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For the television miniseries, see The Monkey King (TV miniseries).
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Sun Wukong (traditional Chinese: 孫悟空; simplified Chinese: 孙悟空; pinyin: Sūn Wùkōng; Wade-Giles: Sun1 Wu4-k’ung1; Vietnamese: Tôn Ngộ Không; Japanese 孫悟空 (Son Gokū ?)), known in the West as the Monkey King, is the main character in the classical Chinese epic novel Journey to the West. In the novel, he accompanies the monk Xuanzang on the journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India.
Sun Wukong possesses incredible strength, being able to lift his 13,500 jīn (8,100 kg) Ruyi Jingu Bang with ease. He also has superb speed, traveling 108,000 li (54,000 kilometers) in one somersault. Sun knows 72 transformations, which allows him to transform into various animals and objects; he is, however, shown with slight problems transforming into other people, since he is unable to complete the transformation of his tail. He is a skilled fighter, capable of holding his own against the best generals of heaven. Each of his hairs possesses magical properties, and is capable of transforming into a clone of the Monkey King himself, or various weapons, animals, and other objects. He also knows various spells in order to command wind, part water, conjure protective circles against demons, freeze humans, demons, and gods alike.
Birth and early life
Sun Wukong was born from a mythical stone formed from the primal forces of chaos, located on the Huāguǒ-shān (Chinese: 花果山；mountain of flowers and fruit). After joining a clan of monkeys, he earned their respect by discovering the Shuǐlián-dòng (Chinese: 水帘洞；water-curtain cave) behind a large waterfall; the clan made it their new home. The other monkeys honored him as their king, and he called himself Měi Hóuwáng (handsome monkey king). However, he soon realized that despite his power over the monkeys, he was just like them, and was not beyond mortality. Determined to find immortality, he traveled on a raft to civilized lands, where he found and became the disciple of a Buddhist/Taoist Patriarch Bodhi. He was able to acquire human speech and manners through his travels.
Bodhi was initially reluctant to take him because he was not human, but the monkey’s determination and perseverance impressed the patriarch. It was from him that the monkey received his official name Sun Wukong (“Sun” implies his origin as a monkey, and “Wukong” means aware of emptiness). Soon, his eagerness and intelligence made him one of the favorite disciples of the patriarch, whose guidance and training taught the monkey a number of magic arts. He acquired the powers of shapeshifting known as the “72 transformations”, supposedly the more versatile and difficult set of skills that allows him to transform into every possible form of existence, including people and objects. He also learned about cloud-traveling, including a technique called the Jīndǒuyún (cloud-somersault), which covers 108,000 li (54,000 km) in a single flip. Finally, he could transform each of the 84,000 hairs on his body into inanimate objects and living beings, or even clones of himself. Sun Wukong became proud of his abilities, and began boasting to the other disciples. Bodhi was not happy with this, and cast him out of his temple. Before they parted ways, Bodhi made Wukong promise never to tell anyone how he acquired his powers.
Back at Huāguǒ-shān, Wukong established himself as one of the most powerful and influential demons in the world. In search of a weapon worthy of himself, Sun Wukong traveled into the oceans, where he acquired the “As-you-will Golden-banded Cudgel“, known as Ruyi Jingu Bang (also known as Lork bong Jin Jan in Khmer), which could change its size, multiply itself, and fight according to the whim of its master. It was originally used by Dà-Yǔ to measure ocean depth and later became the “Pillar that pacifies the oceans”, a treasure of Ao Guang, the “dragon-king of the Eastern Seas”. It weighed 13,500 jin (8.1 tons). Upon Wukong’s approach, the pillar started to glow, signifying that it had finally found its true master. Its versatility meant that Wukong could wield it as a staff and keep it inside his ear as a sewing needle. This drove fear into the magical beings of the sea and threw the sea itself into confusion, since nothing but the pillar itself could control the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides. In addition to taking the magical staff, Wukong also defeated the dragons of the four seas in battle and forced them to give him their best magical armor: a golden chain mail (鎖子黃金甲), a phoenix-feather cap (鳳翅紫金冠 Fèngchìzǐjinguān), and cloud-walking boots (藕絲步雲履 Ǒusībùyúnlǚ). Sun Wukong then defied Hell’s attempt to collect his soul. Instead of reincarnating like all other living beings, he not only wiped his name out of the “Book of Life and Death”, but also scraped out the names of all the other monkeys known to him. The Dragon Kings and the Kings of Hell decided to report him to the Jade Emperor of Heaven.
