Sun Wukong’s Names and Titles

I was recently contacted by a reader who said they were researching the various nicknames of Sun Wukong. I had never thought about this before, so I thought I’d write an article to help them out. I am indebted to Irwen Wong of the Journey to the West Library blog for helping me with some of the more obscure terms. If you know of others that I missed, please let me know in the comments below or by email (see the “contact” button).

The vast majority of the terms listed here come from the standard 1592 edition of Journey to the West (Xiyouji西遊記; hereafter JTTW). I have also added a few terms from a precursor, 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, c. late-13th-century) (Wivell, 1994). I did this to show that certain variations of names or titles have existed for centuries.

I. Mentioned in the narrative

These are names or titles mentioned by the narrative.

  1. Shihou (石猴, “Stone Monkey”) – Monkey’s first name according to chapter one (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 104). This is related to his birth from stone (fig. 1).
  2. Tianchan Shihou (天產石猴, “Heaven-Born Stone Monkey”) – His real name as listed in the ledgers of hell in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 140).
  3. Xinyuan (心猿, “Mind Monkey/Ape”) – A Buddho-Daoist allegorical term for the disquieted thoughts and emotions that keep man trapped in Saṃsāra. It is used numerous times in chapter titles (e.g. ch. 7) and poems to refer to Monkey (see the material below figure three here).
  4. Jingong (金公, “Squire of Metal or Gold”) – A term used mainly in poems to refer to Monkey. It is an alternative reading of the component characters making up lead (qian, 鉛), namely jin (金) and gong (公). Lead was an important ingredient in immortal elixirs of external alchemy, and metal/gold (jin, 金) is connected to the earthly branch shen (申), which is associated with monkeys (see no. 9 here) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 83 and p. 532 n. 3).
  5. Taiyi Sanxian (太乙散仙, “Minor or Leisurely Immortal of the Great Monad”) – A term used to describe Monkey’s place within the cosmic ranks of transcendents (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 471, for example). It essentially means that he is a divine being without a heavenly post.
  6. Taiyi Jinxian (太乙金仙, “Golden Immortal of the Great Monad”) – A seemingly embellished version of the previous term (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 264, for example). It speaks of a higher rank. [1]
  7. Lingming Shihou (靈明石猴, “Stone Monkey of Numinous Wisdom”) – The name of his magic species according to the Buddha in chapter 58 (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 115). [2] He is the first of four spiritual primates.
  8. Nanbian Mihou (難辨獼猴, “Indistinguishable Macaques”) – A term referring to both Sun Wukong and the Six-Eared Macaque. [3]

Fig. 1 – Monkey’s birth from stone by Zhang Moyi (larger version). Found on this article.

II. Given

These are names, titles, or insults that are given to or directed at our hero by other characters.

  1. Hou Xingzhe (猴行者, “Monkey Pilgrim”) – Monkey’s original religious name in the 13th-century JTTW. It is given by Tripitaka at the beginning of the journey (Wivell, 1994, p. 1182). The Xingzhe (行者) portion of this name would carry over to the 1592 edition. See nos. 11 and 12 below.
  2. Gangjin Tiegu Dasheng (鋼筋鐵骨大聖, “Great Sage Steel Muscles and Iron Bones”) – His divine title in the 13th-century JTTW. It is bestowed by Tang Emperor Taizong at the end of the journey (Wivell, 1994, p. 1207). [4] The Dasheng (大聖) portion of this name would carry over to the 1592 edition. See sec. III, nos. 8 and 9 below.
  3. Sun Wukong (孫悟空, “Monkey Awakened to Emptiness”) – The religious name given to him in chapter one by his first master, the Patriarch Subodhi (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 115). It predates the 1592 JTTW, first appearing as early as the early-Ming zaju play (see here, for example). It’s important to note that the name “Wukong” (悟空) might have been influenced by a Tang-era monk who traveled throughout India just like Xuanzang (on whom Tripitaka is based).
  4. Pohou (潑猴, “Reckless or Brazen Monkey”) – An insult used throughout JTTW (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 118, for example).
  5. Shangxian (上仙, “High or Exalted Immortal”) – A respectful title used by the Dragon King of the Eastern Ocean in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 134).
  6. Huaguo Shan Shuilian Dong Tianchan Yaohou (花果山水簾洞天產妖猴, “Heaven-Born Demon Monkey from the Water-Curtain Cave of the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – An insult used by King Qinguang, a Judge of Hell, in a memorial to the Jade Emperor in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 142).
  7. Xiandi (賢弟, “Worthy Little Brother”) – A nicknamed used by the Bull Demon King (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 156, for example). Monkey is the smallest and therefore the last of seven sworn brothers (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 223-224).
  8. Yaoxian (妖仙, “Bogus Immortal”) – A category of nigh-immortal beings. He is called this by the Jade Emperor in chapter four and the Buddha in chapter seven, respectively (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 147-148 and p. 193).
  9. Bimawen (弼馬溫, “To Assist Horse Temperament”) – A minor post overseeing the celestial horse stables. Monkey is given this position in chapter four by the Jade Emperor. Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates this as “BanHorsePlague” (vol. 1, p. 148, for example). [5] This is sometimes used as an insult (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 354, for example).
  10. Yaohou (妖猴, “Monster or Demon Monkey”) – An insult used numerous times throughout the novel (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 154, for example).
  11. Sun Xingzhe (孫行者, “Pilgrim Sun”) – Monkey’s second religious name. It is given to him in chapter 14 by Tripitaka (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 309). Xingzhe Sun (行者孫) is a less common variation. Refer back to no. 1. See also sec. III, no. 10 below.
  12. Xingzhe (行者, “Pilgrim”) – He is more commonly referred to by this name than Sun Xingzhe or Sun Wukong combined. [6] See section III here to learn about the significance of this title. Refer back to no. 1.
  13. Sun Zhanglao (孫長老, “Elder Sun”) – A respectful title used by people he has helped (Wu & Yu, vol. 2, p. 85, for example).
  14. Dashixiong (大師兄, “Elder Religious Brother”) – A term used by Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 74, for example).
  15. Houtou (猴頭, “Monkey/Ape Head”) – An insult used by various characters, especially Tripitaka (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 26, for example).
  16. Maolian Heshang (毛臉和尚, “Hairy-Faced Monk”) – A term that describes his features (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 407, for example).
  17. Maolian Lei Gong Zui de Heshang (毛臉雷公嘴的和尚, “Hairy-Faced, Thunder God-Beaked Monk) – A term that compares his elongated simian face to the beak of the bird-like thunder god Lei Gong (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 351, for example). Variations include Lei Gong Zui Heshang (雷公嘴和尚, “Thunder God-Beaked Monk”) and Lei Gong de Nanzi/Hanzi (雷公嘴的男子/漢子, “Thunder God-Beaked Man”).
  18. Dou Zhansheng Fo (鬥戰勝佛, “Buddha Victorious in Strife or Victorious Fighting Buddha”) – His Buddha title bestowed by the Tathagata at the end of the journey in chapter 100 (fig. 2) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 4, p. 381).

