Archive #37 – The 13th-Century Version of Journey to the West

I’ve previously written an article describing 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), a seventeen chapter novelette that likely served as a prompt for oral storytellers. It is the oldest printed version of the Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記) story cycle. Here, I would like to present an English translation of this tale by Charles S. Wivell (1994).

Archive link:

The Story of How the Monk Tripitaka of the Great Country of T’ang Brought back the Sutras

Detail of Tripitaka and the Monkey Pilgrim from a late-Xixia Yulin Cave no. 3 mural (larger version). See here for more ancient depictions of Sun Wukong and his master.

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:

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.

Interesting Facts about the Monkey King

Last updated: 08-28-2022

I recently posted a list of facts about Sun Wukong (孫悟空) to reddit. I am presenting an elongated version of it here, which serves as a summation of everything that I’ve learned over the years. It is by no means comprehensive. I’ll add more facts in the future as I learn of them. Enjoy.

Current count: 108

  1. He was likely influenced by the Hindu monkey god Hanuman (Ch: Ha nu man, 哈奴曼) in different waves, one possibly from the north (via Tibet) and another from the south (via Southeast Asia). But the parallels are most apparent from the standard 1592 edition of JTTW, suggesting that the author-compiler had access to some form of the Indian epic Rāmāyana (7th-c. BCE to 3rd-c. CE). The novel even includes material from the epic Mahābhārata (4th-c. BCE to 4th-c. CE).
  2. In my opinion, however, the greatest influence on his 1592 persona is a white ape antagonist from a Tang-era story. Similarities include: 1) both are supernatural primates possessed of human speech; 2) one thousand-year-old practitioners of longevity arts; 3) masters of Daoist magic with the ability to fly and change their appearance; 4) warriors capable of single-handedly defeating an army; 5) have a fondness for armed martial arts; 6) have an iron-hard, nigh-invulnerable body immune to most efforts to harm them; 7) have eyes that flash like lightning; 8) live in verdant mountain paradises (like Flower Fruit Mountain); and 9) reside in caves with stone furniture (like the Water Curtain Cave).
  3. He has the second longest association with the JTTW story cycle, appearing as the “Monkey Pilgrim” (Hou xingzhe, 猴行者) circa 1000 (or before). Sha Wujing’s earliest antecedent appeared during the 8th-century, while Zhu Bajie didn’t appear until the 14th-century.
  4. The oldest published mention of the Monkey Pilgrim is a eulogy appearing in a tale from Zhang Shinan’s (張世南) Memoirs of a Traveling Official (Youhuan jiwen, 遊宦紀聞, 13th-century). One scholar dates the story to around 1127.
  5. The oldest depictions of this character (late-11th to late-13th-century) appear in Buddhist cave art along the Silk Road in Northern China. He is almost always portrayed in a scene worshiping the Bodhisattva Guanyin.
  6. A 13th-century version of JTTW describes the Monkey Pilgrim as a white-clad scholar who is an ancient immortal from the very beginning of the tale. He was beaten with an iron rod as a young immortal after he stole magic peaches and was subsequently banished to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. He actively searches out the monk to protect him as the cleric’s two previous incarnations were eaten by a monster (Sha Wujing’s antecedent) in the past.

  7. This immortal fights with two staves (at different times), a golden-ringed monk’s staff and an iron staff (both borrowed from heaven). The monk’s staff can create destructive blasts of light, as well as transform into titanic creatures, including a club-wielding yaksha and an iron dragon. The iron staff isn’t shown to have any special powers. These weapons were later combined by storytellers, the rings from the former being added to the ends of the latter.

  8. He is called the “Monkey King” (Houwang, 猴王) as far back as the 13th-century version. This position is likely based on a jataka tale about the Buddha’s past life as a king of monkeys.
  9. The immortal is bestowed the title “Great Sage Steel Muscles and Iron Bones” (Gangjin tiegu dasheng, 鋼筋鐵骨大聖) at the end of the story by Tang Taizong.
  10. This immortal was heavily influenced by the Buddhist Saint Mulian (目連; Sk: Maudgalyayana).
  11. He was popular even in Korea and appeared in a set of carvings from a 14th-century stone pagoda.
  12. The earliest mention of the name “Sun Wukong” that I’m aware of appears in an early-15th-century zaju play. It depicts the character as a sex-crazed maniac who kidnaps a princess to be his wife, tries to seduce Princess Iron Fan, and later gets erectile disfunction when his golden headband tightens while trying to have sex with a young maiden in the Kingdom of Women.
  13. The dharma name “Wukong” (悟空) was likely influenced by a historical monk of that name who traveled to India during the 8th-century. The name means “Awakened to Emptiness”, thus referencing Buddhist enlightenment. I think the corresponding Sanskrit name would be something like “Bodhiśūnyatā” (but don’t quote me on this).

  14. The surname “Sun” (孫) means “grandson” but is an open reference to husun (猢猻, lit: “grandson of the barbarian”), the Chinese word for “macaque“. It was also a popular surname for supernatural primates in stories associated with the Lingyin Temple (靈隱寺), which also likely influenced the Monkey King.

  15. The 1592 edition of the novel associates the components of Sun (孫 = zi, 子 & xi, 系) (ch. 1 – see section 4.2 here) with the formation of a “holy embryo” (shengtai, 聖胎), an immortal spirit that lives on after the adherent dies.

  16. So taking all of the Buddhist and Daoist references into account, another translation for Sun Wukong would be “Immortal Awakened to Enlightenment”. This is a reference to the Buddho-Daoist philosophy of Zhang Boduan (張伯端, mid- to late-980s-1082), who believed that in order to become a true transcendent (xian, 仙), one had to achieve both the Daoist elixir of immortality and Buddha-nature (i.e. Buddhahood).

  17. The aforementioned zaju play calls him the “Great Sage Reaching Heaven” (Tongtian dasheng, 通天大聖).

  18. Said play also states that he has two sisters and two brothers. The sisters are respectively named the “Venerable Mother of Mount Li” (Lishan laomu, 驪山老母) and “Holy Mother Wuzhiqi” (Wuzhiqi shengmu, 巫支祇聖母). His older brother is called “Great Sage Equaling Heaven” (Qitian dasheng, 齊天大聖) and the younger the “Third Son Shuashua” (Shuashua sanlang, 耍耍三郎).

  19. His story in the 1592 version takes place not in our world but in one modeled after ancient Hindo-Buddhist cosmic geography, which features four island-like continents floating in a great ocean around the four respective faces of a cosmic mountain. And yet the novel was published during a time coinciding with the late Renaissance period in Europe, precisely 49 years after Copernicus suggested that the Earth orbits the sun.
  20. His home, the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit (Huaguo shan, 花果山), is located near the easternmost continent, while China is associated with the southernmost continent. This means that Monkey, within the novel, is not Chinese!
  21. He has had past lives (see the 11-24-20 update here).
  22. He’s not the only figure from world myth born from stone. In fact, “Birth from rock” (T544.1) is a mythic category appearing in Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature.

  23. While his stone birth (ch. 1) is likely based on that of Yu the Great (Dayu, 大禹), a legendary King of the Xia dynasty (more on this below), it may ultimately be linked to Tibetan stories of stone-born monkey deities.
  24. He was likely born during the late-Zhou Dynasty (circa 1046-256 BCE).
  25. He serves as a physical manifestation of the “Mind Monkey” (xinyuan, 心猿), a Buddho-Daoist philosophy denoting the disquieted thoughts that keep Man trapped in the illusory world of Saṃsāra (see the material below figure three here). This phrase is also surprisingly associated with sexual desire.
  26. Despite the association above, Monkey shows no interest in sex throughout the entire novel. This may be a response to the highly sexualized Sun Wukong from the zaju play.
  27. The novel also gives him the alchemical title “Squire of Metal/Gold” (Jingong, 金公), a possible “anagrammatic reading of the Chinese graph for lead or qian 鉛, which may be broken up into the two graphs of jin and gong” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 532 n. 3). Lead is an ingredient in external alchemy (see the material after figure two here). The title might also be referring to the earthly branch shen (申), which is associated with both metal and monkeys (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 532 n. 3).
  28. The overall arc of his birth and early life were likely based on that of the historical Buddha to make his tale more familiar to readers. Similarities include: A) supernatural births that split open their respective mothers (Queen Maya vs stone egg); B) producing a radiant splendor in all directions upon their birth; C) being talented students that quickly master concepts taught to them; D) early lives as royals (Indian prince vs king of monkeys); E) shock at the impermanence of life; F) questing for a spiritual solution to said impermanence; and G) finding said solution via spiritual practices (Indic meditation vs Daoist elixir arts).

