Archive #42 – PDFs of Journey to the West Translations

Note: My blog is not monetized, so I am not making any money from this post. My hope is that the PDFs will make this legendary story more accessible to a wider audience. If you enjoyed the digital versions, please, please, please support the official releases.

Last updated: 08-17-2023

I’m happy to host a number of foreign language translations of the noted Chinese classic Journey to the West (Xiyouji西遊記, 1592 CE). This archive currently houses the following editions:

  1. English
  2. French (only part two of two)
  3. German
  4. Hungarian
  5. Italian (see below)
  6. Polish
  7. Romanian
  8. Russian
  9. Spanish
  10. Thai
  11. Vietnamese

As of this writing, I don’t yet have a modern Japanese translation. But you can read an original copy of the 1835 translation here.

I have also included translations of the unofficial sequel, A Supplement to the Journey to the West (Xiyoubu, 西遊補, 1640), in the following languages:

  1. English
  2. Hungarian

I will add more languages to this archive as they become available. Please let me know if you have access to other editions.

Journey to the West (Xiyouji)

1. English

1.A. Complete

1) This is a PDF for The Journey to the West (2012 Rev. ed.) translated by Anthony C. Yu.

Archive #11 – PDFs of the Journey to the West 2012 Revised Edition

2) This is a text PDF for Journey to the West (1993/2020) translated by W. J. F. Jenner.

PDF File

Click to access Wu-Chengen-Journey-to-the-West-4-Volume-Boxed-Set-2003.pdf

The four-volume box set in my collection (larger version).

1.B. Abridged

1) This is a PDF for Monkey (1942/1984) translated by Arthur Waley in 30 chapters (1 to 15, 18 and 19, 22, 37 to 39, 44 to 46, 47 to 49, and 98 to 100). See past book covers here.

PDF File

Click to access Wu-Chengen_-Arthur-Waley-Monkey-Grove-Press-1984.pdf

2) This is a PDF for The Monkey and the Monk (2006): An Abridgement of The Journey to the West translated by Anthony C. Yu in 31 chapters (1 to 15, 18 and 19, 22 and 23, 44 to 46, 53 to 55, 57 and 58, 84, and 98 to 100)

PDF File

Click to access Anthony-C.-Yu-The-Monkey-and-the-Monk_-An-Abridgment-of-The-Journey-to-the-West-2006.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

1.C. Audio Drama

I just learned of “The Fifth Monkey” and their Journey to the West – An Audio Drama Series, which presents a new English translation alongside the original Chinese. They explain:

One reason that led our team to start this audio drama project is to correct some of the mistranslations found in the Yu/Jenner translations. Most of them are very minor and we certainly understand what could have led to those mistakes, but we think it is worth exploring how we can help bring a more accurate presentation of the original text in the English language (source).

The official logo (larger version).

2. French

This is a PDF for volume two (of two) for La Pérégrination vers l’Ouest (Xiyou ji) (1991) translated by André Lévy in 100 chapters. I was told by one French academic that this edition “is one of the best available in Western languages.” Hopefully I will find a PDF for volume one in the future.

Thank you to jyeet on the Journey to the West discord for locating the file.

PDF Files


Vol. 2

The original two-volume boxed edition (larger version). Image found here.

3. German

This is a PDF for Die Reise in den Westen. Ein klassischer chinesischer Roman (2016) translated by Eva Lüdi Kong in 100 chapters. It was awarded the Leipzig Book Fair prize in 2017. This version was converted from an ebook.

PDF File

Click to access German-JTTW-Die-Reise-in-den-Westen.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

4. Hungarian

These are text PDFs for Nyugati utazás: avagy a majomkirály története (1969/1980) translated by Barnabás Csongor in two volumes. While the work covers the full 100 chapters, I’ve been told that it deletes the poems and occasionally paraphrases long-winded sections of text.

Thank you to Twitter user Jakabfi Károly for locating the files.

PDF Files

Vol 1

Vol 2

The official covers for volumes one and two (larger version). Image found here.

5. Italian

[Note 10-19-23: I was asked to remove the PDF from the archive per the publisher. I’m leaving the title here so others will know an Italian translation exists.]

The Italian text is called Viaggio in occidente (1998/2008). It was translated by Serafino Balduzzi and published in two volumes. It is based on the French edition published in 1991. The work covers all 100 chapters.

6. Polish

This is a PDF for Małpi bunt (1976) translated by Tadeusz Żbikowski. It is a 14 chapter abridgement of the first 20 chapters of the original.

Thank you to Twitter user Friend_Pretend for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Polish-JTTW-Malpi-bunt-1976.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

7. Romanian

This is a text PDF for Călătorie spre soareapune (1971) translated by Corneliu Rudescu and Fănică N. Gheorghe. It appears to be an abridgment.

Thank you to greencicadarchivist on the Journey to the West discord for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Romanian-JTTW-U_Ceng_En_Calatorie_Spre_Soare_Apune_pdf.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

8. Russian

8.1. Complete

These are PDFs for Путеше́ствие на За́пад (1959) translated by A. Rogachev (vols. 1-2) and V. Kolokolov (vols. 3-4). It covers all 100 chapters.

PDF Files

Vol 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3

Vol. 4

The four-volume hardcover edition (larger version).

8.2. Abridged

This is a text PDF for Неприятность в небесах. Из китайской мифологии (1926) translated by Yakov Arakin. It is a poetic retelling of the first seven chapters of the novel.

Thank you to Adelar Eleramo for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Russian-JTTW-poem-Yakov-Arakin.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

9. Spanish

This is a text PDF for Viaje al Oeste: Las aventuras del Rey Mono (2022) translated by Enrique P. Gatón and Imelda Huang-Wang in 100 chapters.