Fig. 2 – A religiously accurate drawing of Monkey as Dou zhansheng fo by NinjaHaku21 (larger version).

III. Self-Named

These are names, titles, or pseudonyms taken by Monkey himself. These do not include the names of the innumerable gods, monsters, or humans that he disguises himself as. They only refer to him personally.

  1. 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, “Bronze-Headed, Iron-Browed King of the Eighty-Four Thousand Monkeys of the Purple Cloud Grotto on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – How he introduces himself to Tripitaka in the 13th-century JTTW (Wivell, 1994, p. 1182). The “Monkey King” (Mihou Wang, 彌猴王) portion of his name would carry over to the 1592 edition but is represented with different Chinese characters. See nos. 2 and 3 below. This article discusses the term mihou (獼猴).
  2. Meihou Wang (美猴王, “Handsome Monkey King”) – The title that he takes upon ascending the throne in chapter one (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 106).
  3. Hou Wang (猴王, “Monkey King”) – He is more commonly referred to by this name than Meihou wang. [7]
  4. Huaguo Shan Shuilian Dong Dongzhu (花果山水簾洞洞主, “Lord of the Water-Curtain Cave in the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – How he introduces himself in chapter two to a demon king plaguing his people (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 127).
  5. Huaguo Shan Shuilian Dong Tiansheng Shenren (花果山水簾洞天生聖人, “Heaven-Born Sage From the Water-Curtain Cave in the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – How he introduces himself to the Ten Kings of Hell in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 140).
  6. Lao Sun (老孫, “Old Sun”) – A term that he uses many, many times throughout the novel. Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates this as “Old Monkey” (vol. 1, p. 128, for example).
  7. Liu Xiao Ling Tong (六小龄童) – Monkey’s name in the human world.
  8. Qitian Dasheng (齊天大聖, “Great Sage Equaling Heaven”) – The seditious title that he takes during his rebellion against heaven (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 151). Monkey is worshiped by this name in modern Chinese Folk Religion (fig. 3). Refer back to sec. II, no. 2.
  9. Dasheng (大聖, “Great Sage”) – He is more commonly referred to by this title than Qitian dasheng. [8] Variations include Dasheng Yeye (大聖爺爺, “[Paternal] Grandpa Great Sage”) and Sun Dasheng (孫大聖, “Great Sage Sun”). Refer back to sec. II, no. 2.
  10. Zhexing Sun (者行孫, “Grimpil Sun”) – A pseudonym taken in chapter 34 when Monkey secretly escapes imprisonment and then presents himself as his own brother in an attempt to trick demons (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 130). The strange English rendering is Yu’s (Wu & Yu, 2012) way of accounting for the change from Xingzhe Sun (孫, “Pilgrim Sun”) to Zhexing Sun (孫, “Grimpil Sun”). Refer back to sec. II, no. 11.
  11. Sun Waigong (孫外公, “([Maternal] Grandpa Sun”) – A name that he uses to taunt demons (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 407, for example). It’s a cheeky way of saying, “I’m your elder, so you better submit to me.”
  12. Sun Yeye (孫爺爺, “([Paternal] Grandpa Sun”) – Same.
  13. Sun Erguan (孫二官, “Second Master Sun”) – A pseudonym taken in chapter 84 in order to investigate an anti-Buddhist kingdom under the guise of a horse trader. The other pilgrims take similar names (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 4, p. 132).

Fig. 3 – A Great Sage idol from Shengfo Tang (聖佛堂, “Sage Buddha Hall”) in Beigang Township, Yunlin County, Taiwan (larger version). It is one of many Monkey King Temples on the island. Photo by the author.

Notes:

1) The Jinxian (金仙) of Monkey’s title Taiyi Jinxian (太乙金仙, “Golden Immortal of the Great Monad”) is associated with far more lofty figures. For example, a poem in chapter one refers to the Patriarch Subodhi as the Dajue Jinxian (大覺金仙, “Golden Immortal of Great Awareness”) (see section 2.3 here).

2) I’m placing the name in this category because the Tathagata is stating a fact instead of bestowing it as a proper name.

3) Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates this as the “macaque hard to distinguish” (vol. 4, p. 360). But I think that the original Chinese term is likely referring to both Sun and Six Ears. Their battle across the cosmos is counted in chapter 99 as the 46th of 81 hardships that Tripitaka was fated to endure (Wu &Yu, 2012, vol. 4, p. 360).

4) Wivell (1994) translates the name as “Great Sage of Bronze Muscles and Iron Bones” (p. 1207). But the gang (鋼) of Gangjin tiegu dasheng (鋼筋鐵骨大聖) means “steel.”

