Feb. 8, 2016, marks the Chinese New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Monkey, a symbol of creativity and inspiration in the Chinese zodiac.
Celebrating these themes in honour of the Year of the Monkey is a perfect time to share the story of the legendary Monkey King from the classic novel “Journey to the West.” With his fantastic martial skills and supernatural abilities, the Monkey King not only displays mighty power but also demonstrates the awe-inspiring strength and dignity of the force for good.
The Monkey King not only displays mighty power but also demonstrates the awe-inspiring strength and dignity of the force for good.
Published in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), “Journey to the West” is one of the four greatest literary masterpieces produced in dynastic China.
The adventure-packed novel takes place in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). It tells the story of the journey of Xuan Zang (also known as Monk Tang) and his disciples to what is now India, with the hope of bringing the sacred Buddhist scriptures back to China.
An Incredible Journey
Monk Tang’s disciples consisted of the ingenious and talented Monkey King, the often lustful and lazy Pigsy, the reserved and diligent Sand Monk, and the quiet and loyal White-Dragon Horse.
These four immortals had all been banished to the human world because of sins they committed in Heaven. The merciful goddess Guanyin gave them a final chance to atone for their sins and return to their celestial home—by converting to Buddhism and protecting Monk Tang on his pilgrimage.
On their journey, the group encountered a staggering series of 81 trials and hardships. Using force and deception, a myriad of demons and evil spirits tried to stop them by various means. They were especially eager to capture Monk Tang, as it was believed that his body had been purified through 10 reincarnations and that one would gain immortality by eating his flesh.
Overcoming incredible odds, the pious pilgrims triumphed over their tribulations and in the end returned to China with the holy scriptures.
Born From a Magic Stone
Born from a magic stone, the handsome Monkey King became king of the monkeys as a result of his wit and cleverness. He developed supernormal powers and many magical skills under the tutelage of a Daoist master, who named him “Sun Wukong,” which means “monkey awakened/enlightened to emptiness.”
The Monkey King’s Daoist master named him “Sun Wukong,” which means “monkey awakened/enlightened to emptiness.”
Full of mischief, however, the Monkey King created chaos in Heaven and below. The Jade Emperor of Heaven attempted to pacify him by granting him auspicious titles. However, the Monkey King considered them of low status and dubbed himself the “Great Sage of Heaven,” rivalling the status of the Buddha. In arrogant rebellion, he wreaked even greater havoc in the heavenly palace.
For his transgressions, the Buddha trapped him under a mountain for 500 years. When Monk Tang finally passed by one day, the Monkey King realized this was Guanyin’s arrangement. He pledged his fealty to the monk and the sacred journey and was thus freed from his captivity.
The Monkey King proved to be invaluable to the mission. Neither deceived by demons’ disguises nor tempted by beauty or riches, his keen perception and fantastic powers delivered Monk Tang from many perils.
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