The Female Monkey King: A Brief Study of the Term Mihou (獼猴) in Journey to the West

Last updated: 09-27-2023

This article is based on a question put to me on Tumblr. While the character of the Female Monkey King is not important to the overall story of Journey to the West (Xiyouji西遊記), I’ve decided to post my answer here. This is because it contains information from several previous articles discussing monkeys in Chinese culture and Buddhism. This is obviously important when thinking about Sun Wukong.


Heya, I was researching SWK’s various sworn brothers because I kept hearing abt this one sworn bro of his called “The Female Demon Monkey King” and obviously with a name like that I was curious abt them. But for some reason I can’t find any info abt them anywhere online, and one Tumblr post said that the Female Monkey King and the Macaque King were the same person? I was wondering if you knew anything abt that and had additional info abt the Female Monkey King?

She seems to be based on a discrepancy in Anthony C. Yu’s (Wu & Yu, 2012) translation. The original Chinese name, Mihou wang (獼猴王, “Macaque King”), appears three times in the novel, but Yu translates it two different ways. I’ve added the Chinese text for comparison.

I. Examples of Mihou wang from JTTW

Chapter 3

At this time, moreover, he entered into fraternal alliance with six other monarchs: the Bull Monster King, the Dragon Monster King, the Garuda Monster King, the Giant Lynx King, the Macaque King, and the Orangutan King, they formed a fraternal order of seven (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 138-139).


Chapter 4

[Sun Wukong] then said to the six brothers, “If little brother is now called the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven, why don’t all of you assume the title of Great Sage also?” “Our worthy brother’s words are right!” shouted the Bull Monster King from their midst, ”I’m going to be called the Great Sage, Parallel with Heaven.” “I shall be called the Great Sage, Covering the Ocean,” said the Dragon Monster King. “I shall be called the Great Sage, United with Heaven,” said the Garuda Monster King. “I shall be called the Great Sage, Mover of Mountains,” said the Giant Lynx King. “I shall be called the Telltale Great Sage,” said the Macaque King. ”And I shall be called the God-Routing Great Sage,” said the Orangutan King (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 156-157).

他卻對六弟兄說:「小弟既稱齊天大聖,你們亦可以大聖稱之。」內有牛魔王忽然高叫道:「賢弟言之有理,我即稱做平天大聖。」蛟魔王道:「我稱做覆海大聖。」鵬魔王道:「我稱混天大聖。」獅狔王道:「我稱移山大聖。」 獼猴王道:「我稱通風大聖。」狨王道:「我稱驅神大聖。」

Chapter 41

Now this is where the change happens.

Your [Red Boy’s] father, the Bull Monster King, called himself the Great Sage, Parallel with Heaven. He and old Monkey formed a fraternal alliance of seven, and we all made him the big brother. There were also a Dragon Monster King, who called himself the Great Sage, Covering the Ocean, and became the second brother; a Garuda Monster King, who called himself Great Sage, United with Heaven, and became the third brother; a Lion Monster King, who called himself the Great Sage, Mover of Mountains, and became the fourth brother; a Female Monkey King, who called herself the Fair Wind Great Sage and became the fifth member; and a Giant Ape Monster King, who called himself the God-Routing Great Sage and became the sixth brother. Old Monkey, the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven, was rather small in size, and so he was number seven (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 223-224).


Despite what Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates above, the original Chinese does not include any gendered language referring to the character as a woman. It’s just the exact same name, Mihou wang (獼猴王), used twice before. In addition, the Chinese refers to this character as the “fifth brother” (wuge, 五哥). The W. J. F. Jenner (1993/2020) edition translates the Chinese as such: “The Macaque King, our fifth brother, was the Great Sage Who Travels with the Wind” (vol. 2, p. 925).

Some people try to explain away the discrepancy in Yu’s (Wu & Yu, 2012) translation by claiming mihou (獼猴) is associated with female monkeys. But if this was true within the context of Journey to the West, ALL monkeys referred to by this name would be women. This certainly isn’t the case, though, since Liu’er mihou (六耳獼猴, “Six-Eared Macaque“) (fig. 1), Sun Wukong’s doppelganger, is male. In fact, out of 13 mentions of mihou (獼猴) in the novel, over 61% refer directly to Six Ears:

  • Random monkeys (mihou, 獼猴) – 1
  • All monkeys (mihou zhu chu duoshou, 獼猴之畜多壽, “long life has been given to monkey beasts”) – 1
  • Macaque King (Mihou wang, 獼猴王) – 3
  • Six Ears 8
    • Liu’er mihou (六耳獼猴) – 5
    • Na mihou (那獼猴, “that macaque”) – 2
    • Nanbian mihou (難辨獼猴, “Indistinguishable Macaques,” i.e. Six Ears and Sun Wukong) – 1

Notice, too, that the term is even used once to refer to monkeys as a whole. This takes place in chapter three when King Qinguang (秦廣王) of hell submits a complaint to heaven after Sun Wukong makes all monkeys immortal by striking their names from the book of life and death (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 142-143).