PDF File

Click to access viaje-al-oeste-las-aventuras-del-rey-mono.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

10. Thai

This is a PDF for ไซอิ๋ว (2004/2010). It appears to be based on a four-volume edition translated by one Mr. Tin (นายติ่น) and published from 1906 to 1909. I believe it covers all 100 chapters.

Thank you again to greencicadarchivist for locating the file.

PDF File

Click to access Thai-JTTW-ไซอิ๋ว.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

11. Vietnamese

This is a text PDF for Tây Du Ký translated by Như Sơn, Mai Xuân Hải, and Phương Oanh. The 100 chapters were originally split between 10 volumes and published from 1982 to 1988. The volumes were later transcribed and combined to make a single eBook via an online community in 2013 (see here). I have converted it into a PDF.

PDF File

Click to access Vietnamese-JTTW-Tay-Du-Ky.pdf

The covers for the original ten volumes (larger version). Image found here.

A Supplement to the Journey to the West (Xiyoubu)

1. English

A) This is a PDF for Further Adventures on the Journey to the West – Master of Silent Whistle Studio (2020) translated by Qianchng Li and Robert E. Hegel.

PDF File

Click to access Further-Adventures-on-the-Journey-to-the-West-Master-of-Silent-Whistle-Studio-2020.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

B) This is a PDF for Tower of Myriad Mirrors: A Supplement to Journey to the West (2000) translated by Shuen-fu Lin and Larry J. Schulz. This version was converted from Mobi.

PDF File

Click to access English-Xiyoubu-Lin-Shuen-fu_Dong-Yue-Schulz-Tung-Yueh-The-tower-of-myriad-mirrors_-a-supplement-to-Journey-to-the-West.pdf

The official cover (larger version)

2. Hungarian

This is a text PDF for Ami a nyugati utazásból kimaradt (1957/1980) translated by Barnabás Csongor.

My thanks again to Twitter user Jakabfi Károly.

PDF File

Click to access Hungarian-Xiyoubu-tung_jue_ami_a_nyugati_utazasbol_kimaradt.pdf

The official cover (larger version).

Update: 08-17-23

I forgot to mention that I have previously archived two other Chinese classics. The first is Creation of the Gods (Fengshen yanyi, 封神演義, c. 1620; a.k.a. Investiture of the Gods), a sort of prequel to JTTW.

Archive #17 – PDFs of Creation of the Gods Library of Chinese Classics Chinese-English Bilingual Edition (Vols. 1-4)

The second is Journey to the South (Nanyouji南遊記, c. 1570s-1580s). This is NOT a direct sequel to JTTW. It instead follows the adventures of a martial god from Chinese folk religion. However, Sun Wukong makes a guest appearance in chapters one and seventeen.

Archive #40 – Journey to the South (Nanyouji) English Translation PDF


These have been posted for educational purposes. No malicious copyright infringement is intended. If you enjoyed the digital versions, please support the official releases.


The Tang Monk Tripitaka and the Buddha Candana Merit

The Tang Monk Tripitaka is elevated in spiritual rank at the end of Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592 CE; hereafter “1592 JTTW”) for braving untold dangers and successfully retrieving the scriptures from India. The Tathagata enfeoffs him as the “Buddha of Candana (Sandalwood) Merit” (Zhantan gongde fo, 旃檀功德佛). Many readers may be surprised to learn that this is actually an established Buddhist deity and not just the creation of author-compiler Wu Cheng’en. In this article, I would like to briefly explore this Buddha’s religious background, iconography, purpose, and relationship to the worship of Xuanzang (玄奘, 602-664 CE), the historical Tang monk on whom Tripitaka is based.

Readers familiar with my past work will notice that this piece shares many similarities with my article on Sun Wukong’s Buddha title. I’m using it as a template since the information here is closely related.

1. Literary enlightenment

In chapter 100, the Buddha states:

“Sage Monk,” said Tathagata, “in your previous incarnation you were originally my second disciple named Master Gold Cicada. Because you failed to listen to my exposition of the law and slighted my great teaching, your true spirit was banished to find another incarnation in the Land of the East. Happily you submitted and, by remaining faithful to our teaching, succeeded in acquiring the true scriptures. For such magnificent merit, you will receive a great promotion to become the Buddha of Candana Merit (emphasis added) (fig. 1) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 4, p. 381).


Jenner (Wu & Jenner, 1993/2020) translates this title as “Candana-punya Buddha” (vol. 4, p. 2311). However, this appears to be a strange reverse Chinese to Sanskrit translation. Punya (Sk: पुण्य) means “merit.” As you’ll see in sec. 2, this isn’t the actual Sanskrit name of the Buddha.

Fig. 1 – Tripitaka and the other pilgrims receiving their elevation in spiritual rank at the end of the novel (larger version). Image from the original 1592 JTTW. Reading from right to left, the heading says: “The Five Sages Return to the West, Becoming Buddhas Comes True” (Wusheng guixi, Zuofo chengzhen, 五聖歸西,作佛成真)

2. Religious background

The 1592 JTTW closes by “submitting” or “prostrating” (namo, 南無) to a long list of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Arhats. The Buddha of Candana Merit is placed second to the last of 47 Buddhas and ahead of the Bodhisattva Guanyin. A section of the list reads:

I submit to the Buddha of Great Perfect Light.
I submit to the Buddha of the Gift of Light.
I submit to the Buddha of Candana Merit (emphasis added).
I submit to the Buddha Victorious in Strife.
I submit to the Bodhisattva Guanshiyin.
[…] (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 385).


Many of the Buddhas mentioned in the novel appear in assorted real world canonical lists, including the 88 Buddhas (Bashiba fo, 八十八佛) from the Great Repentance Text of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas (Ch: Bashiba fo da chanhui wen八十八佛大懺悔文). [1] This group is comprised of the 53 Buddhas (Ch: Wushisan fo, 五十三佛) and the 35 Confession Buddhas (Ch: Sanshiwu fo chan, 三十五佛懺) (fig. 1).