5) This references the homophonous term Bimawen (避馬瘟, “avoid the horse plague”), the historical practice of placing monkeys in horse stables to ward off equine sickness (see the 02-26-22 update here).

6) The term Xingzhe (行者, “pilgrim”) appears 4,355 times, while Sun xingzhe and Sun Wukong appear 239 and 127 times, respectively. Xingzhe is used numerous times to refer to other characters, such as Guanyin’s disciple Hui’an (惠岸行者, 6 times; a.k.a. Mucha or Mokṣa, 木叉行者, 9 times), but the vast majority refer to Monkey.

7) The term Hou wang (猴王, “Monkey King”) appears 185 times, while Meihou wang (美猴王) appears 42 times.

8) The term Dasheng (大聖, “Great Sage”) appears 1,273 times, while Qitian dasheng (齊天大聖) appears 103 times. I believe Dasheng is also used to refer to the Buddha a few times, so please keep this in mind.

Sources:

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

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

Last updated: 08-26-2023

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

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

原著描述八戒身高一丈,三尺为一米,一丈是三米三左右。沙僧一丈二接近四米,唐僧一米八,大聖爺四尺,大约一米三。

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

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

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

1. Measurements

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

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

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

2. Heights

The characters are listed below from shortest to tallest.

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

2.1. Sun Wukong

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

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

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

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

魔王見了,笑道:「你身不滿四尺,年不過三旬,手內又無兵器,怎麼大膽猖狂,要尋我見甚麼上下?」

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

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

那怪仔細觀看,見行者身軀鄙猥,面容羸瘦,不滿四尺。笑道:「可憐,可憐。我只道是怎麼樣扳翻不倒的好漢,原來是這般一個骷髏的病鬼。」

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

2.2. The Tang Monk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

丰姿英偉,相貌軒昂。齒白如銀砌,唇紅口四方。頂平額闊天倉滿,目秀眉清地閣長。兩耳有輪真傑士,一身不俗是才郎。好個妙齡聰俊風流子,堪配西梁窈窕娘。

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

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

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

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

2.3. Zhu Bajie

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

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

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

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

碓嘴初長三尺零,獠牙觜出賽銀釘。
一雙圓眼光如電,兩耳搧風唿唿聲。
腦後鬃長排鐵箭,渾身皮糙癩還青。
手中使件蹊蹺物,九齒釘鈀個個驚。

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.4. Sha Wujing

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

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

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

第二個徒弟姓沙,法名悟淨和尚,他生得身長丈二,臂闊三停,臉如藍靛,口似血盆,眼光閃灼,牙齒排釘。他都是這等個模樣,所以不敢擅領入朝。

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

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

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

即於睡中夢一大神長數丈,執戟麾曰:「何不強行,而更臥也!」

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

3. Conclusion 

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

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

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


Update: 08-26-23

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

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

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

Note:

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Uchytel, R. (n.d.). Megalochoerus. Prehistoric Fauna. Retrieved from https://prehistoric-fauna.com/Megalochoerus.

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

Zhongshi Damei Shenghuo. (2020, August 18). Xiyou ji: Shitu siren shengao duibi [Journey to the West: The Four Body Height Ratios of the Master and His Disciples]. Sohu. Retrieved from https://www.sohu.com/a/413598842_120113471

 

 

Archive #39 – Journey to the West Adaptations

The Journey to the West Research blog is proud to host an entry by our friend Monkey Ruler (Twitter and Tumblr). They have graciously written an essay on the global nature of Journey to the West adaptations, as well as provided a link to their ongoing project recording JTTW media (fig. 1). As of the publishing of this article, it includes a long list of almost 570 movies, 90 TV shows, and 160 video games! – Jim

Fig. 1 – Depictions of Sun Wukong from adaptations produced over 50 years apart: (left) Havoc in Heaven (Danao tiangong, 大鬧天宮, 1961) and (right) Monkey King: Hero is Back (Xiyouji zhi Dasheng guilai, 西遊記之大聖歸來, lit: “Journey to the West: Return of the Great Sage,” 2015) (larger version). Courtesy of Monkey Ruler.

I. Media adaptations

This started out as a collection of Xiyouji (西遊記; lit: “Journey to the West,” 1592) movies and TV shows for the sake of a Master’s class project; it was simple enough to look for Xiyouji media and start adding them to a collection datasheet. But even when the project was over, I kept finding more and more adaptations, even stumbling across others trying to show the magnitude of how much this novel has encompassed popular culture throughout the centuries. It has been told and re-told again and again in oral and published literature, plays, art, songs, poems, etc., and now on the big and small screens. Audiences are re-introduced to the image of Sun Wukong and his fellow pilgrims with every new media addition.

What really inspired me was the book Transforming Monkey: Adaptations and Representation of a Chinese Epic (2018) by Hongmei Sun, where she explained in depth the cultural impact that Sun Wukong (fig. 2) and Xiyouji has had on Chinese media, as well as how this loose set of franchises have come to represent Chinese culture as these shows and movies have become more globally accessible. Xiyouji is such an iconic cultural universe that it can be both heavily entertaining while still being so personal to audiences of any generation depending on how the artist/writer portrays their interpretation of these characters and their stories. 

There hasn’t been a lot written about how these interpretations influence modern Xiyouji adaptations despite how the story has greatly influenced popular culture.

Fig. 2 – The front cover of Transforming Monkey (2018) (larger version).

Xiyouji is such an influential story, one that will continue to grow more and more globally known throughout time because it is such an all-encompassing piece that can cover politics, identities, and allegories, while still being a very personal and interpersonal work that artists or writers can relate to. 

However, even with these layers of meaning and symbolism to be found, the story never loses the charming and entertaining aspects that can and have captured audiences. Despite being published over 430 years ago (with a history stretching back even further), Xiyouji is still able to relate to modern audiences through its allegories of oppression, rebellion, and self-identity. It has the capability to resonate with any generation depending on what artists or writers at the time wish to highlight or personally connect with themselves or their current world around them, using Xiyouji as a medium for their own struggles.