  29. His “Water Curtain Cave” (Shuilian dong, 水簾洞), the grotto-heaven where he and his people live in the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, is associated with a different immortal in older religious literature. For instance, the Song-era text Master Ghost Valley’s Numinous Writ of the Essence of Heaven (Guigu zi tiansui lingwen鬼谷子天隨靈文) calls the titular character the “Master of the Waterfall Cave” (Shuilian dong zhu, 水濂洞主). In this case, the source uses a different lian (濂) in place of the lian (簾) associated with Monkey’s cave. But they both mean the same thing: a waterfall hiding a cave mouth (see the 12-11-21 update here). One 17th-century novel influenced by JTTW states that Master Ghost Valley lives in the Water Curtain Cave (Shuilian dong, 水簾洞; i.e. the same as Monkey’s home) with his student, the Warring States strategist Sun Bin (孫臏, d. 316 BCE). This means that two characters surnamed Sun (孫) live there in Chinese literature (see section II here).
  30. Despite modern media portraying him as an adult-sized humanoid character that is sometimes handsome and/or very muscular, the 1592 version describes him as an ugly, bald, and skinny Rhesus macaque that is less than four feet tall. This means that one of the most powerful warriors in the Buddho-Daoist cosmos is the size of a child.
  31. While commonly portrayed as a Daoist immortal, his first master, the Patriarch Subodhi (Xuputi zushi, 須菩提祖師) (ch. 1 & 2), is shown to live in India and have a strong connection to Buddhism, possibly even being a Bodhisattva.
  32. The breathing and energy circulation methods that Monkey uses to achieve immortality (ch. 2) are based on real Daoist elixir practices.
  33. The actual name for his famous 72 Transformations is “Multitude of Terrestrial Killers” (Disha shu, 地煞數), which is based on a popular set of malevolent stellar gods.
  34. This skill not only allows Monkey to transform into whatever he wants but also gives him a store of extra heads and possibly even extra lives like a video game (see section 4.4 # 3 here).
  35. He specifically learns the 72 Transformations (ch. 3) in order to hide from a trio of elemental calamities sent by heaven to punish cultivators for defying their fate and achieving immortality. This is the origin of the “Heavenly Tribulation” (tianjie, 天劫; zhongjie, 重劫) trope from modern Xianxia literature.
  36. But, surprisingly, he is not a true immortal, just long-lived and really hard to kill. The novel refers to him as a “bogus immortal” (yaoxian, 妖仙). This references Zhang Boduan’s aforementioned philosophy where one must obtain both the Daoist elixir (which Monkey did) and Buddha-Nature (which he hadn’t yet achieved) in order to be a true transcendent.
  37. While training under Subodhi (ch. 3), he expressly passes on learning the bureaucratic-style magic rites normally used by earthly priests to request something from heaven because the skills involved won’t result in eternal life. Instead, after achieving immortality, Monkey just commands the gods to do his bidding (see section II here).
  38. He can grow 100,000 feet (30,480 m) tall (ch. 1, 6, 61, and 97). This skill is called the “Method of Modeling Heaven on Earth” (Fatian xiangdi, 法天像地), and it is related to ancient Pre-Qin and Han concepts of astral-geography later used in the construction of imperial Chinese cities.
  39. His magic “immortal breath” (xianqi, 仙氣) can transform his hairs, his staff, and objects not in direct contact with his body into anything he desires. It can also change disembodied souls into “ether” for ease of transport, and evidence suggests that it can even grant some form of immortality.
  40. Monkey has 84,000 hairs on his body, and he can transform them into hundreds of thousands, millions, and even billions of hair clones (see the 03-19-22 update here).
  41. The novel only mentions him learning martial arts in passing (ch. 67 – see section 4.5 here), but one episode (ch. 51) features a battle between Monkey and a demon king in which they use a host of real world fighting techniques that are still known and practiced today.
  42. His favorite style of boxing is “Short Fist” (duanquan, 短拳) (see the 05-02-18 update here).
  43. His skill with the staff is so great that the novel compares it to techniques from two manuals listed among the Seven Military Classics of China (see the 08-07-18 update here).
  44. The bureaucratic mix-up that resulted in his soul being dragged to hell (ch. 3) is based on “mistaken summons” to the underworld and “return-from-death” narratives present in early Chinese “miraculous tales” (Zhiguai xiaoshuo, 志怪小説) (Campany, 1990).
  45. When he looks at his entry in the ledgers of hell, he learns that: 1) his soul number is “1,350”; 2) his real name is “Heaven-Born Stone Monkey” (Tianchan shihou, 天產石猴); and 3) he was fated to have a “good end” at the ripe old age of 342. This refers to a person’s pre-allotted lifespan (ming, 命) (Campany, 2005; Campany & Ge, 2002, pp. 47-52).
  46. The distance that his cloud-somersault can travel, 108,000 li (33,554 mi / 54,000 km), is based on a metaphor for instantaneous enlightenment. It comes from the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Chan Patriarch Huineng (惠能). The Chan Master explains that the common trope of the Buddha’s paradise being separated from the world of man by 108,000 li is based on a combination of the “Ten Evils” (Shi’e, 十惡) and “Eight Wrongs” (Baxie, 八邪) of Buddhism. Those who rid themselves of these spiritual flaws will achieve enlightenment and thus arrive instantly at the Buddha’s paradise.
  47. The initial depiction of his magic staff as a great iron pillar kept in the dragon kingdom treasury (ch. 3) is based on a metal column that the immortal Xu Xun (許遜) chained a demonic dragon to and then imprisoned in the aquatic realm in Chinese mythology.
  48. It’s a common misconception that his staff weighed down the Milky Way galaxy. This is based on a mistranslation. The W. J. F. Jenner edition claims that the weapon anchored said star cluster. However, the original Chinese states that it was used as a means to measure and set the depths of the Heavenly River (Tianhe, 天河; a.k.a. Milky Way).

  49. The weight of his staff is likely an embellishment on the weight of a heavy stone block lifted by the bandit-hero Wu Song (武松) in the Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan, 水滸傳, c. 1400). This episode and the JTTW episode where Monkey acquires his staff both involve a hero (Wu Song vs Sun Wukong) asking someone (a friend vs the Dragon King) to take them to a seemingly immovable object (stone block vs iron pillar). They then adjust their clothing before lifting the object with ease. Most importantly, the Chinese characters for the respective weights are visually similar. Sun’s staff is 13,500 catties (yiwan sanqian wubai jin, 一萬三千五百斤; 17,5560 lbs. / 7965.08 kg), while the stone block is 300 to 500 catties (sanwubai jin, 三五百斤; 390-650 lbs. / 177-295 kg). The characters in bold indicate the similarities between the two weights, where as those in red indicate the embellishments: 一萬五百斤.

  50. He singlehandedly defeats the “Nine Planets” (Sk: Navagraha; Ch: Jiuyao, 九曜, “Nine Luminaries”), personifications of the sun and planets from Hindu astrology (Gansten, 2009), during his rebellion (ch. 4) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 170-172).
  51. His time as the Bimawen (弼馬溫, “To assist horse temperament”), a minor post overseeing the heavenly horse stables (ch. 4), is based on an ancient Chinese practice of placing monkeys in horse stables to ward off equine sicknesses. The belief was that the menstrual blood of female monkeys mixed with horse food somehow guarded against diseases. This is hilarious as the position links Sun Wukong to menstruation!