In addition, the term mi (獼) is used by itself to refer to all monkeys: Miyuan wei qin (獼猿為親, “[H]e called the monkey and gibbon his relatives”).

The Liu’er Mihou by Zhang Ji (larger version).

II. The Etymology of Mihou

Dynastic sources indicate that the association of mihou (獼猴) with female monkeys is based on a misunderstanding of the word’s etymological history. For example, the Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao gangmu, 本草綱目, 1596 CE) states:

The monkey likes to wipe its face as if bathing (mu), so it is called a “bathing (monkey).” Later generations mistook this mu for “mother,” and then mother for mi. The meaning is lost as errors compound.


In addition, the Annotation of the Shuowen jiezi (Shuowen jiezi zhu說文解字注, 1815 CE) reads:

“Mother monkey” (muhou) is the name of the beast, not the female. “Bathing monkey” (muhou) and “full monkey” (mihou) are changes in dialect. The characters are wrong.


This confusion is based on the non-Chinese origin of the word for macaque. Van Gulik (1967) explains:

The fact that mu occurs in four variants: 母 and 沐 in Chou literature, and mi 米 or 獼 during the Han dynasty and later, proves that this binom is a phonetic rendering of a non-Chinese term (p. 35).

Therefore, mihou (獼猴) is just one of several ways to refer to the primate, either male or female (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – A most beautiful mihou (larger version). Image found here.

III. Male Mihou in Buddhist literature

It’s important to note that Buddhist literature also uses the term to refer to male monkeys. For instance, story no. 46 in the Collection of Sutras on the Six Paramitas (Liudu jijing, 六度集經, 3rd-century CE; “Collection of Sutras” hereafter) tells how a past life of the Buddha helps a macaque (mihou, 獼猴) regain his kingship after being usurped by his uncle. What’s important is that this tale, the Dasaratha Jataka, is a famous Buddhist retelling of the Hindu epic Ramayana (5th-century BCE). The hero-king Rama is replaced by the Buddha, and the warring monkey king brothers Sugriva and Vali (fig. 3) are replaced by a nephew and his uncle. [1]

The Buddha himself also has a past life as a king of monkeys. One Chinese variant of the Mahakapi Jataka, story no. 56 in the Collection of Sutras, expressly calls him Mihou wang (獼猴王). A second Chinese variant, story no. 12 in the Scripture on the Storehouse of Sundry Treasures (Za baozang jing, 雜寶藏經, mid-5th-century CE), calls him Shan mihou (善獼猴, “Good Macaque”).


Fig. 3 – The famous battle between the monkey king brothers Sugriva and Vali (larger version). Image found here.

IV. Conclusion

Journey to the West uses the term Mihou wang (獼猴王) three times to refer to the same character. Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates this twice as “Macaque King” (ch. 3 & 4) but later changes it to “Female Monkey King” (ch. 41). Despite the original Chinese referring to the character as the “fifth brother” (wuge, 五哥), Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) appears to represent them as a woman based solely on the association of mihou (獼猴) with female monkeys. However, not even Journey to the West follows this association, for out of 13 mentions of the term, over 61% refer directly to Liu’er mihou (六耳獼猴), Sun Wukong’s six-eared doppelganger. In addition, mihou (獼猴) and mi (獼) are even used in the novel to refer to monkeys as a whole.

The term mihou (獼猴) is just one of several transcriptions for a non-Chinese word used in China for millennia to mean “macaque” or “monkey.” Dynastic sources show that the association with female monkeys is a misunderstanding based on changes in dialect, along with differences in transcription. Said changes include muhou (沐猴, “bathing monkey”), muhou (母猴, “mother monkey”), and of course mihou (獼猴). Therefore, the word can be applied to either male or female monkeys.