As Xiyouji starts to become more and more globally known, it is important to understand and resonate that this is still a Chinese story and how to address further adaptations with cross-nation gaps in both translation and cultural differences. There are media forms that are far more exploitative of the mythical journey, creating impractical scenarios of the narrative and thus changing the message of the story and characters completely. However, there needs to be an acknowledgment of what doesn’t work as Xiyouji adaptations due to the ever-changing zeitgeist in not only its home of origin but introducing it to a global sphere as it adds influence. 

In order to see what works for adaptations, there needs to be an acknowledgment of what is the core of the story and just why it remains popular, story-beat or character-wise. For example, Sun Wukong can be used as a great model for positive ambivalence in media, moving away from set limits of a single stereotype and rather being a constant motion of new ideas and new identities. Monkey has been changed from a mischievous monkey to a revolutionary hero to a post-modern rebel against authority throughout the years. But even throughout the constant changes and interpretations, people never lose sight of what the nature of Sun Wukong is: rebelliousness, variability, optimism, and persistence. 

Monkey is a transcending character as he is able to mediate contradictions within his own design, one being his gold-banded staff, a symbol of breaking barriers, and his golden filet (fig. 3), a symbol of limits. These two simple but prominent pieces of iconography immediately tell audiences who the character is supposed to be and what they are about.

Fig. 3 – A modern replica of Monkey’s golden filet or headband (larger version).

While it is entertaining and able to be enjoyed by younger audiences, Xiyouji still has a deeper meaning that can be interpreted and recognized into adulthood. This is one of the few stories that I imagine can be adapted again and again without the issue of overlap as there are so many ways people can personally connect with these characters. 

Having that any generation, anyone really can find enjoyment in this media, and perhaps even be inspired to read the novel itself.

II. Archive link

Please consult the tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet linked below. They are listed as “Movie Information,” “Movie Links,” “Honorary Shows,” “Game Information,” “Game Pictures,” “Honorary Games,” and “Sources.” – Jim

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GsiCGzE1DZDy2Vpc85wiVXSyLWpxMbxj/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=112097376285754662736&rtpof=true&sd=true

Yuebei xing, Daughter of the Monkey King

Last updated: 07-23-2023

Ever since I published my article “The Monkey King’s Children” (2021), I’ve noticed that people have fallen in love with Sun Wukong’s monstrous, magic skull-wielding daughter Yuebei xing (月孛星, “Moon Comet Star”) from Journey to the South (Nanyouji, 南遊記, c. 1570s-1580s). For instance, search Tumblr and you will find plenty of art and short stories featuring her. The character does not appear in the original Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592) novel, so I’m honestly surprised that she has captured the imagination of so many.

Here, I would like to collect all that I’ve written about her, along with new information, into a single article. This piece discusses her brief character arc, her astrological origins, her appearance in other literature, and her religious iconography.

I. Character arc

In chapter 17 of Journey to the South, Sun Wukong is framed for once again stealing immortal peaches. The Jade Emperor threatens to remand him to the Buddha for punishment but is convinced to give him a month-long reprieve to find the true culprit. Monkey returns to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, and it is here, among his people, that the story briefly mentions three children, including sons Jidu (奇都, “Ketu”) and Luohou (羅猴, “Rahu”) and daughter Yuebei xing (月孛星, “Moon Comet Star”).

Sun eventually seeks out Guanyin, who reveals that the troublemaker is the rogue immortal Huaguang (華光). Returning home once more, Monkey’s news prompts his daughter to volunteer to battle the impostor. But her tribe simply pokes fun at her monstrous appearance. Yuebei Xing is said to have a crooked head with huge eyes and a broad mouth, coarse hands, a wide waist, and long legs with thunderous steps.

Sun travels with his daughter to Huaguang’s home of Mt. Lilou (Lilou shan, 離婁山) to provoke battle by chastising him for stealing the immortal peaches. Monkey strikes at him with his magic staff, causing Huaguang to deploy his heavenly treasure, a golden, triangular brick (sanjiao jinzhuan, 三角金磚). But Sun responds by creating untold monkey clones that not only confiscate the weapon but also overwhelm the immortal. Huaguang is seemingly defeated at this point; however, he manages to deploy one last treasure, the Fire Elixir (Huodan, 火丹). This weapon engulfs the Great Sage in heavenly flame (akin to the Red Boy episode), causing him to flee to the Eastern Sea. Yuebei xing then calls Huaguang’s name while holding her own magic treasure, a skull (kulou tou, 骷髏頭). The immortal is immediately stricken with a headache and stumbles back to his cave in a daze. Her weapon is said to be quite dangerous; anyone whose name is called will die within three days.

Huanguang’s religious teacher, the Flame King Buddha of Light (Huoyan wang guangfo, 火炎王光佛), then intervenes in order to sooth the situation between his disciple and the Great Sage. He promises to bring the rogue immortal to justice on the condition that Yuebei Xing withdraws her deadly magic. In the end, all parties are pardoned by the Jade Emperor, and Huaguang and Monkey become bond brothers (Yu, n.d.).

II. Astrological origins

The Monkey King’s daughter is based on Yuebei xing, a shadowy planetary deity representing the lunar apogee, or the furthest point in the moon’s orbit. They are counted among the “Eleven Luminaries” (Shiyi yao, 十一曜) of East Asian astrology (fig. 1). These include the “Nine Planets” (Sk: Navagraha; Ch: Jiuyao, 九曜, “Nine Luminaries”) of Hindu astrology, namely the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and Rahu and Ketu (Gansten, 2009), as well as Yuebei and another shadowy planet called Ziqi (紫氣/紫炁; “Purple Mist”) (Kotyk, 2017, p. 60). The latter two are mentioned in Daoist writings as early as the late-9th-century (Kotyk, 2017, pp. 61-62).