  52. His title “Great Sage Equaling Heaven” (Qitian dasheng, 齊天大聖) (ch. 4) was actually borrowed from the “Eastern Marchmount” (Dongyue, 東嶽; a.k.a. “Eastern Peak”), the god of Mt. Tai. This suggests that the older brother from the aforementioned zaju play is really the Eastern Marchmount.
  53. His time as the Guardian of the Immortal Peach Groves (ch. 5) is likely based on a Song-era Daoist scripture in which the aforementioned Sun Bin is tasked by his teacher, Master Ghost Valley, with protecting a tree laden with special fruit. He later captures a magic white ape stealing said produce (see section III here). The simian thief saves his life by offering Sun a set of secret religious texts. Both stories include: 1) a character surnamed Sun (孫) protecting special fruit (Sun Bin vs Sun Wukong); and 2) supernatural primates that steal and eat the fruit. Therefore, Monkey’s 1592 persona serves as both the guard and the thief!
  54. The elixir pills that he drunkenly eats in Laozi’s laboratory (ch. 5) likely influenced the senzu beans from the world famous Dragon Ball (Jp: Doragon Bōru,ドラゴンボール; Ch: Qilongzhu, 七龍珠) franchise.
  55. His conflict with Erlang (ch. 6) can be traced to ancient Han-era funerary rituals, and their battle of magic transformations shares parallels with ancient Greek tales and can ultimately be traced to even older stories from the Near East.
  56. His time in Laozi‘s furnace (ch. 7) is based on an episode from the aforementioned 13th-century version of JTTW. It may also be connected to a story of Laozi magically surviving a foreign king’s attempt to boil him in a cauldron.
  57. He is shown to be weak against spiritual fire and smoke (see the 06-28-22 update here).
  58. Smoke from the furnace irritates his eyes, giving him his famous “Fiery Eyes and Golden Pupils” (Huoyan jinjing, 火眼金睛). The former is likely based on the “actual red-rimmed eyes of [the Rhesus macaque]” (Burton, 2005, p. 148). The latter is likely based on the golden pupils of macaques (see section 2.1 here).
  59. The message that he leaves on the Buddha’s finger (ch. 7) is a popular form of graffiti in East Asia.
  60. His time under Five Elements Mountain (Wuxing shan, 五行山) (ch. 7) is based on stories of the aforementioned Wuzhiqi (無支奇/巫支祇) being imprisoned under a mountain by Yu the Great.
  61. He was pressed under the mountain during the late-Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220CE – see section II here).
  62. A religious precious scroll predating the 1592 edition states that Erlang instead traps Monkey beneath Mount Tai, and the aforementioned 15th-century zaju play states it was Guanyin and the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit.
  63. This punishment links him to a broader list of mythic baddies imprisoned in earth, including Lucifer, Loki, and the Titans of Tartarus. I plan to write a later article about “earth prisons” in world myth.
  64. One scholar suggests that being trapped under Five Elements Mountain is a symbolic death (remember that Monkey claims to be free of the Five Elements after attaining immortality), meaning that the hellish diet is his karmic punishment in the afterlife, and his later release is a symbolic reincarnation.
  65. Monkey’s mountain imprisonment was only part of his punishment. The other half was a hellish diet of hot iron pellets and molten copper, punishments straight from Buddhist canon.
  66. His golden headband (ch. 13) has three influences: 1) a historical ritual circlet worn as a physical reminder of right speech and action by Esoteric Buddhist yogins in ancient India; 2) adornments, likely based on stylized lingzhi mushrooms, worn by Daoist protector deities; and 3) an Iranic triple-crescent crown.
  67. The oldest depiction of Monkey with his headband that I know of appears in a late-Xixia (late-12th to early-13th-century) Buddhist cave grotto in Northwestern China.
  68. The earliest depiction of his double “curlicue-style” headband that I’m aware of is a 13th-century stone carving in Fujian.
  69. The secret spell that tightens his headband is likely the Akshobhya Buddha mantra.
  70. Along with the headband, his tiger skin kilt (ch. 13) can be traced to a list of ritual items prescribed for worshiping wrathful protector deities in Esoteric Indian Buddhism. These same ritual items came to be worn by the very protector deities that the yogins revered. This explains why some deities in Chinese folk religion (including Sun Wukong) are portrayed with the golden headband and tiger skin.

  71. Modern artists sometimes depict him with two long feathers protruding from the front of his golden headband, giving him the appearance of an insect. But the feathers (lingzi, 翎子) are actually associated with a different headdress called the “Purple Gold Cap” (zijin guan, 紫金冠), which is worn on top of the head. It was a military headdress later associated with heroes in Chinese opera (see section 2.2 here).
  72. Monkey is also shown to be weaker in water. For instance, he enlists Zhu Bajie to combat the water demon who turns out to be Sha Wujing (ch. 22) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. pp. 422-423).
  73. The baby-shaped fruit that he eats (ch. 24) comes from a tree based on Indo-Persian lore.
  74. He claims to have eaten people when he was a monster in his youth (ch. 27) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 20).
  75. His greatest feat of strength is carrying two mountains while running at meteoric speeds (ch. 33). One is the axis mundi of the Hindo-Buddhist cosmos, while the other is the place from which (according to legend) Buddhism spread upon entering China. This episode is based on an older tale in which Erlang does the lifting.
  76. His doppelganger, the Six-Eared Macaque (ch. 56-58), is actually an aspect of his troubled mind. Once he kills him, Monkey takes one step closer to Buddhahood.
  77. He fights and is defeated by an ancient bird demon who is a spiritual uncle of the Buddha (ch. 77). This monster is based on the Hindu bird god Garuda.
  78. He and his religious brothers take human disciples in India (ch. 88), and Monkey later performs an arcane ritual in which he grants them superhuman strength (and possibly some form of immortality).
  79. His title, “Victorious Fighting Buddha” (Douzhan sheng fo, 鬥戰勝佛) (ch. 100), is based on a real world deity numbering among the “Thirty-Five Confession Buddhas“.
  80. The novel ranks him higher than Guanyin after his ascension (see the third quote here).
  81. As an enlightened Buddha, Monkey is eligible for his own “Buddha-Field” (Sk: Buddhakṣetra; Ch: Focha, 佛刹), essentially his own universe in which he will lead the inhabitants to enlightenment (Buswell & Lopez, 2014, p. 153).
  82. Despite his association with the Victorious Fighting Buddha, he is primarily worshiped as the Great Sage Equaling Heaven in East and Southeast Asian Chinese folk religion.
  83. Fighters of the Boxer Rebellion (Yihetuan yundong, 義和團運動, 1899-1901) believed that they could channel the Monkey King to gain his great combat skills.
  84. Modern ritual specialists known as “spirit-mediums” (Hokkien: Tangki, 童乩; Ch: Jitong, 乩童; lit: “Divining Child”) also channel the Great Sage, allowing his worshipers to have direct access to the divine. While they may use a staff to enhance the theater of their performance, the weapon surprisingly doesn’t serve a ritual function. They instead use a set of bladed or spiked weapons to draw blood intended to create evil-warding paper talismans (see the material below figure six here).
  85. Chinese folk religion recognizes more than one Great Sage, usually between three and five individuals.
  86. Monkey’s faith started in Fujian province, China and spread via boat to other countries within the Chinese diaspora. When he first started being worshiped is unknown. The first concrete references to his worship come from the 17th-century (see section III here). But the aforementioned 13th-century stone carving depicts him as a wrathful guardian, alongside other protector deities, Bodhisattvas, patriarchs, and eminent monks. This suggests that he might have been revered at an earlier time.
  87. He was even worshiped in 19th-century America!
  88. The iconic pose where he shades his eyes to search the horizon is likely based on a common motif associated with Chinese sea gods.
  89. He has a number of religious birthdays, one of which is the 16th day of the 8th lunar month (the day after the Mid Autumn Festival).
  90. There is a style of Chinese boxing named after him, “Great Sage Boxing” (Cantonese: Taishing kyun; Mandarin: Dasheng quan, 大聖拳). Another closely associated style is “Great Sage Axe Boxing” (Can: Taishing pek kwar kyun; Man: Dasheng pigua quan, 劈掛拳). These arts also have staff styles associated with the Monkey King.
  91. His time in Laozi’s furnace and ability to grow 100,000 feet tall influenced a Shaolin Monastery myth related to the founding of their famous staff fighting method. The story describes how a lowly kitchen worker jumped into an oven and remerged as a staff-wielding titan to battle mountain brigands attacking the monastery (see section 3 here).
  92. Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, was a fan of the Monkey King, even associating himself with the character in his poetry. Also, a CCP propaganda play of the 1960s associates the scripture pilgrims with members of the Communist Party, with Monkey referencing Mao.
  93. He shares several connections with Yu the Great (here and here). These include: A) both have stone births; B) Monkey’s staff was originally used by Yu as a drill and as a ruler to set the depths of the fabled world flood; C) Sun’s demonic sister Wuzhiqi was conquered by Yu in some stories; and D) both are legendary hero-kings.
  94. He shares a number of similarities with Wu Song. These include: A) both are reformed supernatural spirits originally trapped under the pressing weight of a mountain; B) slayers of tigers; C) Buddhist monks nicknamed “Pilgrim” (xingzhe, 行者), a title noting junior and traveling monks, as well as untrained riffraff that became clerics to avoid trouble with the law or taxes and military service (Wu Song is the latter and Monkey the former); D) martial arts monks who fight with staves; E) have moralistic golden headbands; and F) weapons made from bin steel (bin tie, 鑌鐵) (Wu Song’s Buddhist sabers vs Monkey’s magic staff).

