Cover image: 水島爾保布《繪本西遊記》(1950’s)

They say it’s a journey of atonement. Is it? Long before the tedious bodyguard job, stranded under the mountains for five hundred years with only iron food and copper drink, Wukong seemed to have paid bitterly for his growing presumption.

Birthed by a stone of the earth and learning supernatural power from a Taoist master, this monkey became a member of Heaven through pugnacious acts, and was later titled, vainly, the Great Sage, the Equal of Heaven. However, this new sage had a bigger ambition: to replace the Jade Emperor and rule Heaven.

Compared to what a havoc he caused to Heaven afterwards, Atlas, the western Titan who had to hold up the sky because of standing up against the tyrannical king, seems almost innocent.

The furious gods tried every cruel method to put Wukong to death, which might be one of the reasons readers always favour Wukong over them. Nevertheless, their attempts failed crushingly, as Wukong had gained immortality while living in Heaven. After escaping from a cauldron burning him continuously for forty nine days, Wukong had a bet with Buddha, who wasn’t a member of Heaven and seemed to bear no grudges against him at the time.

Buddha bet Wukong couldn’t fly over his palm, while Wukong’s quickness was so well-known. Who won? Buddha. Wukong lost the bet evidently, leaving his pee and a line of calligraphy to mark his visit to “the pillars of the end of the world”, which turned out to be Buddha’s fingers; his long imprisonment therefore began.  

What is the turning point? What makes the stone-born monkey, being good-natured at first, become a conceited sage? What would happen to someone who doesn’t have a container but towering anger? Is there a price for a supreme title? How many people have paid for it? Those answers probably all lie in this marvellous novel.

 


Do you know 2016 will come the Chinese year of the monkey? It will start from the Chinese New Year, Feb. 8, 2016. So, Happy The Year of Monkey!

Japanese monkey
葛飾北齋(Katsushika Hokusai, 1760-1849) 《繪本西遊記》