The Buddha of Candana Merit (Sk: Candanaśrī or Candanashri, चन्दनश्री; lit: “Glorious Sandalwood”) is the 18th of the 35 Confession Buddhas, [2] who are individually called upon during a confessional prayer to absolve oneself of sins. They appear in a number of sources, such as The Bodhisattva’s Confession of Ethical Downfalls (Ch: Pusa duochan / Pusa chanhui wen, 菩薩墮懺 / 菩薩懺悔文) from the Three Heaps Sutra (Sk: Trīskhandhadharmasūtra; Ch: Sanyun jing三蘊經) and the Names of the Thirty-Five Buddhas Spoken by the Buddha (Ch: Foshuo sanshiwu foming lichan wen佛說三十五佛名禮懺文). 

Fig. 2 – A diagram of the 35 Confession Buddhas (larger version). The Buddha of Candana Merit is third from the left on the topmost left row. Image found here.

2.1. Iconography

The Buddha of Candana Merit is depicted in Buddhist art with the traditional features of a Buddha (i.e. urṇausnisa, long ear lobes, robes, etc.). He has three forms depending on the tradition:

Candanasri Buddha — (Skt.) (Chin.: Chou-t’an-kung-te fo; Mon.” Cogtu candan; Tib.” Tsan-dan-dpal) A Sanskrit variant for the Jina Candanasri. One of the Buddha images found in the Pao Hsiang Lou [寶相樓] temple of the Forbidden City, Beijing, and one of the thirty-five “Buddhas of Confession.” Face: one, calm, urna, usnisa, long ear-lobes; arms/hands: right hand in bhumisparsa mudra, left in dhyana mudra [fig. 3]; mudra: bhumisparsa and dhyana; body: monastic robes; legs; two; asana: vajrasana; vahana: lotus throne.

— (2) — (Mon.: Cogtu candan; Tib.: Tsan-dan-dpal) One of the Buddhas of Confession pictured in the Mongolian Kanjur (Mon.: Mongol ganjur-un) (1717-1720) Face: one, calm, urna, usnisa, long ear-lobes; arms/hands: two, holding a small [sandalwood] tree in dhyana mudra [fig. 4]; mudra: dhyana; body: monastic robes, right shoulder uncovered; legs: two; asana: vajrasana; attributes: 32 major and 80 minor signs; vahana: lotus throne (Bunce, 1994, Vol. 1, pp. 81-82).

A plate in Bunce (1994) portrays him with the varada and dhyana mudras (fig. 5). And a source associated with the scholar-saint Nagarjuna (c. 150-250 CE) connects Candana Merit with the color orange (see sec. 2.2. below) (fig. 6).

Fig. 3 – (Top Left ) The first form of the Buddha of Candana Merit with the bhumisparsa and dhyana mudras (larger version). Image from Clark, 1937/1965, p. 249. Fig. 4 – (Top Right) The Buddha’s second form with a tree and dhyana mudra (larger version). Image from Chandra, 1999, p. 90. Fig. 5 – (Bottom Left) His third form with the varada and dhyana mudras (larger version). Image from Bunce, 1994, vol. 1, p. 82. Fig. 6 – (Bottom Right) Candana Merit portrayed with orange skin (larger version). Image found here.

2.2. Location and purpose

Nagarjuna’s Discourse on the Ten Stages (Sk: Daśabhūmikavibhāṣā; Ch: Shi zhu piposha lun, 十住毘婆沙論, c. 3rd-century CE) names the Buddha-land in which Candana Merit lives and the effect of his name/scent on the hearts of men:

In the south, after passing innumerable and immeasurable Buddha-lands, multiplied by the number of the sand-grains of the River Ganges, there is a land called Nanda. The Buddha of that land is called Candanashri. At present he lives there teaching the Dharma. [His glorious virtue is] like sandalwood (candana) which is fragrant and refreshing. His name reaches everywhere, just as scent pervades far and wide. It eliminates the fire of the three poisons, thereby cooling the passions of all sentient beings (based on Inagaki, 1998).


This work uses an alternative Chinese name for the Buddha, Zhantande (德), or “Virtuous Sandalwood.” Zhan () is used in place of zhan (旃), and gong (功) is completely removed.

A Running Commentary on the Confession of Transgressions of Bodhi[sattvas] (Sk: Bodhyāpattideśanāvṛtti; Ch: Puti duofan falu huichu shi, 菩提墮犯發露悔除釋), another work connected to Nagarjuna, associates the Buddha with a different location, as well as the color orange:

He is seated in the North-western region in a world called “Pervaded by Miraculous Fragrance.” He is orange in color and his hands hold a branch of a Sandalwood tree and an auspicious fruit, which settles the mind (based on Lai, 2016).

西北妙香遍滿剎土中佛栴檀吉祥 [ 如來 ],紅黃,持栴檀樹與吉祥果而安住。

He is also given a slightly different name, Zhantan jixiang (栴檀吉祥), or “Auspicious Sandalwood.” And once again, zhan () is used instead of zhan (旃).

3. Relationship to Xuanzang’s worship

Evidence for the veneration of Xuanzang (玄奘, 602-664 CE), the historical Tang monk on whom Tripitaka is based, first emerged during the Song Dynasty (960-1127 CE) (Liu, 2019). For example, he appears as one of the famed famed 500 Arhats (Luohan, 羅漢) in a large set of late-12th-century ritual scrolls (fig. 7 & 8). [3] This likely explains why an early-Ming JTTW zaju play, which predates the 1592 JTTW, depicts Tripitaka as the reincarnation of one such Buddhist saint. [4]

But most importantly, I was surprised to learn from Dr. Benjamin Brose that Xuanzang was actually associated with the Buddha Candana Merit at some point during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644):

In a nutshell, during the Ming some salvational associations claimed that Xuanzang was one among several later incarnations of the Sandalwood Buddha sent to the human realm to deliver divine texts. These occurrences predate the publication of the [1592 JTTW] novel” (B. Brose, personal communication, June 3, 2023). [5]

(The above information will be expanded upon in Dr. Brose’s forthcoming book, Embodying Xuanzang: The Postmortem Travels of a Buddhist Pilgrim (September, 2023).)