Fig. 1 – A Chinese depiction of the Eleven Luminaries from the Ink Treasure of Wu Daozi (Daozi mobao, 道子墨寶, c. 13th-century) (larger version). Yuebei xing is located first from the left on the top row. Image found here.

The late-Yuan to early-Ming scripture Secret Practice of the Primordial Lord Yuebei (Yuanhuang Yuebei mifa, 元皇月孛祕法; Secret Practice hereafter) describes them having two forms, one human and the other monstrous:

姓朱, 諱光, 天人相, 披髮裸體, 黑雲掩臍, 紅履鞋, 左手提旱魃頭, 右手杖劍, 騎玉龍, 變相青面獠牙, 緋衣, 杖劍, 駕熊。

Surnamed Zhu [Vermillion] with the honorific title of Guang [Luminous]. In the form of a celestial human, their hair is let down over their naked body. Their mass of black hair covers the navel. Red sandals. Their left hand holds the head of a drought demon. Their right hand holds a blade. They ride a jade dragon. In their modified form, [they display] a blue face with long fangs, a crimson garment and blade, while driving a bear (Kotyk, 2017, p. 62).

Both versions are known from late-Xixia dynasty (1038-1227) art. The first figure takes the form of a lightly clad or even topless woman with long, sometimes unkempt hair and red garments. One painting shows her with a bloody head in her right hand and a sword hanging from her hip (fig. 2). (Though, I should point out that she isn’t always depicted with the head in Xixia or Chinese art (fig. 3 & 4).) The second figure is much rarer and takes the form of a yaksha-like guardian with green skin, a fiery red beard and hair, and red garments. He wields a flaming sword in his right hand and a bloody head in the other (fig. 5). Thank you to Dr. Jeffrey Kotyk for bringing these to my attention.

Fig. 2 – Yuebei as a woman (larger version). Take note of the severed head in her right hand and the sword at her waist. Detail from a 13th to 14th-century Xixia painting in the Hermitage Museum. Fig. 3 – A topless Yuebei wielding only a sword (larger version). Detail from a 13th to 14th-century Xixia painting in the Hermitage Museum. Fig. 4 – Detail of Yuebei from the Chinese Ink Treasure of Wu Daozi (c. 13th-century) (larger version). She too is holding only a sword. Take note of her lunar halo. Fig. 5 – Yuebei as a man (larger version). He clutches a small head in his left hand. Detail from a 13th-century Xixia painting in the Hermitage Museum.

What’s interesting about the yaksha-male Yuebei is that his iconography is strikingly similar to Arabo-Persian depictions of al-Mirrīkh (Mars), who is also known for wielding a sword and head. Dr. Kotyk has directed me to several examples (fig. 6-8). Carboni (Carboni & MET, 1997) suggests that the war god’s imagery is connected to another deity:

The bold iconography of the severed head underscores the warlike character of the planet but it probably is also related to the astronomical image of the constellation of Perseus, called in Arabic ḥāmil ra’s al-ghūl (“the Bearer of the Demon’s Head”), which represents a transformation of the Greek iconography of the severed head of Medusa [fig. 9] (p. 17).

The literary Yuebei’s use of a deadly skull is fitting considering its possible link to the beheaded Gorgon. [1] Remember that the Secret Practice describes Yuebei’s symbol as that of a “drought demon’s head” (batou, 魃頭), and Arabic sources call Perseus’ symbol the “demon’s head” (ra’s al-ghūl). This shows that both cultures considered the head some kind of supernatural monster.

Fig. 6 – Detail of al-Mirrīkh (Mars) on a late-12th to early-13th century bowl from Central or Northern Iran (larger version). From the Met Museum website. Fig. 7 – Detail from The Wonders of Creation (‘Aja’ib al-Makhluqat wa Ghara’ib al-Mawjudat, 13th-century) (larger version). Found on the Library of Congress website. Fig. 8 – Detail from the Degrees of Truths (Daqa’iq al-haqa’iq, 1272) (larger version). Found on the Bibliothèque nationale de France website. Fig. 9 – The Perseus constellation from the early-11th-century Book of Pictures of the (fixed) Stars (Kitāb Ṣuwar al-kawākib (al-thābitah) (larger version). Found on the Bodleian Library website.

Dr. Kotyk tells me that East Asian depictions of Mars do not show him holding a head. But given the similar iconography of the Arabo-Persian deity and the yaksha-male Yuebei xing, there could be a South Asian intermediary. Bhattacharyya (1958) describes the Indian Buddhist iconography of Maṅgala (Mars) in similar terms: “[He] rides on a Goat. He is red in colour. In the right hand he holds the Kaṭṭāra (cutter) and in the left a severed human head in the act of devouring” (p. 368). But I don’t know how established this description is considering that a cursory search doesn’t turn up any ancient depictions of the Hindo-Buddhist deity holding a head (I’ll update the article if new evidence arises). Another possibility is that the similarities are evidence of cultural exchange between Muslim and Xixia (Tangut) astrologers. Either way, I should point out that the paintings of the yaksha-male Yuebei xing and al-Mirrīkh come from the same time period, the 13th-century. 

Recall that Xixia dynasty art (refer back to fig. 2) and the Secret Practice associate the human-female Yuebei xing with the head and sword, showing that it’s not the purview of the yaksha-male figure. It’s interesting to note that both the female figure and Mars are associated with the color red. Kotyk (2017) explains that there is a likely connection between Yuebei xing and the Irano-Semitic ĀlLīlīṯ (a.k.a. Lilith), who is also described as a demoness with a red, naked body and long, unkempt hair (pp. 63-64).

While I’m unsure if there is a connection, Yuebei’s imagery brings to mind the Hindo-Buddhist goddess ChinnamastāChinnamunda (Vajrayoginī). She is commonly shown as a naked, red-bodied figure holding a bloody head in one hand and a sword in the other (Kinsley, 1997, p. 144). In this case, the severed head is her own. Her sister attendants are also sometimes shown holding a head and sword (fig. 10).