The last point is exemplified in Buddhist literature. A 3rd-century CE Chinese version of the Dasaratha Jataka, which retells the Hindu epic Ramayana (5th-century BCE), references the great battle between the monkey king brothers Sugriva and Vali and calls the former Mihou (獼猴). A 3rd-century Chinese version of the Mahakapi Jataka, which tells of the Buddha’s past life as a monkey king, also refers to him as Mihou wang (獼猴王). And a 5th-century variant of the same story refers to the Enlightened One as the Shan mihou (善獼猴), or “Good Macaque.”

Update: 08-09-23

Sun Wukong calls himself the Meihou wang (美猴王, “Handsome Monkey King”) throughout JTTW. While it serves as an example of his ego-driven personality, I can’t help but think that meihou (美猴) is a play on mihou (獼猴). Recall that even the Buddha’s past life as a monkey king is referred to as Mihou wang (彌猴王) in Chinese sources.

Update: 09-27-23

It just dawned on me that Sun Wukong’s precursor, Hou xingzhe (猴行者, the “Monkey Pilgrim”) from the 13th-century JTTW, is also called Mihou wang. Chapter two refers to him as Huaguo shan ziyun dong bawan siqian tongtou tie’e Mihou wang (花果山紫雲洞八萬四千銅頭鐵額獼猴王, the “Bronze-Headed, Iron-Browed King of the Eighty-Four Thousand Monkeys of the Purple Cloud Grotto on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits”) (Wivell, 1994, p. 1182). This adds to the evidence that mihou refers to monkeys as a whole and not just female macaques.


1) See Mair, 1989, pp. 676-678 for a full English translation.


Mair, V. (1989). Suen Wu-kung = Hanumat? The Progress of a Scholarly Debate. In Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Sinology (pp. 659-752). Taipei: Academia Sinica.

Van Gulik, R. H. (1967). The Gibbon in China: An Essay in Chinese Animal Lore. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Wivell, C.S. (1994). The Story of How the Monk Tripitaka of the Great Country of T’ang Brought Back the Sūtras. In V. Mair (Ed.), The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (pp. 1181-1207). New York: Columbia University Press.

Wu, C. & Jenner, W. J. F. (2020). Journey to the West (Vols. 1-4). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press. (Original work published 1993)

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

Archive #9 – PDF of Hanuman’s Tale: The Messages of a Divine Monkey

Note: See the 05-14-22 update for two additional dissertations analyzing Hanuman. 

Last updated: 05-14-2022

I previously posted a paper that explores the evidence connecting Sun Wukong with the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. Here, I present a wonderful book that explores Hanuman’s origins, worship, and popular image.


This book offers a comprehensive introduction to one of the most beloved and widely worshiped of Hindu deities: the “monkey-god” Hanuman. It details the historical expansion of Hanuman’s religious status beyond his role as helper to Rama and Sita, the divine hero and heroine of the ancient Ramayana storytelling tradition. Additionally, it surveys contemporary popular literature and folklore through which Hanuman’s mythological biography is celebrated, and describes a range of religious sites and practices that highlight different aspects of his persona. Emphasizing Hanuman’s role as a “liminal” deity who combines animal, human, and divine qualities, and as a “middle-class” god within the Hindu pantheon, the book argues that such mediatory status has made Hanuman especially appealing to upwardly-mobile social groups as well as to Hindus of many sectarian persuasions.

Archive Link:

Hanuman's tale

Update: 05-14-22

I’d like to update this page with two additional sources, this time written by Arshia Sattar. The first is her Master’s thesis titled A Structural Analysis of Hanuman as a Mythological Figure (Sattar, 1987).


This thesis traces the career of Hanumān in Valmiki’s Rāmāyana, Tulsidās’ Rāmcaritmānas, and the Hanumān Calīsa. In each of these texts, Hanumān is presented in a different light and thus performs a different function. Hanumān is analyzed in terms of the various aspects of his personality, and his antecedents and heritage.

The thesis finds that in making his leap to Lanka in the Rāmāyana, Hanumān changes from a superior monkey into a bhakta. He also sets up the bhakti universe. Hanumān enters the Rāmcaritmānas a bhakta, and is here presented as the model for Tulsi’s creed of Rāma-bhakti. In the Hanumān Cālīsa, he reaches the pinnacle of his career. He has the status of a demi-god, a result of his devotion to Rāma. The thesis includes a translation of the Hanumān Cālīsa and a brief commentary on the text.

