Story Idea: The REAL Reason Sun Wukong is Expelled from Subodhi’s School

From time to time I like to post a fun blog not directly related to (though informed by) my research. A past example can be seen here. Regular articles will resume after this entry.

Last Updated: 08-27-2022

Sun Wukong is kicked out of Patriarch Subodhi‘s (Xuputi zushi, 須菩提祖師) school in chapter two of Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592) for showing off his transformation skills to his less-accomplished religious brothers. Upon their request, he changes into a perfect pine tree that’s completely indistinguishable from a real one. The subsequent applause greatly disturbs the Master, who reprimands and expels the Monkey King under the pretense of saving his life from those who would harm him to learn his heavenly secrets (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 123-125). [1]

This event is a turning point in Sun’s life, for he transitions from an inward pursuit of spiritual cultivation to an external quest for power, ending with an attempt to unseat the Jade Emperor (Yuhuang shangdi, 玉皇上帝). This ultimately leads to the Buddha imprisoning the seditious primate beneath Five Elements Mountain and punishing him to a hellish diet for 600 plus years.

Here, I would like to prepose a different reason, one that makes more sense and better aligns with some of my previous story ideas.

I. The story so far

Last year I posted a story prompt to reddit to inspire writers looking for a Xianxia (仙俠, “immortal hero”) plot. It serves as a good summation of my past ideas:

The novel briefly mentions that Sun Wukong lives for ten years in the mountain home of the Buddho-Daoist sage Master Subodhi. The first seven are spent as a junior Daoist monk doing menial tasks and learning basic religious or life skills. However, the last three years are spent as a close disciple of Subodhi, learning elixir arts, magic, and combat skills. The novel glosses over his early cultivation in order to jump directly into the action. But imagine a Xianxia story focusing on those three years.

Drama with fellow disciples could arise from Monkey’s supernatural aptitude for quickly learning and mastering a skill. After all, it only takes him three years to go from a mere stone monkey to a powerful immortal capable of going toe-to-toe with gods and demons with millennia of cultivation and combat experience. Think of the resulting battles between our hero and his jealous senior religious brothers and sisters frustrated with his great progress.

In addition, given Sun’s demonstrated knowledge in boxing, weapons, and troop movement, I came up with the story idea that Subodhi’s school is the training ground for an immortal monastic army akin to the famous Shaolin temple. Shaolin was mobilized by the Chinese government during the 16th-century to battle pirates attacking the coast. Records indicate that one historical Shaolin monk was made the leader, and he was later forced to singlehandedly defend himself against eight individuals vying for his position. Likewise, I imagine heaven calls up Subodhi’s army to battle some demonic evil, and Monkey might quickly rise through the ranks. This would naturally lead to more tension with his fellow disciples, causing him to defend his position. All of these challenges, plus any action seen by the monastic army in heavenly battles, would explain how Sun Wukong became such a seasoned fighter in such a short time.

Plus, there is the added bonus of Subodhi’s army being called upon to fight Sun during his rebellion against heaven. He might have far surpassed his religious brothers and sisters in skill at this point.

II. Additions

In chapter one, Subodhi is shown to have 12 generation names (zibei, 字輩) used to name the students of his religious lineage, three of which were historically used by Daoism. [2]

  1. Guang (廣)
  2. Da (大)
  3. Zhi (智)
  4. Hui (慧)
  5. Zhen (真)
  6. Ru (如)
  7. Xing (性)
  8. Hai (海)
  9. Ying (穎)
  10. Wu (悟)
  11. Yuan (圓)
  12. Jue (覺) (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 115).

Monkey is part of the tenth generation (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 115). This means that all of Subodhi’s students taken in around the same time would all have Wu (悟) in their name. Perhaps Sun trains with his fellow Wu cohort but quickly moves on to older generations as his skill rapidly progresses.

This leads me to my next point. Above, I mentioned that Subodhi’s army might be called to bear against Monkey during his rebellion. But wouldn’t they recognize him? This feeds into a common question asked around the internet:

Why doesn’t Wukong run into any fellow disciples on the journey?

Well, the simple answer is that this isn’t important to the plot. But I’ve considered two ideas to work around this: One, his younger religious brothers are likely still studying under the Master. And two, the older generations⁠—the ones serving in the monastic army⁠—probably don’t know what Monkey looks like because advanced disciples, within the present story, are made to wear a host of fierce, multi-colored masks (fig. 1) as a way to forsake their identity and subsume the self into deep spiritual and martial cultivation. They would represent the negative thoughts and emotions that keep humans trapped in the illusionary world of Saṃsāra and chained to the wheel of rebirth. Perhaps the face becomes more human and peaceful-looking as the students progress through their training. 

Monk in dharmapala mask performs a mystery dance of Tantric Tibetan Buddhism  on Cham Dance Festival Photograph by Oleg Ivanov

Fig. 1  – “Monk in dharmapala mask performs a mystery dance of Tantric Tibetan Buddhism on Cham Dance Festival” (larger version). Photo by Oleg Ivanov. Image found here.

Also, in my version of the story universe, all immortals and deities attain a halo upon achieving divine status. Here, for example, is a photomanipulation of a haloed Sun Wukong by Elijah McTaggart and myself. Take note of the fiery aureola engulfing the halo. This will come into play shortly (fig. 2). I imagine that these halos/aureolas respectively spin and shine brighter when a divinity’s spiritual power is used.

Fig. 2 – The Monkey King with a halo (larger version). As seen on deviantart. Based on my original photomanipulation.

