Sun Wukong: The Monkey King and His Journey to the West

“The Monkey king and his two friends escort a Buddhist monk to retrieve sutras (canonical scriptures that reference Buddha’s teachings) from India. Throughout their journey, they encounter many enemies that try to stop their journey. The Monkey king was given this task due to his previous troubles to the Heavens. Being a rebellious child, he caused much chaos to the heavens; this eventually got him punished to imprisonment by Buddha himself. They have to battle hordes of demons. The task of journeying with the monk was a lesson to teach him how to live with enlightenment.”

The informant is originally from Ohio and moved to Los Angeles, California after pursuing her undergraduate education. She comes from a predominant Chinese background, where she learned the language growing up and lived in a Chinese-oriented neighborhood. Although, she claims that she does not use the language herself or live by traditional Chinese customs. She said that Chinese tradition was full of folk tales and told me about this tale about a monkey king. This tale in particular, was of interest to her, because she said it reminded her of herself after leaving her family to establish her independence in California.

She found it to be a rather funny coming of age story about a half man, half monkey character. And she learned it after hearing it from her parents and viewing Chinese movies that referenced it. It is originally recited in Mandarin, but the informant provided a translated version. The informant could not recall most of the tale.

After looking at the authored version of “Journey of the West” tale (Cheng-en, W. (2005) Journey of the West. Silk Pagoda. pp.1-1406) it seems to be a series of tales rather than a single one. Moreover, the tales seem to have a hidden political message that could be understood by knowing China’s sociopolitical context at the time these tales were created. Basically, the monkey king is given this mischievous, rebellious personality in order to battle against the “demons,” which refer to the government at the time of the Ming Dynasty. Its seems like a kind of backlash to the conformist view suggesting that people should not be obligated to abide by their ruling government. As a result, the tale was used not only for the purpose of entertainment but to criticize China’s political system and society. It is analogous to the creation of China’s internet meme, Grass Mud Horse, which was used as an attack against the Communist regime and Chinese government.