This association appears to have been short-lived, however, for I am unfamiliar with any modern temples that worship Xuanzang as Candana Merit. Why is this? I think the simplest answer is that the Buddha already had a long-established following and therefore couldn’t be subsumed under the late-blooming cult of the Tang Monk.

Fig. 7 – Lin Tinggui and Zhou Jichang, The Tang Monk Procures the Scriptures (Tangseng qujing, 唐僧取經), no. 77 of 100 scrolls from Images of the 500 Arhats (Wubai Luohan tu, 五百羅漢圖, 1178-1188 CE). Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk (larger version). Image from Nara kuniritsu hakubutsukan, Tōkyō bunkazai kenkyūjo, 2014, p. 86. Courtesy of Dr. Liu Shufen, a research fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica. Fig. 8 – A detail of Xuanzang on his his horse. He is led by a spirit-soldier(?), and the “Monkey Pilgrim” appears to be visible in the clouds behind him (larger version).

4. Conclusion

At the end of Journey to the West, the Tathagata promotes Tripitaka to the “Buddha of Candana Merit” (Zhantan gongde fo, 旃檀功德佛). This is one of the Chinese names of Candanaśrī or Candanashri (Sk: चन्दनश्री; lit: “Glorious Sandalwood”; a.k.a. “Virtuous or Auspicious Sandalwood,” Zhantande/jixiang, 德/吉祥), the 18th of the 35 Confession Buddhas called upon during a confessional prayer to absolve oneself of sins. He is portrayed as a sometimes orange-skinned, robe-wearing Buddha making the bhumisparsa, varada, and dhyana mudras and/or holding a fruit-bearing sandalwood tree in his lap. Conflicting sources place his Buddha-land in either “Nanda” (Huanxi, 歡喜) in the South or “Pervaded by Miraculous Fragrance” (Miaoxiang bianman, 妙香遍滿) in the North-West. However, scripture agrees that his name/scent has a calming or “cooling” affect on the passions of mankind.

Xuanzang, the historical Tang monk on whom Tripitaka is based, came to be revered as an arhat during the Song dynasty. This likely explains why he is portrayed as the reincarnation of one such Buddhist saint in an early-Ming JTTW zaju play. But at some point during the Ming, salvational groups connected Xuanzang to Candana Merit, believing the monk to be one of his incarnations. This association took place prior to the 1592 JTTW. However, Xuanzang doesn’t appear to be worshiped as said Buddha in modern practice. This is because Candana Merit could never be subsumed under the Tang Monk’s late-blooming cult.


1) Compare the list from the Chinese version to those listed here. The characters may vary slightly.

2) Thank you to Jose Loayza (Twitter) for telling me that Candana Merit was also one of the 35 Confession Buddhas.

3) To learn more about these Arhat paintings, see Zhou (2021).

4) The early-Ming JTTW zaju play sees the Arhat Vairocana (Pilujia zunzhe, 毗廬伽尊者) willingly reincarnate as Tripitaka in order to obtain the scriptures (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 193). The sage later returns to paradise upon completing his mission (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 200). 

5) I don’t know for certain why Xuanzang was associated with Candana Merit during the Ming. However, my educated guess is that it has something to do with the monk’s historical connection to sandalwood statues. Morse (2007) explains:

“Xuanzang played an important role in popularizing sandalwood imagery when he brought ‘four carved sandalwood images of the Buddha’ back to Chang’an from India in 645″ (p. 168)


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.

Chandra, L. (1999). Buddhist Iconography: Compact Edition. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture & Aditya Prakashan.

Clark, W. E. (Ed.). (1965). Two Lamaistic Pantheons. New York: Paragon Book Reprint Corp. (Original work published 1937). Retrieved from

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

Inagaki, H. (1998). Path of Easy Practice: Igyohon – The Ninth Chapter of the Discourse on the Ten Stages by Nagarjuna. MIT.

Lai, D. (2016, September 3). 35 Confessional Buddhas. Retrieved from

Liu, S. (2019). Songdai Xuanzang de shenghua: Tuxiang, wenwu he yiji [The Sanctification of Xuanzang in the Song Dynasty: Images, Artifacts and Remains]. Zhonghua wenshi luncong, 133, 161-219.

Morse, S. C. (2007). The Buddhist Transformation of Japan in the Ninth Century: The Case of Eleven-Headed Kannon. In M. Adolphson, E. Kamens, & S. Matsumoto (Eds.), Heian Japan: Centers and Peripheries (pp. 153-176). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Nara kuniritsu hakubutsukan, Tōkyō bunkazai kenkyūjo henshū [Nara University Tōkyō Research Institute for Cultural Properties (Ed.)]. (2014). Daitokuji denrai gohyaku rakan zu [Daitoku Temple’s Tradition of the 500 Arhats Paintings]. Kyōto: Shitau bungaku.

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

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

Zhou, Y. (2021). The Daitokuji Five Hundred Arhats Paintings and Their Beholders [Master’s dissertation, University of Alberta]. Education and Research Archive.

What is the Oldest Known Media of Sun Wukong the Monkey King?