III. Why he is really kicked out

The reason I’ve devised is connected to one of the aforementioned fights between Monkey and his older religious brothers or sisters. Perhaps Sun is attacked by multiple powerful assailants at once (just like the historical Shaolin monk), and when they start to overwhelm him, his anger ignites his halo, which begins to furiously spin and produce a radiant splendor. Instantly, he takes on a titanic cosmic form, growing 100,000 feet (30,480 m) tall and stomping on his assailants. At the same time, his docile-looking mask cracks and reverts to it’s original, fierce form. This, combined with a fiery aureola, gives him the appearance of a giant Dharmapala (Ch: Fahu, 法護), a wrathful “Protector of the Dharma” (Buddhist Law) (fig. 3) (Buswell & Lopez, 2014, pp. 249-250). This display of raw, untamed spiritual power frightens his older religious brethren. Subodhi himself is also taken aback as Monkey exhibits a great, fiery anger, while also manifesting advanced cultivation techniques that haven’t even been taught to him yet⁠—a testament to his great spiritual intelligence. The Master fears that this rage, combined with Monkey’s demonstrated talent for exponential spiritual growth and perhaps a problem with controlling this power (given Sun’s short years of study), will lead him down the path to villainy. 

This brings us back to the pine tree incident. Perhaps the fight causes Subodhi to uncharacteristically allow Monkey a chance to visit his generational cohort. And when Sun acquiesces to their requests to see his transformation powers, the Master uses this as an opportunity to expel his student.  

Fig. 3 – A modern thangka of the Six-Armed Mahakala dharmapala (larger version). Image found here.

IV. My thoughts

I like this idea because it foreshadows Sun’s cosmic transformations throughout the novel (ch. 3, 6, 61, and 97). It also foreshadows his later mischief throughout the cosmos and eventual rebellion. 


Update: 05-16-22

I imagine Master Subodhi’s mask-wearing monastic army would have an ominous feel to them just like the stylized Persian “immortals” from the film 300 (2006) (fig. 4). 

Fig. 4 – The Persian Immortals from 300 (2006) (larger version).


Update: 05-20-22

On second thought, a better mask would emulate the six paths of reincarnation in Buddhist cosmology:

As before, each would indicate the level of a disciple’s spiritual attainment. Perhaps Master Subodhi’s army would have different units of each category, each one being more powerful than the last.


Update: 05-24-22

Some readers might question why I’ve included so many Buddhist elements if Master Subodhi is a Daoist immortal. While this is true, I choose instead to refer to him as a “Buddho-Daoist Sage” as he preaches aspects of both religions in his lectures: 

With words so florid and eloquent
That gold lotus sprang from the ground.
The doctrine of three vehicles he subtly rehearsed,
Including even the laws’ minutest tittle.
The yak-tail waved slowly and spouted elegance:
His thunderous voice moved e’en the Ninth Heaven.
For a while he lectured on Dao;
For a while he spoke on
Chan
To harmonize the Three Parties is a natural thing.
One word’s elucidation filled with truth
Points to the birthless showing nature’s mystery (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 122) (emphasis mine).

He even advocates for his students to become Buddhas. For example, the poem that Subodhi uses to reveal the secret of immortality to Monkey ends with: “When that’s done, be a Buddha or immortal at will!” (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 120).

It’s also important to remember that Master Subodhi is based on Subhuti, a historical disciple of the Buddha.


Update: 08-27-23

Above, I suggested that Subodhi’s advanced students could wear masks similar to the Tibetan Cham dancers. Well, someone on Facebook posted lovely images of said dancers by the photographer “JKBoy” Jatenipat Ketpradit (fig. 5-7). I just wanted to share some of them so that readers will have a better understanding of what the students might look like.

Fig 5 (top) – The monks performing the Cham dance (larger version). Fig. 6 (middle) – The dancers with their masks off (larger version). Fig. 7 (bottom) – A portrait of a Cham dancer (larger version). Images found here. Copyright Jatenipat Ketpradit.

Notes:

1) I quote the scene of his expulsion below:

“You, Wukong, come over here! I ask you what sort of exhibition were you putting on, changing into a pine tree? This ability you now possess, is it just for showing off to people? Suppose you saw someone with this ability. Wouldn’t you ask him at once how he acquired it? So when others see that you are in possession of it, they’ll come begging. If you’re afraid to refuse them, you will give away the secret; if you don’t, they may hurt you. You are actually placing your life in grave jeopardy.” “I beseech the master to forgive me,” Wukong said, kowtowing. “I won’t condemn you,” said the Patriarch, “but you must leave this place.” When Wukong heard this, tears fell from his eyes. “Where am I to go, Teacher?” he asked. “From wherever you came,” the Patriarch said, “you should go back there.” “I came from the East Purvavideha Continent,” Wukong said, his memory jolted by the Patriarch, “from the Water-Curtain Cave of the Flower-Fruit Mountain in the Aolai Country.” “Go back there quickly and save your life,” the Patriarch said. “You cannot possibly remain here!” “Allow me to inform my esteemed teacher,” said Wukong, properly penitent, “I have been away from home for twenty years, and I certainly long to see my subjects and followers of bygone days again. But I keep thinking that my master’s profound kindness to me has not yet been repaid. I, therefore, dare not leave.” “There’s nothing to be repaid,” said the Patriarch. “See that you don’t get into trouble and involve me: that’s all I ask.” Seeing that there was no other alternative, Wukong had to bow to the Patriarch and take leave of the congregation. “Once you leave,” the Patriarch said, “you’re bound to end up evildoing. I don’t care what kind of villainy and violence you engage in, but I forbid you ever to mention that you are my disciple. For if you but utter half the word, I’ll know about it; you can be assured, wretched monkey, that you’ll be skinned alive. I will break all your bones and banish your soul to the Place of Ninefold Darkness [Jiuyou zhi chu, 九幽之處], from which you will not be released even after ten thousand afflictions!” “I will never dare mention my master,” said Wukong. “I’ll say that I’ve learned this all by myself.” Having thanked the Patriarch, Wukong turned away, made the magic sign, pulled himself up, and performed the cloud-somersault (Wu & Yu, 2012, pp. 124-125).