  95. He shares a surprising number of similarities with the Greek hero Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules). These include: A) supernatural births via masculine heavenly forces (son of Zeus vs the stone seeded by heaven); B) quick to anger; C) big cat skins (Nemean lion vs mountain tiger); D) fight with blunt weapons (olive wood club vs magic iron staff); E) great strength; F) knocked out by a god during a fit of rage (Athena with a rock vs Laozi and his Diamond-Cutter bracelet); G) given punishment to atone for past transgressions (12 labors for killing family vs protecting the monk for rebelling against heaven); H) constantly helped by goddesses (Athena vs Guanyin); I) similar enemies (there’s a long list); tamer of supernatural horses (Mares of Diomedes vs Heavenly Horses); J) travel to lands peopled by women (Amazons vs Kingdom of Women); K) theft of fruit from the gardens of queenly goddesses (Hera’s golden apples of the Hesperides vs the Queen Mother’s immortal peaches); L) travel to the underworld; M) take part in a heavenly war (Gigantomachy vs rebellion in heaven); N) become gods at the end of their stories (god of heroes and strength vs Victorious Fighting Buddha); and O) worshiped in the real world (Greece and Rome vs East and Southeast Asia).

  96. He time travels to different points in Chinese history in an unofficial 17th-century sequel to JTTW.
  97. He has a total of eight children between two 17th-century novels. He has five sons in A Supplement to the Journey to the West (Xiyoubu, 西遊補, 1640), but only one of them is mentioned by name. “King Pāramitā” (Boluomi wang, 波羅蜜王) is portrayed as a sword-wielding general capable of fighting Sun for several rounds. His name is based on a set of virtues learned by Bodhisattvas on their path to Buddhahood. In Journey to the South (Nanyouji, 南遊記) he has two sons named “Jidu” (奇都) and “Luohou” (羅猴), who respectively represent the lunar eclipse demons Ketu and Rahu from Indian astrology. He also has a giant, monstrous daughter, “Yuebei Xing” (月孛星, “Moon Comet Star”), who is named after a shadowy planet representing the lunar apogee (or the furthest spot in the moon’s orbit) in East Asian astrology. Only the daughter plays a part in the story. She uses a magic skull, which can kill immortals three days after their name is called.

  98. He influenced the manga/anime hero Son Goku (a Japanese transliteration of 孫悟空) from the Dragon Ball Franchise.
  99. He almost appeared in an Indiana Jones movie!
  100. He has appeared in both Marvel and DC comic book series.
  101. The world’s tallest statue of Monkey is 40 ft (12.192 m) tall and resides at the Broga Sak Dato Temple (武來岸玉封石哪督廟) in Malaysia.
  102. He is the mascot of several entities in Taiwan, including the HCT delivery company, the Hang Yuan FC football team, and the Taipei Water Department.
  103. He has appeared in nearly 65 video games.
  104. He is the namesake for a Chinese satellite designed to search for dark matter.
  105. He is the namesake of a fossa on Pluto. This plays on his association with the underworld.
  106. He is the namesake of the Wukongopterus (Wukong yilong shu, 悟空翼龍屬), a genus of Chinese pterosaur.

  107. He is the namesake of Syntelia sunwukong, a Synteliid beetle from mid-Cretaceous Burma.
  108. A Covid-19 lab in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China adopted the name “Fire Eyes” (Huoyan, 火眼) in honor of Monkey’s ability to discern evil spirits.

Sources:

Burton, F. D. (2005). Monkey King in China: Basis for a Conservation Policy? In A. Fuentes & L. D. Wolfe (Eds.), Primates Face to Face: Conservation Implications of Human-Nonhuman Primate Interconnections (pp. 137-162). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Campany, R. F. (1990). Return-from-Death Narratives in Early Medieval China. Journal of Chinese Religions, 18, pp. 91-125.

Campany, R. F., & Ge, H. (2002). To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: A Translation and Study of Ge Hong’s Traditions of Divine Transcendents. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Campany, R. F. (2005). Living off the Books: Fifty Ways to Dodge Ming in Early Medieval China. In C. Lupke (Ed.), The Magnitude of Ming: Command, Allotment, and Fate in Chinese Culture (pp. 129-150), University of Hawaii Press.

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

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

Journey to the West and Islamic Lore

Last updated: 04-05-2022

I. Battle of Transformations

Did you know that certain portions of Journey to the West were influenced by Indo-Persian and Arab Islamic lore? For instance, in chapter six Sun Wukong and Lord Erlang engage in a magical battle of skill in which they freely transform into myriad animals, each trying to one-up the other. This battle is unusual as Chinese stories going back to pre-Tang dynasty sources show characters could not transform at will. Conversely, One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (1704), which is based on stories as far back as the 9th-century, contains a tale featuring a magical battle of transformations between a princess and a genie. Literary critic C.T. Hsia (1996) notes that the similarities in magical combat “does not mean…the makers of the Monkey legend were specifically indebted to [the Arabian Nights], but it certainly indicates their general awareness of the popular literature of the Middle and Near East” (pp. 132-133).

(I no longer feel Hsia’s (1996) suggestion is accurate. See the 11-21-2019 update below.)

Click the image to open in full size.

Fig. 1 – (Left) Modern pears grown in molds to imitate ginseng baby fruit. Fig. 2 – (Right) A 14th to 15th-century illuminated manuscript depicting the women fruit of the Waqwaq tree (larger version).

 

II. Magic Tree

Chapters 24 to 26 of Journey to the West feature a magical Ginseng Tree (人參樹, Renshen shu) that produces crying, baby-shaped ginseng fruits (人參果, renshen guo) capable of extending the lives of those who eat them to 47,000 years (fig. 1). The literary antecedent of this fruit first appears in The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures (Da Tang Sanzang qujing shihua, 大唐三藏取經詩話, “The Story” hereafter), a 17-chapter storytelling prompt dated to the late 13th-century. Chapter 11 features an immortal peach tree with fruits that transform into edible children once they drop into water. Each is capable of answering when asked a question:

Monkey Pilgrim continued: ‘There are more than ten peaches on the tree now, but there are gods of the earth who are posted here especially to protect them. There is no way to steal the peaches.’ The Master teased: ‘Your supernatural powers are stupendous. If you were to go, what could prevent you?’ Before his words were finished three peaches of immortality fell down into the pool. The Master was startled by the splash and he asked: ‘What fell down?’ Monkey Pilgrim replied: ‘Don’t be alarmed, Master. It was just a few ripe peaches of immortality which fell into the pool.’ The Master said: ‘Can we find them and eat them?’

