Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 21, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin Chinese
“So there’s this monkey, that–okay. There’s a rock on a mountain. It’s a spherical rock on top of a really high mountain. And I don’t know if lightning strikes it or what, but somehow it splits open, and there’s a monkey inside.
So the monkey–he doesn’t have a family. He literally came from a rock. So he tries to get along with the other monkeys down on the bottom of the mountain. I don’t think he gets along with them very well, because he’s an outsider. And then…some kind of coming of age story.
And then, turns out he has superpowers. So he has a lot of superpowers. So he can–he’s really mischievous. So he’s really like–how you would imagine a monkey to be. He throws poop. He’s the kinda guy who would throw his own poop. That’s the kind of hero this guy is.
So obviously, little boys would look up to this guy. Not as much little girls.
So one of his superpowers that I know pretty well, he can pluck one of his hairs and blow it, and it will turn into him. Like multiple copies of him. And that obviously makes his pranks a lot better. Because he can be anywhere at any time.
Oh and he can transform into things. So he can shapeshift into any person. Well, that obviously makes pranks a lot of fun.
He’s super strong, he has a tail–because he’s a monkey. And all that good stuff.
So he’s a prankster. And then, he’s like–really bold, and ambitious and egotistical. So he gets…his pranks get bigger and more grandiose. And he goes all the way to, like, mess with the gods. Of–of the…the multi–polytheist gods of China.
And then…there’s this forbidden tree kind of deal, with peaches. And the fruit can grant immortality, I think. And it’s like, up in the mountains where the gods live. And somehow he finds his way over there, and he’s just hanging out, and he grabs a peach. And eats it. And he’s immortal after that.
And then… Prank, prank, prank, prank, prank. And then one of the gods is like, ‘I’ve had enough of this.’ So he condemns him to–oh, he goes to complain to Buddha. Who, you know, he’s not a god, but in fairy tales he’s a god.
So he’s like, ‘Yeah, Buddha, there’s this monkey. And he’s really–you should do something about it.’ And Buddha’s like, ‘Oh…okay, fine. I have to deal with this.’ So the Buddha goes and he’s like, ‘Yo, Monkey King, stop doing what you’re doing. It’s really annoying.’ And he’s like, ‘No.’ And then…Monkey King challenges Buddha’s power. And Buddha’s like, ‘I bet I could race you from here to the edge of the universe. And I will win.’ So the Monkey King is like, ‘Sure, I could do that. I could beat you. You’re old.’
So he jumps on this cloud, that he can fly on–he has a cloud that flies–and he flies to the edge of the universe. And he’s in outer space or something. And there’s nothing there. So he thinks he’s won. So he’s like, ‘You know, I–I need to pee.’ So he goes and pees on one of the pillars at the edge of the universe. And then he–I think he writes his name out with his pee. And then he flies back.
And the Buddha’s there. And Monkey King’s like, ‘Yo, you didn’t even try, what’re you doing?’ and Buddha’s like, ‘No. I got there before you did.’ And he shows him his hand. And in one of the crevasses is his pee. Because apparently the pillar he peed on is Buddha’s hand.
So the Buddha wins. And I think they had a bet before hand. So the Buddha’s like, ‘For your crimes of mischievousness prankery, I condemn you to a life under this mountain.’ So Buddha throws a mountain on the Monkey King and he has to hang out there for a really long time.
But. So this is the origin story. There’s more.
So out of nowhere, like after five hundred years, because the Monkey King is immortal, uh, a priest–a Buddhist monk–that’s traveling from China to India to get the original Sanskrit texts for Buddhism, he’s on his way, and he passes the mountain. And the Monkey King is there, and he’s like, ‘Psst! Hey! Get me out of this!’ And the monk somehow makes a deal with Buddha, like ‘Okay, I will guide and mentor this monkey if you let him come with me on my journey to India to protect me.’ So Buddha says yes.
And then he turns the mountain that was on the Monkey King into this headband, and so that’s what the headband is on the Monkey King. The headband is kind of like his chains, his shackles. And I think it constricts sometimes to give him pain when he’s bad.
So the Buddhist monk and the Monkey King go to India to get the Buddhist scriptures. And along the way they have a lot of adventures and stuff.”
Here, my informant tells me a traditional Chinese tale about the Monkey King, focusing on the way he came to be. The Monkey King is very popular, and, as my informant told me, it is often used as a bedtime story for children. His implication was that there are many different adventures that can be told about the Monkey King, and so it is an ideal tale.
The story is about a prankster hero, so it’s clear why it would be popular among children – especially, as my informant points out, among little boys versus little girls. The story itself is fairly basic, and calls to mind Greek and Roman mythology. It seems that each culture has its own version of a prankster challenging the gods, just to be put in his place. It’s not difficult to understand why – this teaches humility and the idea that humans are inferior to the gods that they worship. In addition, although my informant focused on the origin story of the Monkey King, the larger story is clearly based around a journey, which is another popular trope in early folktales.
The story itself was interesting, but what I found most fascinating was the way in which my informant told me the story. Although he was telling a traditional Chinese story, the words, phrases, and intonation that he used made it clear that I was getting a solidly American retelling.
(May also be read in the novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en)