2. Ter Haar (2021) provides a list of such generational names:

Table 1. The use affiliation characters by People of the Way

Dao 道 (Huzhou, Jiaxing, Taizhou, Suzhou) (13 cases) – The Way
Zhi 智 (Huzhou, Jiaxing) (6 cases) – Wisdom
Yuan 圓 (Huzhou, Jiaxing, Taizhou) (5 cases) – Complete
Pu 普 (Taicang, Taizhou, Huating) (4 cases) – Universal
Miao 妙 (Deqing, Jiaxing) (3 cases) – Wondrous
Jue 覺 (Huating) (1 case) – Awareness (p. 39)

Sources:

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

Ter Haar, B. (2021). The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History. Netherlands: Brill.

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

Archive #33 – The Hsi-yu chi: A Study of Antecedents to the Sixteenth-Century Chinese Novel (1970)

Dr. Glen Dudbridge (1938-2017), a British sinologist, was a giant in the field of Journey to the West Studies. His book The Hsi-yu chi: A Study of Antecedents to the Sixteenth-Century Chinese Novel (1970) is the best treatise on the history of this world famous story cycle. It stresses the oral storytelling origin of the tale, including a 13th-century storytelling prompt; 13th-century poetic allusions to the story; a 13th-century stone carving of Monkey in Quanzhou; fragments of the story in the Korean Pak t’ongsa ŏnhae (14th-c.) and Chinese Yongle Encyclopedia (early 15th-c.); mentions of the journey in a 16th-century baojuanWuzhiqi and white ape tales and how they may relate to the origin of Sun Wukong; Yuan-Ming Zaju plays about Erlang and Monkey; and it also includes translations and synopses of key texts in the appendixes.

Book Description:

A study of the early versions of the classic Chinese novel known to readers in English as Monkey. Dr Dudbridge examines a long tradition of earlier versions in narrative and dramatic form through which the great episodic cycle slowly took shape. The two main fields of interest are popular culture and folklore and the development of Chinese vernacular literature. Dr Dudbridge provides a very thorough survey of present knowledge about the whole topic and discusses critically a good deal of theorising about it. This is a study for experts. It uses Chinese characters, both in text pages and in the bibliography, which is very extensive. The plates reproduce paintings, carvings and sections of text relevant to the tradition.

Archive link:

Click to access The-Hsi-yu-chi-A-Study-of-Antecedents-to-the-Sixteenth-Century-Chinese-Novel-1970.pdf

Disclaimer:

This has been posted for educational purposes. No malicious copyright infringement is intended. If you liked the digital version, please support the official release.

Citation:

Dudbridge, G. (1970). The Hsi-yu chi: A Study of Antecedents to the Sixteenth-Century Chinese Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Archive #19 – Transforming Monkey: Adaptation and Representation of a Chinese Epic (2018)

Synopsis

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.

Archive link:

Click to access transforming-monkey-adaptation-and-representation-of-a-chinese-epic-by-hongmei-sun.pdf

Disclaimer:

This has been posted for educational purposes. No malicious copyright infringement is intended. Please support the official release.

Citation:

Sun, H. (2018). Transforming Monkey: Adaptation and Representation of a Chinese Epic. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Archive #1 – The Early-Ming Journey to the West Zaju Play

Note: Go to the 11-18-21 and 11-21-21 updates for PDFs of two scholarly studies of the zaju play.

Last updated: 09-06-2023

I have previously discussed the 13th-century precursor to Journey to the West called The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures. This 17-chapter storytelling prompt differs greatly from the final version. However, a little known precursor, the early-Ming Journey to the West zaju play (Xiyou ji zaju, 西遊記雜劇), contains many familiar episodes, including the reincarnation of a heavenly being as Tripitaka, the murder of his father, Monkey stealing immortal peaches from heaven and eventually being imprisoned under a mountain, his punishment with the restricting headband, the subjugation of Zhu Bajie (here and here) and Sha Wujing, the addition of a royal dragon-turned-white horse, the ordeal at Fire Mountain, the Country of Women, etc. It is also one of the earliest sources to call the monkey character “Sun Wukong” (孫悟空). [1] This shows that the centuries-old story cycle was starting to become standardized by the 14th or 15th-century.

But despite the many similarities to the 1592 novel, there are several subtle and very interesting differences. For instance, Sun is trapped under his home of Flower Fruit Mountain by Guanyin, instead of being banished to Five Elements Mountain by the Buddha 600 years prior. In addition, although Red Boy and Princess Iron Fan appear in the play, they are not depicted as mother and son. The demon child is instead the offspring of the monstress Hariti. These are just a few of many deviations.

Early 20th-century scholarship ascribes the play to Yang Jingxian (杨景賢), a 15th-century mongol playwright who served as a minor official to his sister’s husband, the Military Judge Yang (from whom he took his pen surname). Records indicate Yang was fond of music, practical jokes, visiting pleasure quarters, and, of course, writing zaju plays (Ning, 1986, pp. 6-7). This explains the rowdy and often saucy nature of the story, which is replete with cursing, sexual innuendo, [2] and many beautiful, seductive women. Ning (1986) suggests Yang uses sexualized women as a detriment to the celibate Tripitaka to not only elicit laughter from the male audience, but also to make fun of Buddhism while elevating his own Confucian worldview (p. 81).