Monkey Pilgrim took the golden-ringed staff and shook it three times in the direction of the huge, flat stone. A small child with a greenish face appeared. His fingernails were as sharp as a hawk’s claws and from his gaping mouth the teeth showed as he emerged from the pool. Pilgrim asked: ‘How old are you?’ The child answered: ‘Three thousand years.’ Pilgrim replied: ‘I have no use for you.’ Again he rapped five times and a child appeared whose face was as round as the full moon. He wore embroidered clothes and a headdress with tassels. Pilgrim asked: ‘How old are you?’ The child replied: ‘Five thousand years.’ Pilgrim replied: ‘I will not use you.’ And once more he rapped several times with the staff. Another child appeared all of a sudden. Monkey Pilgrim asked: ‘How old are you?’ ‘Seven thousand years,” the child replied. Monkey put down the golden-ringed staff and made the child get on his hand. Then he asked: ‘Monk! Will you eat this?’ The monks were terrified and fled. Pilgrim whirled his hand with the child in it a number of times and the child became a milky jujube which he popped into his mouth (Wivell, 1994, p. 1196).

The concept of speaking, human-shaped fruit can be traced to the “Waqwaq tree” from Islamic lore. For example, The Book of the Wonders of India (Kitaab Ajaaib al-Hind), a set of Indo-Persian sailor stories collected between 900 and 953, contains a brief anecdote which reads:

Muhammad b. Babishad told me that, according to what he had learnt from men who had been to the Waqwaq country, there is a large tree there, with round leaves, or sometimes oblong, which bears fruit like a marrow, only larger, and looking something like a human being. When the wind blows, a voice comes out of it. The inside is full of air, like the fruit of the usher. If one picks it, the air escapes at once, and it is nothing but skin (Buzurg & Freeman-Grenville, 1981, p. 39).

The 15th-century Arab historian Ibn al-Wardi took the concept further by describing the fruit as being shaped like voluptuous women (fig. 2) with the power of speech:

On this island are trees that bear as fruit women: shapely, with bodies, eyes, hands, feet, hair, breasts, and vulvas like the vulvas of women. Their faces are exceptionally beautiful and they hang by their hair. They come out of cases like big swords, and when they feel the wind and sun, they shout “Waq Waq” until their hair tears (Toorawa, 2000, p. 393).

Various sources respectively locate the Waqwaq tree and its home of Waqwaq, a faraway, exotic land or island, somewhere within the Indian Ocean, beyond Iraq, or, further still, beyond China. The Waqwaq term was most likely used to describe the limits of the known world at given times (Toorawa, 2000). The tree itself can possibly be traced to a passage in the Quran (Sura 37, verses 60-64) that describes how the “Tree of Zakkum” produces fruit shaped like the heads of demons. The earliest mention of the Waqwaq tree in Chinese sources appears in the late 8th-century Comprehensive Encyclopedia (通典, Tongdian) by the travel writer Du Huan (杜環). This is apparently based on an earlier Arabic source (A floral fantasy, n.d.).


Update: 02-28-2018

I was looking through the Ming-era Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Three Realms (三才圖會, Sancai tuhui, 1609, “Three Realms” hereafter) and happened upon a woodblock print of a Waqwaq tree (fig. 3). The image is labeled Dashi Guo (大食國), A term used since the Tang Dynasty to refer to an ancient country in the Arab World (Zhang & Unschuld, 2015, p. 81). This shows the Chinese were still aware of the tree’s foreign origin around the time that Journey to the West was published.

Ginseng tree - From Sancai tuhui (1609), based on image of Iskander (Alexander the Great) talking to the Talking Tree from the Shamanah

Fig. 3 – Woodblock print from the Three Realms showing the Waqwaq tree (larger version).


Update: 11-21-2019

As noted above, Hsia (1996) suggests the battle of transformations between Monkey and Erlang was influenced in some way by Islamic literature. However, Robinet (1979) describes a tit-for-tat battle from Daoist literature that casts doubt on this view:

The Xianyuan bianzhu [仙苑編珠, “Paired Pearls from the Garden of Immortals”, after c. 921] tells how Wang Tan [王探] received “the art of hiding his light and transforming his body.” Dared by someone to metamorphose himself, he took the form of a tree, but the other fellow seized an axe. Wang immediately transformed himself into a stone, but the other lit a fire (in the theory of the five elements, fire prevails over minerals). After turning himself into bubbling water and so on, Wang Tan finally achieved the upper hand by adopting the appearance of a corpse-the man fled immediately (p. 46). [1]

The way the Daoist and his opponent try to one up the other is very similar to the battle between the Great and Small Sages. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to suggest this story (or related media) was embellished by a storyteller or the author-compiler of the Ming Journey to the West to include two masters of transformation instead of one.


Update: 04-04-2020

Thanks to a recent Twitter post by Guy Reisman, I was delighted to learn that the Islamic Waqwaq tree made its way to Japan, where it is known as the Jinmenju (人面樹, “human-face tree“). In fact, an illustration of the tree appearing in the Edo-period bestiary Konjaku Hyakki Shūi (今昔百鬼拾遺, “Supplement to The Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past”, c. 1781) appears to be based on that from the Three Realms cited above (refer back to fig. 3).

Even more exciting, however, is the revelation of the identity of the man standing beneath the tree in the Three Realms illustration. Foster (2015) traces the Japanese image to the Three Realms and then further back to a Persian source, thereby associating the man with a famous historical king:

If we continue back in time and along the Silk Road, we find different versions of the great Persian epic poem Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdawsi (d. 1020), with illustrations of a man conversing with a tree bearing human heads. The man, it turns out, is Alexander the Great (Sikandar or Iskandar), and the illustrations portray his legendary encounter with a talking tree, sometimes called the Wakwak Tree, that prophesied his death (p. 185).

That’s right, the man in the Three Realms is based on Alexander the Great! See image four for a comparison of the Chinese illustration and one example of Persian “Iskander and the Talking Tree”-genre drawings. Both men stand in a similar position, looking upwards. The Persian Alexander is passively listening, while the Three Realms Alexander is actively talking.

Iskander and the Talking Tree - Three Realms Ginseng Tree

Fig. 4 – A comparison of a 15th-century Persian “Iskander and the Talking Tree” image and the Three Realms image (larger version). The former is held by the Bodleian Library.

This then raises the question: Did material related to the Shahmana influence the Ginseng Tree in Journey to the the West? [2] I’ve already demonstrated that an antecedent of the Ginseng tree appears in The Story. But this doesn’t necessarily negate some sort of influence. After all, both the Shahmana and Journey to the West feature mythic kings (Alexander and Sun Wukong) coming into contact with magic trees with humanoid fruit. I should note, however, that the trees represent two drastically different fates. Alexander’s tree foresees his death, while Monkey’s tree holds the promise of eternal life. Further research might shed light on stronger connections between both stories.


Update: 04-03-22

I was scrolling through Twitter, when I came across a post displaying a lovely 19th-century engraving of a magical tree from “The Goblin and the Grocer” (Danish: Nissen hos Spekhøkeren, 1852), a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The tree is shown to have smiling, female head-shaped fruits similar to the waqwaq tree (fig. 5). The description of the tree reads:

Out of the book shot a streak of light which grew into a large tree and spread its branches far above the student. Every leaf was alive, and every flower was a beautiful girl’s head, some with dark and shining eyes, others with wonderful blue ones. Every fruit was a glittering star” (Anderson, 1904, pp. 13-14)

So it appears that the waqwaq tree came to influence European literature as well.