Last updated: 06-04-2023

Many people assume that Sun Wukong (孫悟空), the immortal monkey hero from Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記, 1592 CE, “JTTW” hereafter), is the inspired creation of Chinese author Wu Cheng’en (吴承恩, d. 1582). However, the character is known to predate the standard edition of the novel by several centuries. In this article, I’d like to highlight the oldest known media referencing or depicting Sun Wukong’s antecedent, the “Monkey Pilgrim” (Hou xingzhe, 猴行者). I will discuss a eulogy from an early-12th-century tale and a mid-13th-century set of poems, as well as Buddhist cave art in northern China and a stone pagoda carving from the south, which range from the late-11th to late-13th-centuries. I ultimately suggest that the character appeared around circa 1000 based on his connection to oral literature.

1. Northern China

1.1. Oldest known reference

The character is mentioned in a eulogy from a tale in Zhang Shinan’s (張世南, d. after 1230 CE) Memoirs of a Traveling Official (Youhuan jiwen遊宦紀聞, 13th-century CE). The story follows Zhang the Sage (Zhang sheng, 張聖), a farmer-turned-Buddhist monk who gains the ability to read and predict the future after eating a magic peach bestowed by an immortal. He is later asked to write a eulogy (zan, 讚) in honor of a temple’s newly built revolving sutra case. It reads:

Fresh are the pattra (palm) leaves on which are written
the unexcelled (anuttara), vigorous texts,
In several lives, Tripitaka went west to India to retrieve them;
Their every line, their every letter is a precious treasure,
Each sentence and each word is a field of blessing (puṇyakṣetra).
In the waves of the sea of misery (duḥkha-sāgara),
the Monkey-disciple [1] presses on,
Through the waters of the river that soak its hair,
the horse rushes forward;
No sooner have they passed the long sand than they must face the trial of the golden sands,
Only while gazing toward the other shore do they know
the reasons (pratyāya) for being on this shore.
The demons (yaksas) are delighted that they might
get their heart’s desire,
But the Bodhisattva, with hand clasped in respectful greeting, sends them on;
Now here are the five hundred and sixty-odd cases of scriptures,
Their merit is difficult to measure, their perfection
hard to encompass (Isobe, 1977, as cited in Mair, 1989, pp. 693-694).


The tribute references elements that would later appear 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, c. late-13th-century CE), the earliest printed edition of the JTTW story cycle comprising a seventeen-chapter storytelling prompt. These include Xuanzang’s quest to India over several lifetimes, the Monkey Pilgrim coming to his rescue, the tribulations at the river of sand (a nod to Sha Wujing’s precursor), the demons encountered, and heavenly assistance.

Japanese scholar Isobe Akira dates the tale of Zhang the Sage to the late-Northern or early-Southern Song (circa 1127 CE) based on the mention of certain historical figures therein (Mair, 1989, pp. 693-694).

1.2. Oldest known depictions

The oldest depictions of the Monkey Pilgrim and his master appear in a genre of Silk Road Buddhist cave art representing the adoration of the reclining “Moon in the Water Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin)” (Shuiyue Guanyin, 水月觀音). [2] Different grottoes depict them as small details to the left or right of the much larger Bodhisattva. The pilgrims are always depicted alongside a horse, which is sometimes ladened with sutras.

Wei and Zhang (2019) provide many examples of early art depicting Xuanzang on his quest. Some show him alone, while others portray him with a disciple. This latter figure ranges from human to the Monkey Pilgrim. The problem here is deciding when the first ends and the second begins. Some depictions are heavily degraded, making them ambiguous enough to be either. A prime example comes from Zhao’an Grotto cave no. 3 (c. 1094-1102 CE) at Ansai District, Yan’an Province, China (Yan’an Ansai Zhao’an di 3 ku, 延安安塞招安第3窟) (fig. 1). The rock carving features two sets of figures at the base, two to the left of the Bodhisattva and three to the right. I’d like to begin with the latter. The first of the three figures has what Wei and Zhang (2019) call a “monkey[-like] form” (houxing, 猴形) (fig. 2) (p. 13). But I have three problems with this being a depiction of the Monkey Pilgrim. One, while vaguely simian, the figure is too degraded to be sure. Two, it makes no sense for Monkey to be the first figure when other examples show Xuanzang in the lead. And three, there is no sutra horse. Conversely, the two figures to the left feature a monk standing in the front with elbows bent as if his (missing) hands are pressed in prayer. And behind him is a faceless disciple tending to the horse. Their right arm is bent at the elbow and angled to where their fist might have original been positioned at the chest. Everything else from the left side of the chest up is missing, however (fig. 3).

Fig. 1 (left) – The complete “Moon in the Water Avalokiteśvara” carving from Zhao’an Grotto no. 3 (c. 1094-1102 CE) (larger version). Fig. 2 (middle) – Detail of the three degraded figures to the right (larger version).  Fig. 3 (right) – Detail of the two figures to the left (larger version). Images from Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 12-13.

But this side of the carving shares similarities with three late-Xixia dynasty (late-12th or early-13th-century CE) murals. The first appears in Yulin Cave no. 2 (Yulin di 2 ku, 榆林第2窟) in Gansu Province. The Monkey Pilgrim is seemingly saluting with his right hand and holding the horse reins with his left fist at the chest. This might explain the disciple’s bent elbow in figure three. Xuanzang is shown with hands clasped in prayer similar to the monk from figure three. Both are depicted facing left and standing at the bank of a river separating them from Avalokiteśvara (fig. 4 & 5) (Wei & Zhang, 2019, p. 35).

Fig. 4 (top) – The complete late-Xixia Moon in the Water Avalokiteśvara mural from Yulin Cave no. 2 (larger version). Fig. 5 (bottom) – Detail of Xuanzang and the Monkey Pilgrim (larger version). Images from Wei & Zhang, 2019, p. 35.

The second appears in Yulin Cave no. 3 (Yulin di 3 ku, 榆林第3窟). Xuanzang is again worshiping from a riverbank, but this time he is facing right and the subject of adoration is Samantabhadra (fig. 6). We see that the disciple is far more monkey-like in appearance, complete with furry arms. He stands next to the sutra horse with hands clasped in prayer (fig. 7) (Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 36).