Women play a large role in the production, appearing in 13 of the 24 acts. Female characters are abducted in four different parts (Xuanzang’s mother in acts one to four; Monkey’s wife in act 10; the daughter of the Liu family in act 11; and Pigsy’s wife in acts 13 to 16), while women make up the three main obstacles (Hariti in act 12; the Queen of the Land of Women in act 17; and Princess Iron Fan in acts 18 to 20) (fig. 1).

zaju-acts-list.jpg

Fig. 1 – A synopsis diagram of the Journey to the West zaju play (from Ning, 1986, p. 9) (larger version).

Below I present the play’s summary as laid out by Dudbridge (1970).

Scene 1: Disaster encountered on a journey to office

The Bodhisattva Guanyin introduces the action: a mortal is required to collect scriptures for the benefit of China; for this purpose the Arhat Vairocana is to become incarnate as the son of Chen Guangrui [陳光蕊] in Hongnong xian [弘農縣] of Haizhou [海州]. Chen Guangrui is to suffer an eighteen-year-long ‘disaster in water’. The Dragon King has been instructed to protect him.

Chen Guangrui, on his journey to office, has reached the Inn of a Hundred Flowers: he has restored life to a fish which, when he bought it, blinked at him. Preparing to continue the journey to Hongzhou [洪州], the servant Wang An [王安] looks for a boatman. The singer in this act is Chen’s wife who, being eight months pregnant, is full of anxieties about the journey. In the event Liu Hong [劉洪], recruited as their boatman, murders first Wang An, then Chen himself; he agrees to spare the wife and her unborn child on condition that she accepts him in Chen Guangrui’s place—as her husband and the prefect of Hongzhou. She has him agree in turn to a three-year delay—a gesture of filial piety on the part of her as yet unborn son.

Scene 2: The mother forced, the child cast out

The Dragon of the Southern Seas explains that in compliance with Guanyin’s direction and in gratitude for Chen Guangrui’s action in saving his life (in the form of a fish at the Inn of a Hundred Flowers), he is holding the murdered Chen secure in his Crystal Palace until the eighteen years are up.

Liu Hong enters and declares his intention of ridding himself of the newly born child who constitutes a threat to his security in office.

The Dragon reappears briefly to ensure protection for the incarnate Vairocana who is to suffer hardship on the river.

The wife—again the singer—completes the scene alone. She has been compelled by Liu Hong to cast her month-old son into the river, and now performs the deed carefully, putting the child into a watertight box, together with two gold clasps and an explanatory note written in her own blood.

Scene 3: Jiangliu [江流] recognizes his mother

The Dragon orders the Arhat to be transported to the island monastery Jinshansi [金山寺, Gold Mountain Monastery].

A fisherman finds the box and takes it off to the Abbot.

The Chan Master Danxia [丹霞] receives it, inspects the contents and resolves to raise the child [whom he names Jiangliu, Flowing River] and preserve the letter with all the details of its history.

Liu Hong here makes a brief appearance, alluding to his present quite life and sense of security.

The passage of eighteen years is assumed: the Chan career of the abandoned child, whom he has brought up as a novice monk and named Xuanzang [玄奘]. He now sends him on a mission of revenge, first explaining the details of his background.

The mother is discovered in a state of anxiety: again she is the singer. Xuanzang enters, there is an extended recognition scene. They arrange for him to return provisionally to Jinshansi. 

Scene 4: The bandit is taken, revenge is wrought

Yu Shinan [虞世南] has now, in the year Zhenguan [貞觀] 21 [647/648 CE], been appointed Prefect of Hongzhou. His first official case is an appeal delivered by the Abbot Danxia and Xuanzang, calling for action against Liu Hong. Men are sent secretly to arrest him.

The dissipated Liu Hong is giving orders to his wife, who is again the singer. Official guards enter and arrest Liu; he makes a full confession. Yu Shinan sentences him to immolation on the shore of the river in expiation of Chen’s death. As the sacrificial verses are pronounced Chen’s body is borne out of the water by the Dragon King’s attendants. There is a final explanation.

Guanyin appears on high: she summons Xuanzang to the capital, first to pray for rain to break a great drought there, and further to fetch 5,048 rolls of Mahāyāna scriptures from the West.

The wife sums up the whole action in her closing songs.

Scene 5: An Imperial send-off for the westward journey

Yu Shinan narrates how he presented Xuanzang at court: the prayers for rain were successful, Xuanzang was honoured with the title Tripitaka [三藏] and invested with a golden kaṣāya and a nine-ringed Chan staff. His parents also received honours.

Now, in official mark of his departure for the West, Qin Shubao [秦叔寶] and Fang Xuanling [房玄齡] representing officials civil and military, enter to greet him. Xuanzang is ushered on. The official party is headed by the aged Yuchi Gong [尉遲恭], the singer in this act. He sustains a dialogue, partly in song, with Xuanzang, leading finally to a request for a Buddhist name. Xuanzang names him Baolin [寶林, Treasure Forest].

The pine-twig is planted which will point east when Xuanzang returns. Finally, he gives spiritual counsel to members of the crowd.

Scene 6: A village woman tells the tale

In a village outside Chang’an some local characters return from watching the spectacle of Tripitaka’s departure. The singer is a woman nicknamed Panguer [胖姑兒]. Her songs describe the scene from the crowd’s point of view. There is a good deal of observation of various side-shows and theatrical performances.

Scene 7: Moksha sells a horse

The Fiery Dragon of the Southern Sea is being led to execution for the offence of ‘causing insufficient and delayed rainfall’. His appeals succeed in enlisting the help of Guanyin, who persuades the Jade Emperor to have him changed into a white horse for the transport of Tripitaka and the scriptures.