Fig. 10 – A 19th-century lithograph of Chinnamastā (larger version). Image found on Wikipedia.

Beyond art, I learned that the respective astrological paths of Yuebei xing and Mars can cross in East Asian astrology. According to Wan Minying (萬民英), author of the Great Compendium of Astral Studies (Xingxue dacheng, 星學大成, 1563): “If Yuebei and Mars are conjunct in the same sign, [the native’s] heart will enjoy virtue, but they will be unable to actually act. They will also have many noxious sores, and pus and blood 孛火同宮心好善而實不能行亦多癰疽膿血.” [2] 

III. Appearance in other literature

Apart from Journey to the South, Yuebei briefly appears in an earlier Ming-era fiction titled Drama of Yang Jiajiang (Yang Jiajiang yanyi, 楊家將演義, 16th-century). Kotyk (2017) explains that she is depicted as a red-skinned figure “holding in her hand a skeleton (手執骷髏骨)” (p. 63). I should note that the kulou (骷髏) in kulou gu (骷髏骨) can also mean “skull”, which aligns with her iconography. 

Recall that the Irano-Semitic demoness Lilith and the Hindo-Buddhist goddess Chinnamastā-Chinnamunda are described or depicted as having red skin. This might explain Yuebei xing’s vermillion body in the novel.

IV. Religious iconography

I know nothing of the actual worship of Yuebei xing, but Ronni Pinsler of the BOXS project was kind enough to show me a pattern sheet of her from an idol-maker’s shop in 1970s Singapore (fig. 11). She wears flowing robes just like her ancient Chinese depictions (refer back to fig. 4), but the signature sword and head are not included. They are instead replaced by a fly-whisk and a placard marked “moon” (yue, 月), which compliments the lunar halo behind her head. Additionally, she is labeled Zhuli fu niang Yuebei tianjun (朱李孚娘 月孛天君). This is similar to the way it’s listed among the 36 celestial generals of the Journey to the North (Beiyou ji, 北遊記, 1602), Zhubei wei Yuebei tianjun (朱孛娘為月孛天君). I also found a more recent religious drawing that appears to mix the feminine and masculine iconography to depict her as an armored general named Taiyi Yuebei xingjun (太一月孛星君) (fig. 12). Both the head and sword are present.

Fig. 11 – The vintage Yuebei pattern sheet from a Singaporean idol shop (larger version). Original photograph by Keith Stevens. Fig. 12 – The Yuebei general image (larger version). It was posted by an Indonesian Daoist priest of the Quanzhen school on Facebook.

IV. Conclusion

Yuebei xing (月孛星, “Moon Comet Star”) briefly appears in chapter 17 of Journey to the South (Nanyouji, 南遊記, c. 1570s-1580s) as the Monkey King’s monstrous daughter who uses a magic skull weapon to curse a rogue immortal. The demoness is based on a shadowy planetary deity from East Asian astrology that represents the lunar apogee. Xixia dynasty art and the Yuan-Ming Secret Practice scripture depict this deity having two forms, a lightly clad or even topless human-female with red clothing and long, disheveled hair, or a green-skinned, red-bearded yaksha-male. Both of these forms are sometimes depicted wielding a sword and a disembodied head.

The yaksha-male Yuebei xing surprisingly shares iconography with Arabo-Persian depictions of al-Mirrīkh (Mars), who is also represented as a bearded figure wielding a sword and head. Carboni (Carboni & MET, 1997) suggests that the Middle Eastern iconography is related to the constellation of Perseus (a.k.a. “Bearer of the Demon’s Head”) in which he holds the head of Medusa. This is interesting as the head held by the human-female figure is called a “drought demon” in the Secret Practice. This suggests a possible connection between the literary Yuebei xing’s skull and the deadly Gorgon.

Kotyk (2017) notes a possible connection between the human-female Yuebei xing and the Irano-Semitic Lilith. The latter too is described as having a red, naked body and unkempt hair. This same iconography is shared by the Hindo-Buddhist goddess Chinnamastā-Chinnamunda, who is also depicted bearing a sword and (her own) head. This may then explain why Yuebei xing is described as having red skin in the Drama of Yang Jiajiang (16th-century), which predates Journey to the South.

Yuebei xing is worshiped in modern Chinese folk religion. Religious art depicts them as either a robed figure or an armored general. In both cases, the deity is a woman, but only the martial aspect is shown with the head and sword.


Update: 01-11-2023

Bunce (1994) describes Maṅgala (Mars) just like Bhattacharyya (1958) (refer back to the material below figure 9):

Face: one, angry; arms/hands: two, right hand holds ritual chopper (karttrika, grig-gug), left hand holds severed human head (emphasis added); legs: two; color: red; vahana: goat (p. 328).

But I still haven’t been able to find any ancient drawings of the planetary deity like this.

The iconography of the Hindu goddess Kālī also includes a sword and severed head (fig. 13). I didn’t mention her in the original article because she is traditionally depicted with dark skin, but she likely influenced the red-skinned Chinnamastā-Chinnamunda. It’s important to note that her mythos also associates the head with demons (asuras). For example, the Devī-Māhātmyam (c. 400-600 CE) reads:

Mounting her great lion, the Goddess ran at Caṇḍa, / And having seized him by the hair, she cut off his head with her sword. / On seeing Caṇḍa slain, Muṇḍa rushed at her. / She caused him to fall to the ground, wrathfully smitten with her sword. / On seeing Caṇḍa slain, and also the valorous Muṇḍa, / What was left of the assaulted army was overcome with fear and fled in all directions. / Picking up the heads of Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa, Kali / Approached C’aṇḍikā [Durgā] and spoke words mixed with loud and cruel laughter: / “Here, as a present from me to you, are Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa, two beasts / slain in the sacrifice of battle…” (Coburn, 1991, p. 62).