Fig. 6 – An almost complete version of the late-Xixia Yulin Cave no. 3 mural (larger version). Fig. 7 – Detail of the pilgrims (larger version). Images found randomly on the internet.

The third appears in Eastern Thousand Buddha Cave no. 2 (Dong qianfo dong di 2 ku, 東千佛洞第2窟) in Gansu. It contains iconography similar to Yulin Cave no. 2, complete with the Monkey Pilgrim standing next to a horse in a matching “salute and fist over chest” pose (fig. 8-11) (Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 38-40). It’s interesting to note that this is one of the oldest depictions of Monkey with his famous golden headband.

Fig. 8 (top left) – The complete Moon in the Water Avalokiteśvara mural from Eastern Thousand Buddha Cave no. 2 (late-Xixia) (larger version). Fig. 9 (top right) – An easier to see line drawing of the scene (larger version). Images from Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 38-39. Fig. 10 – Detail of Xuanzang and the Monkey Pilgrim (larger version). Image found randomly on the internet. Fig. 11 – A line drawing of master and disciple (larger version). Images from Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 39-40.

Additionally, there are two other examples with varying degrees of similarity. The first also comes from the late-Xixia Eastern Thousand Buddha Cave no. 2. Master and disciple are again worshiping the Moon in the Water Avalokiteśvara at a river bank (fig. 12 & 13), but the Monkey Pilgrim instead holds his staff at the ready like a soldier (fig. 14 & 15).

Fig. 12 (top left) – The second complete Moon in the Water Avalokiteśvara mural from Eastern Thousand Buddha Cave no. 2 (late-Xixia) (larger version). Fig. 13 (top right) – An easier to see line drawing of the scene (larger version). Fig. 14 – Detail of Xuanzang and the Monkey Pilgrim (larger version). Fig. 15 – A line drawing of master and disciple (larger version). Images from Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 40-42.

The second is the earlier Buddha Cave Grotto (c. 1103-1104 CE) at Hejiagou District, Yichuan County, Shaanxi (Yichuan Hejiaguo Foye dong shiku, 宜川賀家溝佛爺洞石窟), which is similar yet different from the above examples. It’s similar in that the master and disciple are again worshiping from the river bank (fig. 16). The Monkey Pilgrim is also depicted with the “salute and fist over chest” posture. And it’s different in that Xuanzang is shown in the lead kowtowing to the Bodhisattva, while a third degraded figure loiters behind the sutra horse (fig. 17) (Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 17-18).

Fig. 16 (top) – The complete Moon in the Water Avalokiteśvara carving from the Buddha Cave Grotto (c. 1103-1104 CE) (larger version). Fig. 17 (bottom) – A detail of Xuanzang and the Monkey Pilgrim (larger version). Images from Wei & Zhang, 2019, pp. 17-18.

There are enough similarities shared between the art of Zhao’an Grotto, Yulin Cave, Eastern Thousand Buddha Cave, and Buddha Cave Grotto to suggest that the disciple from figure three “could” be the Monkey Pilgrim. That’s as far as I’m willing to go without more information.

3. Southern China

3.1. Oldest known reference

Writing in the 1250s, the Song poet Liu Kezhuang (劉克莊, 1187-1269 CE) mentioned our hero twice in his work. The first reads:

From one stroke of the brush it was possible to learn the sense of the Śūraṅgama (sūtra),
Yet three letters accompanied the presentation of a robe to Dadian [大顛].
To fetch scriptures (it was necessary to) trouble [the Monkey Pilgrim].
In composing verse (the Buddhists?) do not rival
He A’shi [鶴阿師] (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 45-46). [3]

The poem is openly critical of Buddhism, [4] showing that the Monkey Pilgrim was so common at this time that he was used in political satire.

And the second uses Monkey as a metaphor to describe the ageing 70-year-old’s failing appearance. It reads:

A back bent like a water-buffalo in the Zi stream [泗河], Hair as white as the silk thread issued by the “ice silkworms”,
A face even uglier than [the Monkey Pilgrim],
Verse more scanty than even He Heshi [鶴何師] (Dudbridge, 1970, p. 46).

This shows that even by the mid-13th-century CE, the character’s ugly features were already well-known. This is mirrored in his monstrous description from the 1592 edition.

3.2. Oldest known depiction

The Kaiyuan Temple (Kaiyuan si, 開元寺; est. 686 CE) in the southern Chinese seaport of Quanzhou in Fujian is home to two 13th-century CE stone pagodas covered in 80 life-size relief carvings of bodhisattvas, arhats, patriarchs, protector deities, and various mythological creatures. The Monkey Pilgrim (fig. 18) figures among them and is located on the northeastern side of the western pagoda’s fourth story. This structure was erected in 1237 CE (Ecke & Demiéville, 1935, p. 91), dating the carving to around the same time period as the late-Xixia cave murals along the Silk Road in northern China. This gives us incite into how people of different regions viewed the primate hero.

Fig. 18 – The Kaiyuan Temple stone pagoda carving of the Monkey Pilgrim (1237 CE) (larger version). Image found randomly on the internet.

Three things are immediately apparent. One, the pagoda carving gives precedence to the Monkey Pilgrim, with his entire body taking up most of the available space. Xuanzang, who is normally in the lead position, is instead given a tiny corner above his disciple’s left shoulder. He is shown ascending into the heavens on a divine cloud. Two, Monkey is wearing a double “curlicue-style” headband, the motif being associated with protector deities in religious art of this time. And three, he wields a broadsword with a lick of heavenly flame instead of a staff (refer back to fig. 14 & 15). I’ve theorized in this article that (among other indicators) the combination of the headband, the heavenly blade, and Xuanzang’s ascent to paradise designates the Monkey Pilgrim as a protector deity who removes obstacles to enlightenment. If true, his southern persona was elevated in importance from a mere body guard and horse groom (like in northern art) to a hand of the Buddha.