Tripitaka is discovered at a wayside halt, troubled by the lack of a horse.

Moksha [木叉], disciple of Guanyin and the singer in this act, comes to offer him the white dragon-horse. His songs extol the horse’s qualities. Finally he uncovers the design, reveals the dragon in its original form, and ends the scene with allusions to the coming recruitment of Sun Wukong on Huaguo shan [花果山, Flower Fruit Mountain] (fig. 2) (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 193-195).

106_125336_1 - small

Fig. 2 – A depiction of Huaguo shan from a modern videogame (larger version).

Scene 8: Huaguang serves as protector

Guanyin first announces a list of ten celestial protectors for Tripitaka on his journey. The Heavenly King Huaguang [華光天王], sixth on the list, is the last to sign on: he enters and for the rest of the scene sings on this theme of protection, pausing only to receive Guanyin’s greeting. In the last song there is a further allusion to Huaguo shan.

Scene 9: The Holy Buddha defeats Sun

Sun Xingzhe [孫行者, Pilgrim Sun] now appears: after an initial poem vaunting his celestial birth, his ubiquity and power, he lists out the members of his ape family, alludes to his career of misdeeds and his wife, the abducted Princess of Jinding guo [金鼎國, the Golden Cauldron Country].

Devaraja Li appears, with orders to recover the possessions stolen by Sun from the Queen Mother of the West. He issues orders to his son Nezha, who enters with troops upon orders from the Jade Emperor to capture Sun Xingzhe in his home Ziyun luo dong [紫雲羅洞, Purple Cloud Cave] on Huaguo shan.

The princess-wife now enters (the singer in this act) and tells in song the story of her abduction and the life on this mountain. She is joined by Sun and they prepare to feast.

The celestial troops surround them, Sun’s animal guards flee and Sun himself escapes. Devaraja Li ‘combs the hills’ and meanwhile finds the princess, who now sings through the remainder of her suite of songs until it is decided to give her escort back to her home.

Sun Xingzhe eludes the forces of Nezha and is captured only by intervention by Guanyin, who has him imprisoned beneath Huaguo shan to await the arrival of Tripitaka, his future master.

Scene 10: Sun is caught, the charm rehearsed

The singer is a Mountain Spirit guarding Sun beneath Huaguoshan: He opens the act with songs about his own permanence and his present duties.

Tripitaka comes seeking hospitality. The Spirit responds with a sung discourse which is interrupted by the shout of Sun Xingzhe eager to be delivered. Tripitaka releases him, and Sun’s immediate reaction is to seek to eat him and escape. Guanyin intervenes to curb his nature will disciplines in the shape of an iron hoop [Tiejie, 鐵戒, Iron prohibition ring], a cassock and a sword. She gives him the name Sun Xingzhe.

To Tripitaka she teaches the spell that works the binding hoop on Sun’s head, and they successfully prove it.

The Spirit adds (in speech) a warning about the demon of Liusha [he 流沙河, Flowing Sands River] and they again set out.

Scene 11: Xingzhe expels a demon

The Spirit of Liusha he, characterized as a monk adorned with human skulls, announces that he has devoured nine incarnations of Tripitaka (nine skulls represent them), towards the total of a hundred holy men he must eat in order to gain supremacy.

Sun Xingzhe enters and is attacked by this Sha Heshang [沙和尚, Sha Monk]. Sun vanquishes him (fig. 3) , and he is recruited for Tripitaka’s band of pilgrims.

A new demon named Yin’e jiangjun [銀額將軍, Silver-browed General] enters, inhabitant of the impregnable Huangfeng shan [黃風山, Yellow Wind Mountain]. He has abducted the daughter from a nearby Liu family.

The father Liu is the singer in this act: he explains his plight to Tripitaka and the party of pilgrims. They fight and kill the demon, and restore the girl to her home. As they set out again, Liu gratefully awaits their return from the West (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 195-196).

Wanfu (44) - small

Fig. 3 – A stone relief carving of Monkey fighting Sandy (from Wanfu Temple, Tainan, Taiwan) (larger version).

Scene 12: Gui mu  is converted [Guiyi, 皈依, Take refuge (in the Buddha)]

The pilgrims are now approached by the Red Boy [Hong hai’er, 紅孩兒] feigning tears. Sun Xingzhe, against his own better judgement, is made to carry the child, cannot sustain the intolerable weight and tosses him into a mountain torrent.

Sha Heshang at once reports that the child has borne away their Master. They go off to appeal to Guanyin; she in turn takes the case to the Buddha, who now appears in company with the Bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī [Wenshu, 文殊] and Samantabhadra [Puxian, 普賢]. He explains that this is the son, named Ainu’er [愛奴兒], of Guizi mu (鬼子母, Hariti) (fig. 4). Four guardians have been sent to capture him with the help of the Buddha’s own alms bowl. The bowl is now brought in, with the Red Boy confined beneath it. The pilgrims return to rejoin their Master.

The mother Guizi mu enters to sing vindictive songs about this action. The Buddha defends himself from her attacks; she attempts to have the bowl lifted clear; finally she is overcome by Nezha. Tripitaka is freed and himself offers her alternative sentences: she chooses to embrace Buddhism (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 196-197).

The_Buddhist_Goddess_Hariti_with_Children - Small

Fig. 4 – A 1st-cent. BCE Gandharan statue of Hariti (Guizi mu) with children (larger version).