Fig. 5 – The tree engraving from “The Goblin and the Grocer” (larger version). From Anderson, 1904, p. 15.


Update: 04-05-22

I’ve archived a paper showing that magical battles of transformation can be traced to Ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, and Greek stories.

Archive #36 – Sun Wukong and Battles of Magical Transformations

Notes:

1) I changed the Wade-Giles to Pinyin.

2) Hall (2019) explains Iskander’s meeting with the talking tree takes place in both the Shahmana and the older Greek Alexander Romance (p. 149).

Sources:

A floral fantasy of animals and birds (Waq-waq). (n.d.). Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, Ohio. Retrieved May 12, 2017, from http://library.clevelandart.org/site…0Waq%20waq.pdf

Anderson, H. C. (1904). The Goblin and the Grocer. In A. Lang (Ed.), The Pink Fairy Book (pp. 12-17). New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/pinkfairybook00lang/page/12/mode/2up

Buzurg, S., & Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. (1981). The book of the wonders of India: Mainland, sea and islands. London: East-West.

Foster, M. D. (2015). The book of yōkai: Mysterious creatures of Japanese folklore. Oakland: University of California Press.

Hall, M. (2019). The imagination of plants: A book of botanical mythology. Albany : State University of New York Press

Hsia, C. (1996). The classic Chinese novel: A critical introduction. Ithaca, N.Y.: East Asia program, Cornell University.

Robinet, I. (1979). Metamorphosis and deliverance from the corpse in Taoism. History of Religions, 19(1), 37-70.

Toorawa, S. M. (2000). WaÃq al-waÃq: Fabulous, fabular, Indian Ocean (?) island(s). Emergences, 10(2), 387-402.

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.

Zhang, Z., & Unschuld, P. U. (2015). Dictionary of the Ben cao gan mu: Volume 2 – Geographical and administrative designations. Oakland, California: University of California Press

The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures: The Literary Precursor of Journey to the West

Last updated: 09-14-19

The great Chinese classic Journey to the West (西遊記, Xiyouji) was anonymously publish in 1592 and has since then enjoyed the adoration of readers for the last four centuries. But not many people know that an earlier version of the novel exists that predates the popular narrative by some three hundred years. Titled 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), this seventeen chapter novelette likely served as a prompt for oral storytellers, [1] and given it’s age, contains material that differs greatly from the final 16th-century version. For example, the disciple Zhu Bajie doesn’t even appear in the story, and a precursor of Sha Wujing only makes a brief cameo as a monster that Monkey battles. The novelette is also known as the “Kozanji  version” as two editions are mentioned in a 1633 catalog held by the titular Japanese Buddhist temple. The Chinese scholars Wang Guowei (王國維, 1877-1927) and Luo Zhenyu (羅振玉, 1866-1940) first identified the earlier of the two editions as a work of the late Song Dynasty (960-1279). [2] This article will summarize each short chapter, as well as discuss the similarities and differences between it and the final Ming version of Journey to the West. I rely heavily on the English translation by Charles S. Wivell (1994).

Chapter One: TITLE MISSING

[TEXT MISSING]

Chapter Two: En Route They Encounter the Monkey Pilgrim

Tripitaka and five other monks happen upon a white-clad scholar on their way to India. The figure warns the Sutra Master that his two previous incarnations have died on such a journey, and he will die a thousand times more unless he has protection. The scholar reveals himself to be “the bronze-headed, iron-browed king of the eighty-four thousand monkeys of the Purple Cloud Grotto on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit” (Huaguoshan ziyundong bawan siqian tongtou tie’e mihou wang, 花果山紫雲洞八萬四千銅頭鐵額獼猴王) (Wivell, 1994, p. 1182). Tripitaka accepts his help and rejoices that Karma is uniting the past, present, and future to benefit the people of China. Tripitaka gives him the name “Monkey Pilgrim” (Hou xingzhe, 猴行者).

Similarities:

1) Tripitaka initially sets out with a retinue of monks, but they are all eventually killed by monsters and tigers in chapters 13 and 14.
2) He starts referring to Monkey by the name Pilgrim Sun (Sun Xingzhe, 孫行者) in chapter 14.

Differences:

1) Triptaka happens upon Monkey at the base of Five Elements Mountain, where he has been imprisoned for the last five hundred years. He removes a magic talisman from the top of the mountain, allowing the immortal to break free. See chapter 14.
2) The name Sun Wukong does not appear in the novelette. He is given the name by the immortal Subodhi in chapter one.

Chapter Three: Entering the Palace of Mahābrahmā Devarāja

Pilgrim tells the monks he is so old that he has seen the Yellow River dry up nine different times over thousands of generations. Since the immortal has knowledge of the celestial realms, Tripitaka asks Monkey to fly the group to heaven to attend the Buddhist feast being held by Vaiśravana, the Mahābrahmā Devarāja (Dafan tianwang, 大梵天王), in the Crystal Palace. There, the devas ask the monk to give a lecture on the Lotus Sutra. Knowing that a monster, the “Spirit of the Deep Sand” (Shensha shen, 深沙神), had twice devoured Tripitaka in the past, the Devarāja bestows on Monkey three magic weapons to aid in his defense. These include a cap of invisibility, a golden-ringed monk’s staff, and a begging bowl. In addition, Vaiśravana tells them to call his name so that they may be delivered from any danger they face on the journey.

Similarities:

1) Monkey travels to and from heaven as he pleases.
2) He interacts with Vaiśravana on several occasions (see below).
3) The Bodhisattva Guanyin bestows Tripitaka with a golden-ringed monk’s staff and a cassock in chapter 12.

Differences:

1) Monkey is roughly 1,100 hundred years old when he first meets Tripitaka.
2) He never uses his magic to transport the monk by cloud because the impure nature of mortal bodies makes them far too heavy. See chapter 22.
3) The August Jade Emperor is the ruler of heaven in the final version.
4) Vaiśravana makes several appearances as the Pagoda-Bearing Heavenly King Li Jing, father of the child god, Prince Nezha. [3] Monkey battles Li Jing and Prince Nezha during his rebellion in heaven. See chapter 4, for example.
5) Tripitaka is not eaten over and over again. He was originally the Golden Cicada Bodhisattva, who was exiled from heaven for falling asleep during one of the Buddha’s lectures. He goes through nine pious incarnations before he is reborn as the Sutra Master.
6) Monkey fights with an iron cudgel, which he retrieved from the underwater treasury of Ao Guang, the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea. See chapter 3.
7) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Four: Entry in Incense Mountain Temple

The group travels to the land of the “Thousand-Armed Thousand-Eyed Bodhisattva” (Qian shou qian yan pusa, 千手千眼菩薩), or the Bodhisattva Guanyin (Wivell, 1994, p. 1185). They come upon the Incense Mountain Temple, which is lorded over by statues of fierce guardian deities. Inside, Tripitaka is dismayed to find the holy place has fallen into complete disrepair. Monkey reminds him that the worst is yet to come; the road to the west is full of foreign people with strange languages, wild animals, and unspeakable monsters.

They travel further and enter the Country of Snakes, which is populated by massive serpents that bellow miasmic clouds. However, despite their terrible appearance, the snakes respect the Buddha and let the pilgrims pass through unharmed.

Differences:

1) Guanyin lives on Mount Potalaka, an island in the Eastern Ocean.
2) The giant serpents do not appear in the final version.

Chapter Five: Passing the Lion Wood and the Country of Tree People

The seven monks travel to the Lion Wood country where they are greeted by countless unicorns and lions with flowers in their mouths. Upon entering the Country of the Tree People, the group finds an inn to spend the night, and in the morning, a young monk is sent to fetch breakfast. However, hours pass without the little disciple returning, so Monkey searches the local village and finds that the monk has been transformed into a donkey by a sorcerer. Pilgrim uses his powers to turn the man’s wife into a bale of grass to feed her to the donkey as revenge. Horrified, the sorcerer then recalls his magic by spitting a mouthful of water on the animal. Monkey does the same and threatens to “mow down all the grass of [his] house” (i.e., kill his wife and anyone else he loves) if the man misuses his powers again (Wivell, 1994, p. 1187). The sorcerer promises to let the group pass through the country unharmed.