This adds to our list of sword-wielding, demon head-holding deities: 1) Perseus-Medusa; 2) Yuebei xing-Drought Demon; and 3) Kali-Asura.

Fig. 13 – An early-20th-century painting of Kali by Raja Ravi Varma (larger version). Image found here.


Update: 01-16-23

I thought of a way for artists and fan fiction writers to mix Yuebei xing’s skull with Medusa’s head. But first recall that section 1 reads:

Yuebei xing then calls Huaguang’s name while holding her own magic treasure, a skull. The immortal is immediately stricken with a headache and stumbles back to his cave in a daze. Her weapon is said to be quite dangerous; anyone whose name is called will die within three days.

Perhaps the skull’s gaze can turn any living thing into stone, but this lithic death happens over the aforementioned three days. After the target’s name is called, the skull’s glowing eyes open wider and wider upon the dawn of each successive day, causing compounding confusion and pain. The final dawn sees the eyes open wide (fig. 14), making the unfortunate soul (no matter their location) turn to stone.

Refer back to note #1 for a possible defense.

Fig. 14 – The skull would look something like this on the third and final dawn (minus the bullet hole) (larger version). Image found here.


Update: 01-17-23

“Who is the mother of Sun Wukong’s children in Journey to the South?” This is a question I’ve been asked a few times on Tumblr. The novel never answers this, but one can make an educated guess for the purposes of fan fiction.

Each child is based on one of three lunar deities appearing among the “Eleven Luminaries” (Shiyi yao, 十一曜) (mentioned above). The specific gods are:

  1. Jidu (奇都, “Ketu”) = Represents the southern (descending) lunar node, or the point where the moon crosses the earth’s orbit around the sun. Associated with eclipses.
  2. Luohou (羅睺, “Rahu”) = Represents the northern (ascending) lunar node. Also associated with eclipses.
  3. Yuebei Xing (月孛星, “Moon Comet Star”) = Represents the lunar apogee, or the furthest point in the moon’s orbit.

Given their close connection to the night time celestial body, it would make sense for the mother to be Taiyin xing (太陰星, “Star of Supreme Yin”), goddess of the moon from the Eleven Luminaries.

Taiyin xing is commonly equated with Chang’e, goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology. The latter briefly appears in Journey to the West as a victim of Zhu Bajie. The former celestial general was exiled from heaven for drunkenly forcing himself on her (Wu & Yu 2012, vol. 1, p. 379).

The goddess’ past connection to Zhu wasn’t lost on me, but I like the way @sketching-shark articulates the potential for comedy (lightly edited):

There’s something hilarious about the idea that Zhu considers his yaoguai-ness a punishment. He was kicked out of heaven for harassing a moon goddess, and then Sun ‘always was & always will be a proud yaoguai.’ Wukong ends up forming a romance with a moon goddess that at least lasted long enough for them to have 3 kids together. Just imagine Sun Wukong: ‘Haha yeah idk she’s a cool lady & we just clicked. I guess Zhu Bajie with teeth clenched & trying hard not to cry: ‘Huh…imagine…that…’ […] Cue Zhu Bajie eating his heart out (see the tags here).

Fig. 15 – A detail of Taiyin xing from the Ink Treasure of Wu Daozi (Daozi mobao, 道子墨寶, c. 13th-century) (larger version). See figure 1 for the complete image. She is the fourth person from the left on the top row.

Update: 01-18-23

I’ve decided to make this the only article on my blog where Yuebei xing information can be found. Therefore, I have removed all of it from “The Monkey King’s Children.” This means I have to also transfer some previous updates.

Posted: 02-13-22

I’ve recently started watching the Lego Monkie Kid series, which follows the adventures of Sun Wukong’s human disciple, MK, in a very toyetic, Lego-inspired world. This is why @TustiLoliPop‘s lovely drawing of Yuebei xing (fig. 16) really stood out to me. They were kind enough to give me permission to post it here. It’s based on the Xixia dynasty painting from figure 2.

Fig. 16 – The Lego Monkie Kid-style Yuebei xing by @TustiLoliPop (larger version). Used with permission.

Posted: 07-13-22

Tumblr user @sketching-shark has drawn some great pictures of Monkey and his children. Here is one of them (fig. 17). I love the alternating black and white color scheme of Rahu and Ketu, as well as Yuebei xing’s size.

Fig. 17 – Monkey’s family by @sketching-shark (larger version). Used with permission.


Update: 07-23-23

Tumblr user @MarxieReplies has drawn two Lego Monkie Kid-inspired pictures of Yuebei xing (fig. 18 & 19). Her clothing is based on the Xixia dynasty paintings of the lunar goddess (refer back to figure 2). I love the glowing skull and the flow of her ponytail and divine sashes.

Fig. 18 – A full body drawing of Yuebei (larger version). Fig. 19 – A head and torso drawing (larger version). Used with permission.

Note:

1) I’ve already suggested that an acquaintance draw Yuebei wielding Medusa’s head in place of her signature skull. The real question is: Could Medusa’s glare actually kill an immortal? This insightful reddit post provides evidence from the Dionysiaca showing that even the god Dionysus considered it deadly enough to bring a magic diamond to protect himself from the Gorgon’s death stare:

The thyrsus was held up in his hand, and to defend his face he carried a diamond, the gem made stone in the showers of Zeus which protects against the stony glare of Medusa, that the baleful light of that destroying face may do him no harm (Rouse, 1940, vol. 3, p. 413). 

2) Translation by Dr. Kotyk.

Sources:

Bhattacharyya, B. (1958). The Indian Buddhist Iconography: Mainly Based on the Sādhanamālā and Cognate Tāntric Texts of Rituals (2nd ed.). Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay.