Archive Link

Click to access A-Structural-Analysis-of-Hanuman-as-a-Mythological-Figure-1987.pdf

The second is her doctorial thesis titled Hanuman in the Ramayana of Valmiki: A Study in Ambiguity (Sattar, 1990).

Info from the Introduction:

This dissertation will look closely at the monkey Hanumān primarily as he appears in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyana (henceforth VR). Hanumān appears in many texts in the Hindu tradition, both Rāmāyana-s, as well as texts outside the Rāmāyana tradition. The other appearances Hanumān makes will not be the focus of this project, though many of them will be referred to en passant.

The present work will discuss the major feats that Hanumān performs in the VR–his birth, his leap to the sun as an infant, his later leap to Lanka as an adult monkey, and his meeting with Sītā. It will employ theoretical frameworks that are based in the narrative structure of the VR, with an intensive focus on those acts for which Hanumān is best known. This method will make possible an understand of Hanumān in the VR that is not based on Rāma’s divinity or lack thereof, but rather is more solidly related to Hanumān’s status as a mythological figure and a monkey. It will also provide construct that will illuminate the way in which Hanumān’s depiction in the later tradition is dependent on and circumscribed by the role that he plays and the abilities that he has in the VR.

The main organizational principle of the present work will be the analysis of Hanumān in terms of his miscegenated birth and its consequences. Hanumān’s parents, the apsaras Anjana and the Wind-god Vayu, do not belong to the same category of being. This mixed parentage bestows a categorical ambiguity on the monkey: he can appear as more than one thing, or as something other than what he appears to be.


Despite exceptions, it is reasonable to postulate that miscegenated creatures carry the ability to change form as a mark of their mixed parentage and are also categorically ambiguous. In fact, the ability to appear as something else and/or more than one thing at the same time (as shall be demonstrated in the case of Hanumān) is a wonderfully graphic representation of categorical ambiguity.

Archive link:

Click to access Hanuman-in-the-Ramayana-of-Valmiki-A-Study-in-Ambiguity-1990.pdf


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


Lutgendorf, P. (2007). Hanuman’s Tale: The Messages of a Divine Monkey. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sattar, A. (1987). A Structural Analysis of Hanuman as a Mythological Figure (Publication No. 1332031) [Master’s dissertation, The American University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Sattar, A. (1990). Hanuman in the Ramayana of Valmiki: A Study in Ambiguity (Publication No. T31149) [Doctoral dissertation, The University of Chicago]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

The Monkey King and Cinderella

Did you know that the Monkey King has a connection to Cinderella?! In this brief article, I will summarize some of the findings laid out in Beauchamp (n.d.), which highlights the presence of the Cinderella story cycle in the ethnic folklore of China, a world famous India epic, and even Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592).

I. Egypt and Greece

Before I continue, I want to briefly mention one of the oldest Western variants of the Cinderella story cycle, Rhodopis, a tale set in ancient Egypt.

The story describes how the god Horus sends an eagle (or takes the form of one) to steal the slipper of the titular Greek slave and delivers it to an Egyptian Pharaoh, who launches a search for and eventually marries the woman (fig. 1). The tale was first recorded by the Greek geographer Strabo in 7 BCE (Ripley, 2010, pp. 185-188). However, the work is part of a wider story cycle evident throughout Asia and the Middle East.

Fig. 1 – The Pharaoh finds Rhodopis (larger version).

II. China

The earliest version that appears to have many of the familiar elements from the final European version hails from China. Titled “Yexian” (葉限), the story describes the titular heroine working as an imprisoned servant for her evil stepmother, the bestowal of a beautiful dress and slippers by a female ancestor from heaven, her attendance of a local festival, the loss of one of her slippers while fleeing the festivities, the discovery of the shoe by a foreign king, and a search that results in their eventual marriage. The story is based on the oral tales of the Zhuang ethnic people (of the Vietnamese-Chinese border) and was first recorded by Duan Chengshi (段成式) in the 9th-century CE (Ripley, 2010, pp. 191-192; Beauchamp, n.d.).

III. India

Certain elements of the story appear to have been influenced by the great Hindu epic the Ramayana, written by Valmiki around 500 BCE. The story tells how Sita, the wife of Vishnu’s reincarnation Prince Rama, is kidnapped and held prisoner by the demon Ravana (with the intent of making her his wife) on the island of Lanka. It is during her time in captivity that she is visited by Rama’s servant, Hanuman, a monkey demi-god, who brings her the prince’s ring to prove himself a trustworthy ally (fig. 2). The simian character then brings her anklet to Rama to prove that she is still alive. Rama’s army assaults Ranava’s fortress, and he is eventually reunited with his wife.