Scene 13: A pig-demon deludes with magic

Zhu Bajie [豬八戒] enters, announces his background, past history and present home (Heifeng dong [黑風洞, Blackwind cave]) and describes a plan by which he means to substitute himself for the young man Chu Lang [朱郎], the bridegroom to whom a young local girl is promised and for whom she waits nightly. (Her father Peigong [裴公], we learn, is disposed to retract the agreed match for financial reasons.)

The girl, with her attendant, expects a visit from young Chu the same night. She (the singer in this act) goes through the actions of burning incense as she waits for him. Zhu Bajie enters, carries on a burlesque lovers’ dialogue with her and prevails on her to elope with him.

The pilgrims appear briefly on the stage, preparing to seek lodging near the frontier of Huolun [火輪] Jinding guo.

Scene 14: Haitang [海棠] sends on news

The girl, again the singer, is now in Zhu Bajie’s mountain home, has discovered the deception and despairs of seeing her home again; she is obliged to entertain the debauched Zhu Bajie, who agrees however to let her visit home.

Sun Xingzhe enters, overhears their conversation and at once attacks Zhu. He offers to carry a verbal message for the girl. She trusts him with this and warns him that her family and the Zhu’s are already disputing the case.

Scene 15: They take the daughter back to Pei

The heads of the Zhu and Pei families argue out their marriage contract and its alleged violation and are stopped from going to court only by the arrival of Tripitaka and his party. Sun Xingzhe produces the message in the form of a little song.

To determine what demon this abductor is they summon up the local guardian spirit (tudi [土地]), who reports that he takes the form of a pig. Sun Xingzhe at once sets out to attack.

The Pei girl sings a series of heartbroken songs. Sun Xingzhe comes and offers to take her home: she now sings gratitude, against some jeering comment from Sun. They leave.

Tripitaka, with the two family heads, await them and welcome back the daughter. She reveals that Zhu fears only the hunting dogs of Erlang [二郎]. The family affairs are now resolved.

Zhu Bajie decides to follow her home. Sun Xingzhe arranges to take her place in the bridal chamber where Zhu expects to find her. They fight: Zhu escapes, taking with him the Master Tripitaka. Erlang must now be called in.

Scene 16: The hunting hounds catch the pig

Erlang, the singer in this act, begins with a series of truculent and threatening songs, then demands Zhu’s surrender to Buddhism. Zhu fights first with Sun Xingzhe, who has entered with Erlang; then the dogs are put on him and finally seize him. Tripitaka is released and instantly urges mercy. Zhu accepts the Buddhist faith.

Erlang’s closing song alludes to the coming perils of the Land of Women and Huoyan shan [火焰山, Flaming Mountain].

Scene 17: The Queen forces a marriage

The pilgrims arrive in the Land of Women.

The Queen enters alone (she is the singer), describes her situation and her longing for a husband, and declares an intention to detain Tripitaka for this purpose.

The pilgrims again enter, warned of their danger in a recent dream granted by one of their guardians—Weituo zuntian [韋馱尊天, Skanda]. The Queen seeks to tempt Tripitaka with wine, then embraces him and finally bears him off to the rear of the Palace. Other women do the same with the three disciples.

The Queen and Tripitaka re-enter, and she continues to sing her entreaties until Wei-t’o tsun-t’ien appears and drives her back. Sun Hsing-che is summoned and Weituo, giving him a brief allocution, retires.

Sun confesses that his own near lapse was forestalled only by the tightening of the hoop upon his brow. He now ends the scene by singing a suggestive ditty to the tune Jishengcao [寄賸草].

Scene 18: They lose the way and ask it of an Immortal

The pilgrims require guidance.

A Taoist in the mountains sings a set of literary verses on the Four Vices. When the pilgrims come and ask the way of him he at once gives details of the nearby Huoyan shan and the female demon Tieshan gongzhu [鐵扇公主, Princess Iron Fan] whose Iron Fan alone is able to put out the flames on the fiery mountain. With more songs, of a warning nature, the Taoist leaves them.

The pilgrims reach the mountain, Sun Xingzhe undertakes to borrow the fan. From the mountain spirit he ascertains that Tieshan gongzhu is unmarried and accessible to offers of marriage. He resolves to approach her.

Scene 19: The Iron Fan and its evil power

Tieshan gongzhu (the singer) enters and introduces herself, giving her background, members of her family.

Sun Xingzhe arrives with his request to borrow the fan; she dislikes his insolence and refuses. They threaten one another, then fight (fig. 5) until she waves him off with the fan and Sun Xingzhe somersaults off the stage.

Sun Xingzhe, in the closing remarks of the scene, prepares to retaliate by seeking the assistance of Guanyin (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 197-199).

3c9178d29e3a119cd3b65cca56d9a6ca--chinese-mythology-monkey-king

Fig. 5 – A postcard depicting Monkey’s battle with Princess Iron Fan (larger version).

Scene 20: The Water Department quenches the fire

Guanyin enters and decides to employ the masters of Thunder, Lightning, Wind and Rain, with all the attendant spirits of the celestial Water Department, to ensure Tripitaka’s safe passage across Huoyan shan.

These characters now enter and introduce themselves. The singer is Mother-Lightning [Dianmu, 電母], and her first series of songs is purely descriptive.

Tripitaka enters to offer brief thanks, and the scene ends with more songs as the spirits escort the party of pilgrims over the burning mountain. The last song predicts the imminent end of their pilgrimage.

Scene 21: The Poor Woman conveys intuitive certainty [Xinyin, 心印]

The party has arrived in India and prepares to advance to the Vulture Peak—Lingjiu shan [靈鷲山]. Sun Xingzhe is sent on ahead to look for food.