Differences:

1) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Six: Passing Long Ditch and Great Serpent Peak

The monks travel to the valley of the fire-spitting white tiger spirit and encounter a large ditch through which they cannot pass. Pointing the ringed staff towards the heavens, Tripitaka calls the name of Vaiśravana and a ray of light issues forth from the rod that destroys the ditch. Next, the group passes through a fiery pit in which Ming Huang, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty, “changed his bones” and deposited them “like snow on a mountain” (Wivell, 1994, p. 1188). [4] Finally, the Sutra Master calls on the Devarāja once more and uses his alms bowl to extinguish a great prairie fire.

Pilgrim warns Tripitaka that they are passing through the territory of a white tiger spirit who can assume the form of any person. She appears out of the mist wearing white clothing and riding a white pony. Monkey confronts her, causing the spirit to forsake her beautiful façade and take on a demonic white tiger form. He then: “…transform[s] his golden-ringed staff into a gigantic Yakşa whose head touche[s] the sky and whose feet straddle the earth. In his hands he grasp[s] a demon-subduing cudgel. His body [is] blue as indigo, his hair red as cinnabar; from his mouth a fiery gleam sh[oots] forth a hundred yards long” (Wivell, 1994, p. 1189). She refuses to submit, so Pilgrim uses his magic to make her vomit up countless monkeys without end. When she still refuses to surrender, he takes the form of an ever-growing stone in her stomach, causing it to explode. The spirit is finally destroyed when Monkey orders the Yakşa to crush her with his cudgel.

Similarities:

1) The prairie fire may be a precursor to the Fiery Mountain that Monkey extinguishes in chapter 59.
2) The mention of bones and a white-clad demon likely resulted in the White Bone Demon (Baigujing, 白骨精) from chapter 27.
3) Monkey’s staff from the final version has the ability to grow, shrink, and take on different forms.
4) Pilgrim defeats several monsters by invading their stomach. See, for example, chapters 59, 75, and 82.

Differences:

1) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Seven: Entering Nine Dragon Pond

The group enters the territory of the Nine Dragon Pond, home to nine-headed dragons that cause devastating floods. Nine of the beasts leap from the water intent on taking Tripitaka’s life, but Pilgrim intervenes by blanketing the sky in darkness with a cloak created from the cap of invisibility, and enveloping thousands of miles of water with the alms bowl. He then transforms the ringed staff into a great iron dragon and engages the creatures in a two day long battle. Fighting them to exhaustion, Monkey rips out their spinal sinews as punishment and weaves them into a magical belt that gives Tripitaka the ability to travel at great speeds. In addition, he subjects each creature to eight hundred blows with an iron cudgel.

Similarities:

1) Monkey battles a dragon who eats and eventually replaces Tripitaka’s horse in chapter 15.
2) The iron staff is a precursor of Monkey’s weapon from the final version.

Differences:

1) Monkey only battles with a single staff.
2) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Eight: TITLE MISSING

[FIRST PART MISSING]

[After blocking the group’s passage through a quicksand-like desert,] The Spirit of the Deep Sand reveals: “I am the one who devoured you twice before, monk. Slung from my neck are all your dry bones!” (Wivell, 1994, p. 1190). The monster only helps the monks cross the “Deep Sands” (Shensha, 深沙) via a magical golden bridge once he is threatened with heavily retribution. Memorial poems note that Tripitaka releases the Spirit from a five hundred-year-long curse, and Pilgrim promises to speak highly of him when they meet the Buddha.

Similarities:

1) The Spirit of the Deep Sand is the literary precursor of Sha Wujing from the final version.
2) The bones of Tripitaka mentioned here are similar to the nine monk skulls hanging from Wujing’s neck.
3) The monster-turned-disciple helps Tripitaka pass through the “Flowing Sands River” (Liusha he, 流沙河) by turning the nine skulls into a makeshift raft. See chapter 22.

Chapter Nine: Entering the Country of Hārītī

The seven monks travel to a sparsely populated country peopled mainly by unattended three-year-old children. The few adults who can be found do not bother to interact with the group when spoken to. They eventually meet a king who throws them a lavish vegetarian banquet and reveals that they have entered the Country of Hārītī (Guizi mu, 鬼子母), or the “Mother of Ghostly Children”. Tripitaka is shocked to learn that they have been interacting with disembodied spirits during their stay. The King sends them off with bushels of rice, gold, pearls, and embroidered cloth to help pay for their journey. A memorial poem notes that the monks will repay their debt of gratitude by obtaining the scriptures.

Differences:

1) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Ten: Passing Through the Country of Women

The group travels for some time before Tripitaka calls on the Devarāja once more to help them bypass a raging flood. They pass through several uninhabited territories before they enter the Country of Women, where the Queen offers them a Buddhist feast. They decline to eat, however, as the food is full of sand, but offer to send the country much needed grains upon their return to the East.

The Queen invites Tripitaka and his retinue to remain as permanent residents and even offers to build them their own temple. Furthermore, she offers them any number of beautiful women as prospective brides. But true to their vow, the monks decline in order to continue their journey to India. The Queen sends them off with pearls and a white horse.

Similarities:

1) Tripitaka and his disciples pass through the Country of Women in chapter 54.
2) The Queen attempts to entice them to stay.

Chapter Eleven: Entering the Pool of the Queen Mother

Tripitaka asks Pilgrim to steal some immortal peaches from the Queen Mother of the West, a primordial goddess, in order to quell his great thirst. Monkey, however, hesitates as he was originally beaten with an iron club and exiled to the Purple Cloud Grotto on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit for stealing her peaches when he was just eight hundred years old. He remarks that his shanks are still sore even at twenty-seven thousand years of age. They eventually enter the Queen Mother’s realm and look up high above a cliff to see the immortal peach trees laden with fruit. Monkey explains: “These peach trees sprout a thousand years after planting. They blossom in three thousand years and produce a fruit in ten thousand years. The fruit requires ten thousand more years to ripen. He who eats one gains three thousand years of life” (Wivell, 1994, p. 1196).

Several of the ripe fruits fall from the trees into the pond below. Pilgrim raps the golden-ringed monk’s staff on the ground three, five, and seven times, each time summoning a different immortal child to the surface of the water. The first and second children respectively claim to be three thousand and five thousand years old. The third child, who claims to be seven thousand years old, is pulled from the water and quickly devoured in the form of a jujube, or Chinese date. [5] The story mentions in passing that, upon their return to China, Monkey spits out the pit in Sichuan province, thus explaining the origin of ginseng in the area.

Similarities:

1) Pilgrim steals peaches from the Queen Mother’s immortal peach grove in chapter 5. The chapter notes that there are three classes of immortal peaches, each taking thousands upon thousands of years to ripen.
2) He is punished for his transgressions against heaven. See chapters 6 and 7.
3) Tripitaka and his disciples eat baby-shaped ginseng fruit that bestows on them forty-seven thousand years of life. The fruits are harvested from a magical tree with a golden rod. See chapter 24 through 26.

Differences:

1) Monkey is born on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits in chapter one.
2) He is imprisoned under the Five Elements Mountain for trying to usurp the throne of heaven.
3) Again, he is roughly 1,100 hundred years old.
4) Tripitaka would never ask Pilgrim to steal anything for him.
5) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Twelve: Entering the Country of Heavy Scent

They travel to an unpopulated country full of large, ancient trees.

Chapter Thirteen: Entering the Country of Vara

The monks travel through Vara, a paradise on earth, complete with beautiful women, neatly kept homes, playful children, and lions and dragons who chant the Buddha’s name.

Chapter Fourteen: Entering the Country of Utpala

They travel through Utpala, a flower-filled extension of the Buddha’s paradise in which the inhabitants live for countless ages and never want for food. [6]

Differences:

1) These brief episodes do not appear in the final version.

