It was for this reason that it was made of iron, and not on the basis of strictly aesthetic considerations…” (Kieschnick, 151).  Davidson, 249. Text altered slightly.  Ibid.  R. Gordon Wasson and Joseph Needham both suggested that Zhi was actually based on Indian stories of Soma (Paul U. Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 112.  Sima Qian and Burton Watson, Records of the Grand Historian (Vol. 2) (Hong Kong: Columbia University Press, 1993), 14-15 and 45-46. Despite its association with mushrooms, some texts refer to it as a type of grass or herb (Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), 173-174.  Xiao Tong, Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature (Vol. 3) (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1996), 201.  These are stone zhi (石芝), wood zhi (木芝), plant zhi (草芝), flesh zhi (肉芝), and mushroom zhi (菌芝) (Fabrizio Pregadio, The Encyclopedia of Taoism (Vol. 2) (London: Routledge, 2008), 1273).  Ibid.  Stephen Little and Shawn Eichman, Taoism and the Arts of China (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2000), 340.  The association with the lingzhi, however, may have been as early as the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Yan Liben’s (閻立本, 600–673) “The Thirteen Emperors” painting features a monarch holding a straight tanbing-style ruyi with the head in the shape of a lingzhi. Although, the scalloped perimeter could denote a cloud. See “The Thirteen Emperors.” Digital Scrolling Paintings Project. Accessed December 23, 2014. http://scrolls.uchicago.edu/scroll/thirteen-emperors.  Livia Kohn, The Daoist Monastic Manual: A Translation of the Fengdao Kejie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 122.  Ibid, 119.  See image #39 in Little and Eichman , 183. Little suggests this could instead be a depiction of the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure (靈寶天尊) (Ibid, 187 cat. nos. 39-42 n. 9). On the contrary, Silvio A. Bedini mentions an incense burner of Laozi carrying a ruyi on his famous journey to the Western Paradise (Silvio A. Bedini, The Trail of Time: Time Measurement with Incense in East Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), 113). This suggests that Laozi was indeed associated with the scepter.  This illustrates a scene from an important Song Dynasty text in which the Celestial Worthy is said to reveal heavenly secrets to mankind (Little and Eichman, 237-238).  See, for example, Cao Guojiu (曹國舅) (Welch, 259).  Kieschnick, 148-149.  Ibid, 1414-142 and 149-150.  Erik Zürcher has suggested that the only way the lowly back scratcher could have become a symbol of lofty knowledge was via an association with the wish-granting pearl (Erik Zürcher, The Buddhist Conquest of China: The Spread and Adaptation of Buddhism in Early Medieval China (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 407 n. 59). It seems only natural that an affiliation between the scepter and the pearl would have sparked the idea that the former had magical properties.  I’m not sure when the term was first translated into Chinese, but it appears in the Scripture on the Ten Wheels, a 6th-century sutra centered around the Bodhisattva Dizang (地藏, a.k.a., Ksitigarbha) (Ng Zhiru, The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva Dizang in Medieval China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007), 29-30). This shows the association between the ruyi and the wish-granting pearl could be quite old. For more information on the Cintamani, see Alice Getty, The Gods of Northern Buddhism: Their History and Iconography (New York: Dover Publications, 1988), 186-187.  Wu and Yu, 135.  Ibid, 190.  Victor H. Mair, The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 1189. For the complete story, see pages 1181-1207.  H. A. van Oort, The Iconography of Chinese Buddhism in Traditional China (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), 22.