Havoc in the Heavenly Kingdom
Hoping that a promotion and a rank amongst the gods would make him more manageable, the Jade Emperor invited Wukong to Heaven, where the monkey believed he would receive an honorable place as one of the gods. Instead, he was made the head of Heavenly Stables to watch over horses. When he discovered this, Wukong rebelled and proclaimed himself the “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven”, and allied with some of the most powerful demons on earth. The Heavens’ initial attempt at subduing the monkey king was unsuccessful; although they were forced to recognize his title, however, they attempted to put him off as the guardian of Heavenly Garden. When he found that he was excluded from a royal banquet that included every other important god and goddess, Wukong’s indignation again turned to open defiance. After stealing the empress Xi Wangmu‘s “peaches of immortality”, Lao Tzu‘s “pills of longevity”, and the Jade Emperor‘s royal wine, he escaped back to his kingdom in preparation for his rebellion.
Wukong later defeated the Army of Heaven’s 100,000 celestial warriors – each fight an equivalent of a cosmic embodiment, including all 28 constellations, four heavenly kings, and Nezha – and finally proved himself equal to the best of Heaven’s generals, Erlang Shen. Eventually, through the teamwork of Taoist and Buddhist forces, including the efforts from some of the greatest deities, Wukong was captured. After several failed attempts at execution, Wukong was locked into Lao Tzu‘s eight-way trigram cauldron to be distilled into an elixir by the most sacred and the most severe samadhi fires. However, after 49 days, the cauldron exploded and Wukong jumped out, stronger than ever. He now had the ability to recognize evil in any form, through his huǒyǎn-jīnjīng (火眼金睛) (lit. “fiery-eyes golden-gaze”), an eye condition that also gave him a weakness to smoke.
With all of their options exhausted, the Jade Emperor and the authorities of Heaven appealed to the Buddha, who arrived from his temple in the West. The Buddha made a bet with Wukong that he could not escape from his palm. Wukong, knowing that he could cover 108,000 li in one leap, smugly agreed. He took a great leap and then flew to the end of the world in seconds. Nothing was visible except for five pillars, and Wukong surmised that he had reached the ends of Heaven. To prove his trail, he marked the pillars. Afterwards, he leaped back and landed in Buddha’s palm. There, he was surprised to find that the five “pillars” he had found were in fact the five fingers of the Buddha’s hand. When Wukong tried to escape, Buddha turned his hand into a mountain. Before Wukong could shrug it off, Buddha sealed him there using a strip of paper with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum written thereon in gold letters, and Wukong remained imprisoned for five centuries.
Disciple to Xuanzang
Five centuries later, the bodhisattva Guanyin went out in search for disciples that could protect a pilgrim from the East to journey to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras. In hearing this, Sun Wukong offered to serve this pilgrim, who turned out to be Xuanzang, a monk of the Tang Dynasty Empire, in exchange for his freedom. Guanyin understood that the monkey would be hard to control, and therefore gave Xuanzang a gift from the Buddha: a magical headband which, once Wukong was tricked into putting it on, could never be removed. With a special chant, the band would tighten and cause unbearable pain to the monkey’s head. To be fair, she also gave Wukong three special hairs, which could be used in dire emergencies. Under Xuanzang’s supervision, Wukong was allowed to journey to the West.