This elevation may have something to do with the fact that the Monkey King’s cult began in Fujian. While concrete references to his worship date to the 17th-century CE (see section III here), this carving may be an indicator that he was revered at an earlier time. The area is known to have worshiped monkeys as far back as the Tang period (see the material below fig. 3 here, as well as the 08-17-2019 update).

Before continuing, it’s interesting to note that the aforementioned poet Liu Kezhuang was a native of Putian (Ebrey, 2005, p. 95), which neighbors Quanzhou. This means that his unflattering mental image of the Monkey Pilgrim was likely influenced by the Kaiyuan pagoda carving.

4. First appearance? 

To my knowledge, these are the oldest known forms of media mentioning or depicting Sun Wukong’s antecedent, but they certainly aren’t the first. We will never conclusively find his “first” appearance. This is not only because a lot of physical media has been lost to the ravages of time, but also because the Monkey Pilgrim was a product of oral storytelling. He was likely given life in urban storytelling stalls (fig. 19 & 20) and nourished by amateur retellings of his adventures at home. Such tales would have predated any artistic depictions or written references. It’s important to remember that oral literature is intangible and ultimately leaves no trace (that is unless it was written down like the 13th-century version). [5]

The fact that Zhang the Sage’s eulogy (section 1.1) is just a vague list of events suggests that the original storyteller knew his audience was already intimately familiar with the tale and therefore didn’t need more exposition. This further suggests that the JTTW story cycle had already been circulating for some time prior to circa 1127 CE (as dated by Isobe Akira). The earliest examples of cave art push the Monkey Pilgrim’s existence back to the earliest years of the 12th-century CE and possibly even to the late-11th-century. Therefore, we can safely conclude that he dates to at least some time in the 11th-century CE. And since it can take generations for a story to become engrained in the public psyche, the Monkey Pilgrim might even date to the early Song Dynasty (960-1279). This is why I usually cite circa 1000 CE as a general time frame for the hero’s appearance.

Fig. 19 (top) – Detail of an urban storytelling (jie, ; lit: “explanation”) stall from the famed 12th-century CE painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival (larger version). Fig. 20 (bottom) – A closer detail showing people intently listening to the storyteller (larger version). The images are screenshots taken from this digital version of the painting on Wikimedia. A big thank you to Borrdahl (2002) for pointing out the storytelling stall.

Update: 06-04-23

I was happy to learn that the Monkey Pilgrim appears among a large set of late-12th-century ritual scrolls portraying the famed 500 Arhats. [6] He is depicted as a monkey-headed, black robe-wearing figure with the lower half of his body obscured by clouds, making him hard to see unless you zoom in on the image. He holds what appears to be the head of a staff in his left hand (fig. 21). Our hero is located just behind Tripitaka, who is riding a white horse led by a spirit-soldier(?) or perhaps Sha Wujing’s antecedent (fig. 22). The full scroll shows this scene happening above the heads of four arhats (fig. 23), indicating that the Tang Monk is considered to be one of these Buddhist sages.

I actually found the simian immortal by accident while researching an article about Tripitaka’s Buddha title. Dr. Meir Shahar tells me that this depiction of Monkey doesn’t appear to have been mentioned in previous JTTW scholarship (personal communication, June 3, 2023). [7] Therefore, I’m so very happy that I can share this discovery with my readers!

This depiction predates the Monkey Pilgrim’s appearance in the 13th-century JTTW by a century. His counterpart in that version is described as a “scholar dressed in a white robe” (Baiyi xiucai白衣秀才) (Wivell, 1994, p. 1182). This completely differs from the primate head and black robe from the scroll. And while the 13th-century Monkey Pilgrim mainly wields a golden-ringed monk’s staff (jinhuan (xi)zhang, 金鐶錫杖/金鐶杖) (Wivell, 1994, p. 1189, for example), this simian cleric appears to have a traditional staff with an orb finial. 

Fig. 21 – (Left) A detail of the Monkey Pilgrim (larger version). From Lin Tinggui and Zhou Jichang, The Tang Monk Procures the Scriptures (Tangseng qujing, 唐僧取經), no. 77 of 100 scrolls from Images of the 500 Arhats (Wubai Luohan tu, 五百羅漢圖, 1178-1188 CE). Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk. Image from Nara kuniritsu hakubutsukan, Tōkyō bunkazai kenkyūjo, 2014, p. 86. Courtesy of Dr. Liu Shufen, a research fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica. Fig. 22 – (Center) A detail of Xuanzang on his his horse (larger version). Fig. 23 – (Right) The full scroll (larger version).


1) The eulogy writes “Monkey Pilgrim” as Hou xingfu (猴行復) instead of the more familiar Hou xingzhe (猴行者).

2) Buswell & Lopez (2014) explain:

The name of this bodhisattva derives from this image’s most characteristic feature: a luminous disk that encircles the bodhisattva and evokes both a nimbus and a full moon, effectively suggesting its power to dispel the darkness of the night. Another connotation is indicated in texts such as the [Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra], where the term “moon in the water” connotes that all phenomena are like reflections of the moon on the surface of the water, thereby signifying insubstantiality and impermanence (pp. 813-814).

3) Source altered slightly. I have changed the Wade-Giles to Pinyin.

4) It openly mocks Buddhist philosophy as shallow (“From one stroke of the brush it was possible to learn the sense of the Śūraṅgama (sūtra)). And it references historical tensions between Buddhism and Confucianism by mentioning the monk Dadian (大顛, 732-824) (“Yet three letters accompanied the presentation of a robe to Dadian”). The Buddhist master was an acquaintance of the Confucian official Han Yu (韓愈, 768-824), who had been exiled to southern China for writing a memorial reprimanding the Tang emperor for patronizing Buddhism. Dudgbridge (1970) believes that the reference to the Monkey Pilgrim “ridicules the degrading of [Xuanzang’s] great mission to the west into a story in which the traveller depends on the support of a fantastic monkey” (p. 46).