The Poor Woman enters and introduces herself as one whose trade is selling cakes and who, without presuming to enter the Buddha’s own province, has attained to great spiritual accomplishments. (She is the singer here.)

Sun Xingzhe appears to announce his mission, and they quickly engage in a sophistical dialogue on the term xin [心, heart/mind] in the ‘Diamond Sūtra‘. It becomes a burlesque in which Sun is ridiculed. Tripitaka enters and sustains a more competent discussion. He asks some plain questions about the Buddhist paradise, and the Poor Woman then urges them on.

Scene 22: They present themselves before the Buddha and collect the scriptures

The Mountain Spirit of the Vulture Peak introduces the situation: the pilgrims are about to be received into the Western Paradise; the householder Jigudu [給孤獨] (Sanskrit: Anāthapindada) is to escort them. He enters, the singer in this act. He introduces Tripitaka to heaven, answers his questions and announces the entry of the Buddha.

The Buddha appears in the form of an image (Buddha leaving the mountains) ‘represented’ [ban, 扮] by the monks Hanshan [寒山] and Shide [拾得] (fig. 6). He decrees that the three animal disciples may not return to the East; four of his own disciples will escort Tripitaka on the return journey. Tripitaka is led off to receive the scriptures.

The character Daquan [大權] is responsible for their issue. All assist in loading them on to the horse, who alone is to return East with Tripitaka and the disciples of the Buddha.

The three disciples in turn offer their final remarks and yield up their mortal lives. Tripitaka remembers each of them in a spoken soliloquy before he sets out on his return journey (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 199-200).

pacskolat3 - Small

Fig. 6 – An ink rubbing of a 19th-century stone stele depicting Hanshan and Shide, from Hanshan Temple in Suzhou (larger version).

Scene 23: Escorted back to the Eastern Land

The first of the four Buddhist disciples, Chengji [成基], is the singer. The opening of the scene consists solely of his songs on the implications of the journey; he pauses only to reveal that the trials on the westward journey were contrived by the Buddha.

In Chang’an the pine-twig has been seen to turn eastward, and a crowd has come out to welcome Tripitaka’s return. Yuchi [Gong] again appears to receive him.

Chengji’s final song gives warning that the scriptures must be presented the following morning before the Emperor.

Scene 24: Tripitaka appears before the Buddha [Chaoyuan, 朝元]

The Sākyamuni Buddha enters and gives orders for Tripitaka to be led back to the Vulture Peak to meet his final spiritual goal.

The Winged Immortal who receives these orders is the singer. He escorts Tripitaka before the Buddha, whose closing remarks, as well as the Spirit’s last songs, invoke conventional benedictions upon the Imperial house (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 200). [3]


Update: 11-18-21

I’ve decided to upload a PDF of Ning’s (1986) Comic Elements in the Xiyouji Zaju, which is cited above.

PDF File


Update: 11-21-21

Here is an earlier analysis of the play by Howard Goldblatt (1973). He notes evidence points to the play largely being a product of the Ming (e.g. a higher number of acts, singers, and musical scales) and not the Yuan as was assumed at the time. However, he states the play was likely a patchwork of Yuan material, a scene by the playwright Yang in the early Ming, and copious later material borrowed from the standard 1592 edition of the novel. Despite all of this, Goldblatt (1973) suggests the play’s “stylistic unity” points to a single author compiling everything into its present form.

PDF File

https://journeytothewestresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/the-hsi-yu-chi-play.pdf


Update: 09-06-23

As noted in the summary above, the Buddha captures Hariti’s son, Red Boy (Honghai’er紅孩兒; a.k.a. Ainu’er愛奴兒), in his alms bowl in act 12. This is based on a common story cycle from Buddhist canon in which the Enlightened one hides the demoness’ youngest son in his alms bowl in an attempt to stop her from eating human children. For instance, the Samyuktavastu (Ch: Genbenshuo yiqie youbu binaye zashi根本說一切有部毘奈耶雜事; T24, no. 1451) states that he hides the boy under the bowl like Six Ears:

The next day at first light, the Buddha having taken his robe and his bowl, entered into the city in order to seek his food. Having begged following the order of the houses, he came back to the place where he lived and took his meal; after which he went to the residence of the yaksini Hariti [Helidi, 訶利底]. At that moment, the yaksini had gone out and was not at her home but the smallest of her sons, Priyankara [Ai’er, 愛兒] remained at the house. The Bhagavat concealed him under his almsbowl [bo, 鉢] and because of his power (as a) Tathagatha the older brothers could not see their youngest brother and the youngest brother could not see the older ones (Rowan, 2002, p. 142). [16] 

至明清旦,佛即著衣持鉢入城乞食,次第乞已還至本處,飯食訖即往訶利底藥叉住處。時藥叉女出行不在,小子愛兒留在家內,世尊即以鉢覆其上。如來威力令兄不見弟、弟見諸兄。

(Yes, the name Ai’er likely influenced Red Boy’s name Ainu’er.)

The Scripture on the Storehouse of Sundry Treasures (Za baozang jing雜寶藏經; T4, no. 203, mid-5th-century CE) says that he hides the boy at the bottom. This version is not long, so I will transcribe it in full: 

Hariti [Ch: Guizimu, 鬼子母; lit: “Mother of Ghosts”] was the wife of the demon king Pancika. She had ten thousand sons who all had the strength of fine athletes. The youngest one was called Pingala [Binjialuo, 嬪伽羅]. This demon mother was inhuman and cruel. She killed people’s sons to eat them. People suffered because of her. They appealed to the World-honored One. The World-honored One then took her son Pingala and put him at the bottom of his bowl [bo, 鉢]. Hariti looked everywhere in the world for him for seven days, but she did not find him. She was sorrowful and sad. When she heard others say, “It is said that the Buddha, the World-honored One, is omniscient,” she went to the Buddha and asked him where her son was.