Bunce, F. W. (1994). An Encyclopaedia of Buddhist Deities, Demigods, Godlings, Saints and Demons: With Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes (Vols.1-2). New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Carboni S. & Metropolitan Museum of Art. (1997). Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Coburn, T. B. (1991). Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devī-Māhātmya and a Study of its Interpretation. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gansten, M. (2009). Navagrahas. In K. A. Jacobsen (Ed.), Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Vol. 1) (pp. 647-653). Leiden: Brill.

Kinsley, D. R. (1997). Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kotyk, J. (2017). Astrological Iconography of Planetary Deities in Tang China. Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies, 30, 33-88, Retrieved from http://enlight.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BJ001/bj001575268.pdf

Rouse, W. H. D. (Ed.) (1940), Nonnos. Dionysiaca, with an English Translation by W. H. D. Rouse, Mythological Introduction and Notes by H. J. Rose and Notes on Text Criticism by L. R. Lind (Vols. 1-3). Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/dionysiaca03nonnuoft/page/412/mode/2up.

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

Yu, X. (n.d.). Nanyouji: Huaguang sanxia Fengdu [Journey to the South: Huaguang goes to the Underworld Three Times]. Retrieved from https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=gb&chapter=506975&remap=gb#%E5%8D%8E%E5%85%89%E4%B8%89%E4%B8%8B%E9%85%86%E9%83%BD

 

Journey to the West Artist Spotlight #2: NinjaHaku21

From time to time I like to post a fun blog not directly related to (though sometimes informed by) my research. Regular articles will resume after this entry.

Last updated: 05-09-2023

Anyone who has read my blog will know that I’m an avid fan of researching the history and influences of Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592). But as an artist, I am also a fan of JTTW-related artwork. There are so many talented people in the world who post their traditional and original designs and comics online, so I’ve decided to feature some of them on my blog. My hope is that such posts will expose this art to a wider audience interested in JTTW, while also documenting modern day perceptions and depictions of the novel and its characters.

Our next artist is NinjaHaku21, who goes by @NinjaHaku21_Art on both Twitter and Instagram and @NinjaHaku21Art on Tumblr.  They also have a Patreon and an Etsy storeThey were kind enough to answer some interview questions, as well as allow permission to display a few of their pieces.

I. Q & A

1) Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Hi there! I go by Ninja, and I am a freelance artist! I recently just started my freelancing career this year, and work on a few indie comics along with thumbnails for youtube!

2) Are you self-taught or did you go to art school?

I am self taught! I always wanted to go to art school, but life had other plans in mind!

3) What are your main sources of artistic inspiration?

While growing up, comics for sure! Was a huge fan of sonic comics, and now, it’s a mix of that and other media!

4) How did you learn about Journey to the West?

I learned about the Journey To The West after watching the show LEGO Monkie Kid! My friends and I have seen clips of it on twitter, and so we binged the entire series up to date. I was so interested in the characters and the world, I had to look up more. I then discovered the novel and was hooked. I am still looking into more movies to see their take on the novel!

5) Who is your favorite character?

Sun Wukong! He grows so much throughout the story and faces so many challenges. It’s hard not to love this murderous Monkey King who seeks redemption.

6) Do you have a favorite episode from the novel?

That’s a tough one! I think my favorites have to be the Six- Eared Macaque, the battle with Red Boy, and the Immortals of Tiger, Elk, and Antelope Power!

7) Does the novel have a special meaning to you?

To me, seeing what the characters have acted before in the past and seeing them grow and learn makes me happy. It helps me remember that even though you may have done some awful stuff in the past, you can still make a difference and grow from it.

8) Can you tell me about any ongoing JTTW-related projects?

Currently I am working on my own designs of the characters for fun! Making illustrations about my versions of them, and making some merch of the designs for my shop!

II. Art and Thought Process

Note: Click each image to enlarge it.

1. Ever since I started reading Journey To The West and watching movies with the Monkey King or anything JTTW-related, I wanted to create my own take of the characters. With this piece, I was seeing how my designs would look with all of them together! I had rough sketched out some draft looks that got inspired by different pieces of them from either shows, movies, or ancient drawings of them, then fit in what I liked most and created this piece! I wanted to have them express their own personality through the look, and I am quite proud of the final results! I imagined some unlucky villager getting a visit from these “ugly demons” and their Master asking for a place to visit.

2. With this piece, I wanted to capture a fun moment on their journey to the west. These guys have to deal with so much while trying to protect their master, so I figured giving them a nice snow day would be a fun thing to draw!

3. The Six-Eared Macaque. Definitely one of my favorite characters from the stories. I wanted to show him off along with the opera mask, kind of symbolizing him transforming into Wukong to trick his companions.

4. I wanted to put these three pieces together, showing how Sun Wukong acts around his companions and Master.

I know for sure Wukong and Zhu Bajie argued a lot, and I haven’t seen any issues between Sha Wujing and Wukong (still reading and learning) and figured they’d have some nice conversations. And of course, Wukong protects his master from a group of hungry demons or bandits!

5. Now this one I did decide on having some fun on creating my own version of a “spider queen” (I know there wasn’t a queen in the story, but it was still fun)! I based this loosely around the chapter with the spider sisters, making the eldest one the queen. I had a fun time drawing this out, making the eldest have a thing for Wukong, haha!

(Jim here. This reminds me of the Scorpion Spirit having a thing for Tripitaka.)

6. In this piece here, I wanted to have my design of Nezha interacting with Wukong. I based Nezha’s design on a few different inspirations (some being from the Monkie Kid series and ancient art of the deity), and descriptions from the story. I also wanted to add in a dragon tattoo, sort of as a remembrance of what Nezha had done in the past. But this picture was to show the type of relationship these two have. Nezha would definitely feel a bit salty of losing to Wukong all those years ago!


Update: 05-09-23

I commissioned NinjaHaku21 to draw a religiously accurate illustration of Sun Wukong as the “Victorious Fighting Buddha.” It is based on the traditional iconography of the Yuddhajaya Buddha, the deity from which his religious title is derived. The results are stunning!