5) See, for example, the introduction in Dudbridge (1970).

6) To learn more about these paintings, see Zhou (2021).

7) Dr. Benjamin Brose tells me that the painting appears in a Japanese source, but the Monkey Pilgrim is only listed as a “monkey attendant” (personal communications, June 3 and 12, 2023). See Nara kuniritsu hakubutsukan, Tōkyō bunkazai kenkyūjo henshū, 2014, p. 86.


Borrdahl, V. (2002). Chinese Storytellers: Life and Art in the Yangzhou Tradition. Boston: Cheng & Tsui Co.

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

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

Ebrey, P. B. (2005). Women and the Family in Chinese History. London: Routledge.

Ecke, G., & Demiéville, P. (1935). The Twin Pagodas of Zayton: A Study of the Later Buddhist Sculpture in China. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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

Nara kuniritsu hakubutsukan, Tōkyō bunkazai kenkyūjo henshū [Nara University Tōkyō Research Institute for Cultural Properties (Ed.)]. (2014). Daitokuji denrai gohyaku rakan zu [Daitoku Temple’s Tradition of the 500 Arhats Paintings]. Kyōto: Shitau bungaku.

Wei, W., & Zhang, L. (2019). Xiyouji bihua yu Xuanzang qujing tuxiang [Journey to the West Wall Murals: Images of Xuanzang Procuring the Scriptures]. Nanjing: Jiangsu Fine Arts Publishing House.

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.

Zhou, Y. (2021). The Daitokuji Five Hundred Arhats Paintings and Their Beholders [Master’s dissertation, University of Alberta]. Education and Research Archive.

Archive #31 – The Original 1592 Edition of Journey to the West, Complete with Pictures

I’m proud to present a PDF of the original edition of Journey to the West anonymously published in 1592 by the Shidetang (世德堂, “Hall of Generational Virtue”) publishing house of Jinling (金陵, “Gold Hill,” a.ka. Nanjing). Titled Newly Printed, Illustrated, Deluxe and Large Character, Journey to the West (Xinke chuxiang guanban dazi Xiyou ji, 新刻出像官板大字西遊記), it features 20 scrolls and 100 chapters (minus the current chapter nine). It contains many charming woodblock prints depicting the events described in the story. For example, this print shows the battle between Monkey and Nezha in their three-headed and six-armed forms.

One doctoral thesis shows that this version is based on an earlier edition of the story titled Newly printed, Completely Illustrated, Chronicle of Deliverances in Sanzang of the Tang’s Journey to the West (Xinqie quanxiang Tang Sanzang Xiyou shi ni (e) zhuan, 新鍥全像唐三藏西遊释尼(厄)傳) in ten scrolls (with three to ten chapters each) by Zhu Dingchen (朱鼎臣) of Yangcheng (羊城, i.e. Guangzhou).

The PDF is quite large at 1.5 gigs, so it will take time to download. I’ve provided two options.

Archive link:

From Google Drive

Or from WordPress

Click to access 二十卷一百回.明.吴承恩撰.明万历二十年金陵世德堂刊本.灰度胶片.pdf


I downloaded this PDF from the archive.

Archive #6 – A Mission to Heaven (1913) – The First Attempt to Translate Journey to the West into English

Here I present A Mission to Heaven (1913), the first English version of Journey to the West translated by the Welsh Baptist missionary Timothy Richard (1845-1919). Modern translator Anthony C. Yu describes it and a slightly later translation as “no more than brief paraphrases and adaptations” (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. xiii). This is because Yu’s translation stretches over 2,000 pages, while Richard’s barely breaks 370 pages. Also, there are many mistranslations that will become apparent to those who have already read Yu’s version. For example, in chapter one when light from Sun Wukong’s eyes reach the celestial realm, A Mission to Heaven reads:

They saw the light burning brightly and ordered a telescope to be brought. (The telescope was invented by Galileo only in 1609 A.D., therefore the Chinese must have had some kind of telescope before we in Europe had it. — Tr.) It was taken to the South gate of heaven to be looked through from thence (Chiu & Richard, 1913, p. 3).

However, Yu’s more accurate version reads:

Upon seeing the glimmer of the golden beams, he [the Jade Emperor] ordered Thousand-Mile Eye and Fair-Wind Ear to open the South Heaven Gate and to look out (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 102).

As can be seen, Richard completely glossed over the two named deities, choosing instead to refer to both as a telescope.

1913 Sun Wukong print - small

The full title of the translation (larger version).

It’s interesting to note the author of A Mission to Heaven/Journey to the West is listed as one Qiu Changchun, otherwise known as Qiu Chuji (1148-1227), founder of the Dragon Gate sect of Daoism. This may be confusing to some since the novel has long been touted as the work of Wu Cheng’en (1500-1582). However, the novel was anonymously published in 1592. Qiu’s disciple is known to have written a travel journal titled Journey to the West (西遊記), which detailed his master’s journey to meet Genghis Khan. Therefore, early commentators confused this historical travel journal with the fictional narrative, thereby claiming Qiu as the author as early as the 17th-century. Wu Cheng’en wasn’t associated with the novel until the 1920s, and the association is again based on a similarly named work published by Wu. Historians remain divided on the true author.

PDF link

Click to access a-mission-to-heaven-1913-translation-of-xiyouji.pdf


The original file can be downloaded for free from


Chiu, C., & Richard, T. (1913). A Mission to Heaven. Shanghai: The Christian Literature Society’s Depot.

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