The Buddha then answered, “You have ten thousand sons. You have lost only one son. Why do you search for him, suffering and sad? People in the world may have one son, or they may have several sons, but you kill them.’’ Hariti said to the Buddha, “If I can find Pingala now, I shall never kill anyone’s son any more.” So the Buddha let Hariti see Pingala in his bowl. She exerted her supernatural strength, but she could not pull him out. She implored the Buddha, and the Buddha said, “If you can accept the three refuges and the five precepts now, and never in your life kill any more, I shall return your son.” Hariti did as the Buddha told her to, and she accepted the three refuges and the five precepts. After she had accepted them, he returned her son.

The Buddha said, “Keep the precepts well! In the time of Buddha Kasyapa you were the seventh, the youngest daughter of King Jieni. You performed acts of great merit, but because you did not keep the precepts you have received the body of a demon” (based on Tanyao, Kikkaya, & Liu, 1994, pp. 220-221).

鬼子母者,是老鬼神王般闍迦妻,有子一萬,皆有大力士之力。其最小子,字嬪伽羅,此鬼子母兇妖暴虐,殺人兒子,以自噉食。人民患之,仰告世尊。世尊爾時,即取其子嬪伽羅,盛著鉢底。時鬼子母,周遍天下,七日之中,推求不得,愁憂懊惱,傳聞他言,云佛世尊,有一切智。即至佛所,問兒所在。時佛答言:「汝有萬子,唯失一子,何故苦惱愁憂而推覓耶?世間人民,或有一子,或五三子,而汝殺害。」鬼子母白佛言:「我今若得嬪伽羅者,終更不殺世人之子。」佛即使鬼子母見嬪伽羅在於鉢下,盡其神力,不能得取,還求於佛。佛言:「汝今若能受三歸五戒,盡壽不殺,當還汝子。」鬼子母即如佛勅,受於三歸及以五戒。受持已訖,即還其子。佛言:「汝好持戒,汝是迦葉佛時,羯膩王第[11]七小女,大作功德,以不持戒故,受是鬼形。」

Hariti’s inability to free the child was later exaggerated in a detail from a mid-Qing dynasty hell scroll. It depicts a host of demons using a makeshift wooden pulley to no avail (fig. 7 & 8).

Fig. 7 – A detail of the demon horde trying to free Pingala (larger version). Fig. 8 – A detail of the detail (larger version). I love the transparent bowl. Images from the Maidstone Museum.

The immovable quality of the Buddha’s alms bowl (or anything inside like Six Ears and Red Boy) is likely related to a story told by the pilgrim Faxian (法顯, 337 – c. 422 CE):

Buddha’s alms-bowl [bo, 缽] is in this country [of Peshawar]. Formerly, a king of Yuezhi raised a large force and invaded this country, wishing to carry the [Buddha’s] bowl away. Having subdued the kingdom, as he and his captains were sincere believers in the Law of Buddha, and wished to carry off the bowl, they proceeded to present their offerings on a great scale. When they had done so to the Three Treasures, he made a large elephant be grandly caparisoned, and placed the bowl upon it. But the elephant knelt down on the ground, and was unable to go forward. Again he caused a four-wheeled wagon to be prepared in which the bowl was put to be conveyed away. Eight elephants were then yoked to it, and dragged it with their united strength; but neither were they able to go forward. The king knew that the time for an association between himself and the bowl had not yet arrived, and was sad and deeply ashamed of himself. Forthwith he built a tope at the place and a monastery, and left a guard to watch (the bowl), making all sorts of contributions (based on Faxian & Legge, 1886/1965, pp. 34-35). 

佛缽即在此國。昔月氏王大興兵眾。來伐此國欲取佛缽。既伏此國已。月氏王篤信佛法。欲持缽去。故興供養。供養三寶畢。乃挍飾大象置缽其上。象便伏地不能得前。更作四輪車載缽。八象共牽復不能進。

王知與缽緣未至。深自愧歎即於此處起塔及僧伽藍。并留鎮守種種供養。

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Notes:

1) He is called the “Monkey Pilgrim” (Hou xingzhe, 孫行者) in the aforementioned 13th-century storytelling prompt.

2) A good example of this appears in act 19 when Monkey tries to seduce Princess Iron Fan with a saucy poem: “The disciple’s not too shallow / the woman’s not too deep. / You and I, let’s each put forth an item, / and make a little demon” (Ning, 1986, p. 141).

3) Source altered slightly. The Wade-Giles was changed to pinyin. The Chinese characters presented in the footnotes were placed into the summary.

Source:

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

Faxian, & Legge, J. (1965). A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms: Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fâ-Hien of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline. New York: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1886)

Goldblatt, H. (1973). The Hsi-yu chi Play: A Critical Look at its Discovery, Authorship, and Content. Asian Pacific Quarterly of Cultural and Social Affairs, 5(1), pp. 31-46.

Ning, C. Y. (1986). Comic Elements in the Xiyouji Zaju (UMI No. 8612591) [Doctoral Dissertation, University of Michigan]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.

Peri, N. (1917). Hârîtî, la Mère-de-démons [Hariti, The Mother of Demons]. Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, 17, 1-102. Retrieved from https://www.persee.fr/doc/befeo_0336-1519_1917_num_17_1_5319.

Rowan, J. G. (2002). Danger and Devotion: Hariti, Mother of Demons in the Stories and Stones of Gandhara: A History and Catalogue of Images [Master’s thesis, University of Oregon] CORE. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/36687517.pdf