Antique Chinese and Japanese Porcelain collector's help and info page


Journey to the West by Wu Cheng En

The 'Journey to the West' (Xiyouji), also known as the legend of the 'Monkey King', is a well-known story among the Chinese throughout the world. It is based on the real life monk Xuan Zhuang's (also known as Tripitaka or Tang San Zhang) pilgrimage to India, to fetch three holy scriptures of Buddhism, the three sutras Vinaya Pitaka, Sutra Pitaka and Abhidharma Pitaka - (tri pitakas). The story also comes through as a critique of China's political system and society at the time of the Ming Dynasty. The book is made up of four sections.

The first section describes Sun Wu Kong's or Handsome Monkey King Mei Hou Wang's origins. He is born from a rock on the summit of Flower Fruit Mountain and goes on to become the king of the monkeys. He is bold, daring, mischievous and rebellious. 300 years later, he learns the way of immortality and various other powerful magical skills from an immortal far away from his home. When he returns, he trains his monkeys into a lethal army, takes a powerful weapon from the Eastern Dragon King by force, and cancels his and all monkeys' names from the Book of Life and Death, releasing them from the endless circle of death and rebirth. This triggers a series of events, which includes Sun Wu Kong defeating the Heavenly warriors sent to capture him, getting a post in Heaven only to leave it in anger when he finds out it has no rank whatsoever, returning yet again as The Great Sage Equal of Heaven, and lastly, committing a series of crimes. He steals quite a variety of things, including the Heavenly Empress's peaches, the dishes prepared for an important banquet, all the holy wine, and the pills of immortality created by Lao Tzu. This results in a terrible war between Heaven and Flower Fruit Mountain. At the end of the war, Sun Wu Kong is captured and punished. As no weapon or lighting can harm him, he is burnt in Lao Tzu's furnace for 49 days, which only manages to transform his eyes into Golden Fiery Eyes and make him really angry. So when the furnace is opened, he leaps out of it and proceeds to wreck total havoc in Heaven, fighting thousands of Heavenly soldiers by himself. But the Heavenly Emperor asked the Buddha for help, who crushes Sun Wu Kong underneath the Mountain of Five Elements. He is trapped there for 500 years. Thus ends the first section.

The second section is about the human monk Tang San Zhang's origins. His father is killed and impersonated while thieves capture his mother. To prevent him from being killed by the thieves his mother abandons him to float down a river. Luckily the head monk of a monastery finds him. Eventually, he manages to save his mother and revenge his father. Happily, a dragon king resurrects his father. This section also describes the Emperor of Tang who dies while failing to save another dragon king. He manages to return to life, and holds a religious ceremony, 'Shui Lu Da Hui', for the dead which the now grown-up San Zhang is chosen to conduct. The Goddess Guanyin and her disciple disguised as monks tells him to go to the Western Heaven to fetch the Holy Scriptures.

The third section constitutes the main section of the book and is about the journey itself, the difficulties they meet, the demons they fight, and all the adventures they have on the way. Throughout the journey, Tang San Zhang is regularly attacked and kidnapped by demons as they want to gain immortality by eating his flesh. In this section Tang San Zhang rescues the Monkey King Sun Wu Kong from the mountain. Of the group the Monkey King Sun Wu Kong is the strongest fighter among them but faces trouble with his master a few times because of his tendency to kill. Other figures are Zhu Ba Jie (the Pig Demon) and Sha Wu Jing (the River Demon) who later becomes the monk San Zhang's disciples. The Pig Demon Zhu Ba Jie is significantly weaker. Lazy, greedy and lustful as he is. Still a great help when fighting demons in rivers or seas. He and Sun Wu Kong are constantly quarrelling and Sun Wu Kong likes to play tricks on him. The River Demon Sha Wu Jing is the weakest but work hard and patient, as rivers do.

The fourth and last section is the shortest, where they finally reach the Western Heavens and bring back the scriptures to China. At the end of the book, Tang San Zhang and his disciples attain Buddhahood.

Entry based on texts by 'Yuen'