This at first may not seem like it matches at all, but you have an imprisoned beauty (Sita vs Yexian), supernatural assistance from heaven (Hanuman vs. the female ancestor), the exchange of personal items to prove one’s identity (the ring and anklet vs the slipper), and a campaign that brings together the woman and a man of royal blood (Sita and Rama vs Yexian and the foreign king) (Beauchamp, n.d.).

Hanuman gives Sita Rama’s ring in the Sandara Kanda book of the Ramayana:

Sarga 34

1. Hanuman, the immensely powerful son of Maruta the wind god, humbly addressed further words to Sita in order to inspire her confidence:
2. “I am a monkey, virtuous woman, a messenger of wise Rama. My lady, look at this ring marked with Rama’s name. Take heart, bless you, for your troubles will soon be at an end.”
3. Taking her husband’s ring and examining it, Janaki was as joyous as if she had rejoined her husband.
4. Her lovely face-its long eyes all red and white-lit up with joy, like the moon, the lord of stars, when released from Rahu, demon of the eclipse (Valmiki et. al., 2016, p. 207).

Fig. 2 – Hanuman giving Sita Rama’s ring (larger version).

IV. Journey to the West

Some scholars believe that secularized snippets of the Rama story cycle came to China in several waves, one of which was via Southeast Asian Hindu converts who settled in Southern China from the 7th-century onwards (Walker, 1998).

This then might explain an episode from Journey to the West that appears to draw from the Rama cycle. In chapters 68 to 71, a queen is kidnapped and held prisoner by a demon (with the intent of making her his wife) in a faraway land. Sun Wukong is employed to find her. He brings back a bracelet to her husband as proof of life and identity, and eventually reunites the couple after defeating the demon (Beauchamp, n.d.).

Monkey shows the bracelet to the Queen in chapter 70:

On hearing this, the lady shouted for the two rows of vixen and deer [spirits] to leave. After he closed the palace door, Pilgrim gave his own face a wipe and changed back into his original form. He said to the lady, “Don’t be afraid of me. I am a priest sent by the Great Tang in the Land of the East to go seek scriptures from Buddha in the Thunderclap Monastery of India in the Great Western Heaven. My master is Tripitaka Tang, the bond-brother of the Tang emperor, and I am Sun Wukong, his eldest disciple. When we passed through your kingdom and had to have our travel rescript certified, we saw a royal proclamation issued for the recruitment of physicians. I exercised my great ability in the therapeutic arts, and I cured the king of his illness of ardent longing. During the banquet he [came] to thank me, he told me while we were drinking about how you were abducted by the fiend. Since I have the knowledge of subduing dragons and taming tigers, he asked me specially to come arrest the fiend and rescue you back to the kingdom. It was I who defeated the vanguard, and it was I, too, who slew the little fiend [note: Monkey is disguised as him]. When I saw, however, how powerful the fiend was outside the gate, I changed myself into the form of Going and Coming [note: the little fiend] in order to take the risk of contacting you here.”

On hearing what he said, the lady fell silent. Whereupon Pilgrim took out the treasure bracelets and presented them with both hands, saying, “If you don’t believe me, take a good look at these objects.”

The moment she saw them, the lady began to weep, as she left her seat to bow to Pilgrim, saying, “Elder, if you could indeed rescue me and take me back to the kingdom, I would never forget your great favor!” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 297).


V. Comparison

Beauchamp (n.d.) provides a diagram showing the similarities between the stories of Yexian, Sita, and the queen from Journey to the West (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 – Comparative Chart of Cinderella Variants (larger version).


Beauchamp, F. (n.d.). In the Realm of the Dragon King: Sita and Hanuman meet Cinderella and Sun Wukong. Retrieved from [Original link dead. Click on article title to read.]

Ripley, D. (2010). The Maiden with a Thousand Slippers: Animal Helpers and the Hero(ine)’s Journey. In P. Monaghan (Ed.). Goddesses in World Culture (pp. 185-200). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

Valmiki, Goldman, R. P., & Goldman, S. J. (2016). The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India, Volume V: Sundarakāṇḍa. United States: Princeton University Press.

Walker, H.S. (1998). Indigenous or Foreign? A Look at the Origins of Monkey Hero Sun Wukong. Sino-Platonic Papers, 81, pp. 1-117. Retrieved from

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