Myth – China

“A monk (forgot his name) was given the task, from Buddha, of collecting Buddhist religious texts, known as sutras. The monk thus goes on a quest to find them along with 3 protectors and a prince. One of the protectors is known as The Monkey King.  The Monkey King was supposedly born from a rock in a mountain that was filled with fruits. He caused lots of trouble and created a commotion in Heaven so Buddha trapped him under a mountain to punish him. He was released when the monk accepted him as one of his protectors for the journey.
He is known to have a staff that can change in size; it was his primary weapon. He was also capable of transforming into other objects and manipulating his size to go through different types of obstacles. His favorite fruit was the peach of immortality. He was a trouble maker and not a good role model, but he was a hero nonetheless.”

Michael e-mailed this story to me, but he first heard it when he was about eight years old from his mother in his home in Rockville, MD. His mother learned about the stories of the Monkey King during her childhood in Beijing, China. He says that it is a very traditional collection of stories that is told to children and adults because it is very entertaining and funny. When families do not have television or computers to keep them occupied, they can tell stories about the Monkey King because there are many versions and tales.
The adventures of the Monkey King also show up on pages 159 to 195 in Essential Chinese Mythology which is written by Martin Palmer and Zhao Xiaomin. It includes three main stories about the Monkey King. Similar to Michael’s telling of the story, the book goes over how “Monkey overthrows heaven.” It goes more into detail about what the Monkey King does to disrupt heaven and how Buddha punishes him. Buddha puts “his five fingers together and Monkey [finds] himself beneath a mountain range on Earth.”
The adventures of the Monkey King also incorporate part of China’s history in its overall storyline, such as the values of Buddhism and journeys along the Silk Road. The main human character is the monk and everyone else is either immortal or some sort of talking animal. This story is not meant to be believed, but it integrates many Chinese themes and beliefs. The tale was created hundreds and maybe thousands of years ago, first being spread verbally. Many people could make up their own adventures about the Monkey King and eventually they were written down and canonized. There are a few main stories about the Monkey King that most Chinese people know about, but there are many smaller stories that could supplement the main ones. Each story includes a villain or demon that the Monkey King and his friends need to defeat. These stories were created to explain the terrain of China. There is a mountain terrain in China that looks like Buddha’s palm and so, people that lived near the mountain or saw it in passing probably made up the story about Buddha’s hand trapping the Monkey King. As a myth, the Monkey King stories take place before the real world and explain how the earth was developed and deal with sacred individuals.

Annotation: Palmer, Martin. Xiaomin, Zhao. Essential Chinese Mythology. San Francisco, California: Thorsons: 1997. p. 159-195.