Chapter Fifteen: Entering India and Crossing the Sea

The group finally arrives in India and seeks lodging in the Prosperous Immortals Temple. After a vegetarian meal, the temple monks engage Tripitaka in a sarcastic conversation about the purpose of his quest, noting that they themselves have no need to seek the Buddha’s law any further since they already have copies of the sutras. They warn Tripitaka that endless miles of oceans and mountains separate him from Chicken Foot Mountain, home of the Buddha. Furthermore, they claim that, even if his group could surmount such a vast distance, the scriptures themselves are unattainable as they are kept in the Buddha’s residence high atop a sheer cliff accessible only to holy men with the gift of flight. The Sutra Master is disheartened at first, but Monkey suggests that the group gather the following morning to pray wholeheartedly to the Buddha. Their beautiful chanting causes the sky to go black and resound with thunder and lightning. When the darkness subsides, they are delighted to find that a near complete Buddhist canon has appeared before them. Only the Heart Sutra is missing from among the scriptures.

Differences:

1) Tripitaka and his disciples actually travel to Vulture Peak, where the Buddha gives them the Buddhist canon. See chapter 98.
2) The sutras that they initially receive are destroyed in an accident linked to karmic retribution. But they eventually get new copies. See chapter 99.
3) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Sixteen: Returning They Arrive at the Fragrant Grove Temple and Receive the Heart Sutra

On their return trip home, the monks seek lodging in the Fragrant Grove Temple in the Country of Pan Lu. Tripitaka dreams a heavenly envoy announces that he will be given the Heart Sutra. The group awakens to a defining noise and rises to see the Buddha emerge from colorful clouds in the form of a young, beautiful monk carrying a golden-ringed staff. He reaches into his sleeve and retrieves a scroll, noting that its power should not be shared with the unworthy because: “As soon as this sutra is opened, bright lights will flash, ghosts will weep and spirits will howl, winds and waves will quiet of themselves, and the sun and moon will cease to shine!” (p. 1201).

Additionally, the Buddha orders Tripitaka to have Tang Emperor Xuanzong build Buddhist temples, initiate monks, and promote the Buddhist Law throughout China.

The Enlightened One only gives the monks three months to complete the task of escorting the sutras back to China, for a “Lotus-Plucking Barge” will be arriving at a particular place and time to transport them to paradise (Wivell, 1994, p. 1202).

Similarities:

1) The Buddha tells Vajra guardians to transport the monk and his disciples to paradise once they have completed their mission. See chapter 98.

Differences:

1) The Buddha is portrayed as a huge, towering figure with a golden body. See chapter 98.
2) Tripitaka, his disciples, and the sutras are magically transported back to China by eight Vajra guardians. See chapter 100.
3) This episode does not appear in the final version.

Chapter Seventeen: They Reach Shensi, Where the Wife of the Householder Wang Kills His Son

The householder Wang (Wang zhangzhe, 王長者) leaves his second wife, whose maiden name is Meng (孟), to care for her step-son Daffy (Chi na, 癡那) while he is away trading goods in foreign lands. Half a year goes by when she receives a letter from Wang dictating that all of their money should go to Daffy if anything were to happen to him. This greatly enrages Meng since Stay-Put (Ju na, 居那), her son from a previous marriage, would miss out on any inheritance. Meng then conspires with her maid Spring Willow (Chunliu, 春柳) to kill Daffy before Wang’s return. They respectively boil him in a pot, rip out his tongue, and starve him, but each time he is magically saved by some unseen supernatural force. For instance, after four days of boiling in the pot, Daffy emerges unscathed and claims: “[T]he iron caldron changed into a lily pad on which I sat, surrounded by the cool waters of a pond. I could sleep or just sit there. It was very comfortable” (Wivell, 1994, p. 1203). Finally, they push Daffy into a tumultuous river and he is swept away. Word of the boy’s death soon spreads to his father, who returns home in tears. Wang holds a Buddhist feast to honor the memory of his son. [7]

Upon their return to China, Tripitaka and the monks stop to attend the feast. The Sutra Master refuses to eat any of the food, however, on the grounds that he is too drunk and needs fish broth to sober up. Following the monk’s instructions, Wang buys the largest specimen that he can find and sets it before Tripitaka. He slices the stomach open with a knife and Daffy emerges unharmed. In the end, father and son are reunited and the treachery of Madame Meng and Spring Willow is exposed.

The monks travel onto the capital where Buddhist feasts are held in their honor. Emperor Xuanzong personally accepts the Heart Sutra and has seven statues of the Buddha commissioned. Soon, the appointed day arrives and “the seven [pilgrims] boarded the barge and, looking due west, they ascended into the heavens and became immortals” (Wivell, 1994, p. 1206). Tang Taizong later honors Monkey with the name “Great Sage Steel Muscles and Iron Bones” (Gangjin tiegu dasheng, 鋼筋鐵骨大聖) (Wivell, 1994, p. 1207).

Similarities:

1) The child emerging from the boiling pot unharmed recalls Monkey’s time in Laozi’s eight trigrams furnace. See chapter 7.
2) Tripitaka and his disciples are granted Buddhahood and Arhatship after returning to the Western Paradise. See chapter 100.
3) Monkey’s new name recalls his title “Great Sage Equally Heaven” (Qitian dasheng, 齊天大聖) from chapter 4.
4) This also recalls Sun receiving the title of the “Victorious Fighting Buddha” (Dou zhansheng fo, 鬥戰勝佛) upon attaining Buddhahood in chapter 100.

Differences:

1) This episode does not appear in the final version.


Update: 09-14-19

I have written an article discussing the influence of the Buddhist saint Mulian on the Monkey Pilgrim from the story prompt.

Sun Wukong and the Buddhist Saint Mulian

Notes

1) The term shihua (詩話) at the end of the tale’s Chinese name is synonymous with huaben (話本), a genre of vernacular oral literature.
2) Stories dealing with the adventures of the monk Tripitaka and Sun Wukong appeared as early as the 11th-century, as evidenced by cave art from that time. Such tales were originally created and told by professional storytellers in busy market places, much like the famed Yangzhou storytellers of today. Standardized repertoires were eventually collected and published during the late Song Dynasty. See Dudbridge (1970) for more information.
3) Li Jing (李靖, 571-649) was a historical Tang dynasty general who won many battles in China and Central Asia. Shahar (2013) notes Li was deified after his death, and that the cult centered around him existed into the Song Dynasty. Most importantly, “The general [was] celebrated in a large body of oral and written fiction, which gradually associated him with the Indian god [Vaiśravana]”. He continues, “Storytellers and playwrights [eventually] merged the Tang general with the martial Heavenly King” (p. 28). This merging may have happened as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) (Shahar & Kieschnick, 2013, p. 224 n. 18).
4) This changing of bones most likely refers to some type of realized spiritual cultivation that resulted in a new, pure body for the future emperor.
5) It would seem the immortal fruit takes on the form of children upon entering the pool.
6) The land of Utpala sounds very much like Tao Quan’s famous tale the “Peach Blossom Spring” (421), which tells the story of how a fisherman stumbles upon a garden paradise where the inhabitants never age (Barnhart, 1983, pp. 13-16).
7) This portion of the story is very similar to the late 9th- to early 10th-century “Transformation Text on the Boy Shun’s Extreme Filial Piety”. For a comparative analysis, see Mair (1987). For a complete English translation of the tale, see Bodman (1994).

Bibliography

Barnhart, R. M., & Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.) (1983). Peach blossom spring: Gardens and flowers in Chinese paintings. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bodman, R.W. (1994). The transformation text on the boy Shun’s extreme filial piety. In Mair, Victor H. The Columbia anthology of traditional Chinese literature (pp 1128-1134). New York: Columbia University Press.

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

Mair, V. H. (1987). Parallels between some Tun-Huang manuscripts and the 17th chapter of the Kozanji Journey to the West. Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie, 3, 41-53.

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

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

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