Throughout the epic Journey to the West, Sun Wukong faithfully helped Xuanzang on his journey to India. They were joined by “Pigsy” (猪八戒 Zhu Bajie) and “Sandy” (沙悟浄 Sha Wujing), both of whom offered to accompany the priest in order to atone for their previous crimes. Even the priest’s horse was in fact a dragon prince. Xuanzang’s safety was constantly under threat from demons and other supernatural beings who believed that his flesh, once consumed, would bring them longevity, and Wukong often acted as his bodyguard. Wukong was given free access to the powers of Heaven to combat these threats. The group encountered a series of eighty-one tribulations before accomplishing their mission and returning safely to China. Wukong was granted Buddhahood for his service and strength.
Celebrations and festivals
The Sun Wukong festival is celebrated on the sixteenth day of the eighth lunar month on the Chinese calendar. Festivals feature recreations of his ordeals such as walking on a bed of coals and climbing a ladder of knives.
Mao Zedong consistently used Sun Wukong as a role model, and often spoke about the good example of the Monkey King, citing “his fearlessness in thinking, doing work, striving for the objective and extricating China from poverty.”
In spite of their popularity (or perhaps because of it), legends regarding Sun Wukong have changed with the ebb and flow that is Chinese culture. The tale with Buddha and the “Pillars” is a prime example, and did not appear until Buddhism was introduced to China during the Han Dynasty. Various legends concerning Sun Wukong date back to before written Chinese history. They tend to change and adapt to the most popular Chinese religion of a given era.
- Some scholars believe that the character Sun Wukong was based on Hanuman (Sanskrit: हनुमत्), the “monkey god”) of Hinduism described in a book by the historical Sanzang. Wukong became so well known in China that he was once (and still is) worshiped by some as a real god.
- Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn’s Chinese opera “Monkey: Journey to the West” is based on the legend of the Monkey King. They were subsequently commissioned by the BBC to produce a two minute animated film to promote their coverage of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which features the characters involved in various sporting activities.
- There are some scholars who believe this character may be originated from the first disciple of Xuan Zang, Shi Bantuo.
- Sun Wukong is so prominent in Journey to the West that the famous translation by Arthur Waley entitled Monkey, leading to other versions of Journey to the West also being called Monkey, such as the Japanese television show, Monkey.
- The phrase “You burst out from a stone” has become one of the common excuses used by Chinese parents when answering the “where do babies come from” question.
- Sun Wukong is said to be the influence behind the creation of various Monkey Kung Fu styles.
In his book The Shaolin Monastery (2008), Tel Aviv University Prof. Meir Shahar claims that Sun influenced a legend concerning the origins of the Shaolin staff method. The legend takes place during the Red Turban Rebellion of the Yuan Dynasty. Bandits lay siege to the monastery, but it is saved by a lowly kitchen worker wielding a long fire poker as a makeshift staff. He leaps into the oven and emerges as a monstrous giant big enough to stand astride both Mount Song and the imperial fort atop Mount Shaoshi (which are five miles apart). The bandits flee when they behold this staff-wielding titan. The Shaolin monks later realize that the kitchen worker was none other than the Monastery’s guardian deity, Vajrapani, in disguise. Shahar compares the worker’s transformation in the stove with Sun’s time in Laozi‘s crucible, their use of the staff, and the fact that Sun and his weapon can both grow to gigantic proportions.
Names and titles
Sun Wukong is known as Syun Ng Hung in Cantonese, Son Oh Gong in Korean, Tôn Ngộ Không in Vietnamese, Son Gokū in Japanese and Sun Go Kong in Indonesian (derived from Hakka) Hanuman Sun Wukong in Cambodian
Listed in the order that they were acquired:
- Shí Hóu (石猴)
- Meaning the “Stone monkey”. This refers to his physical essence, being born from a piece of rock after millennia of incubation on the Bloom Mountains/Flower-Fruit Mountain.
- Měi Hóuwáng (美猴王)
- Meaning “Handsome Monkey-King”, or Houwang for short. The adjective Měi means “beautiful, handsome, pretty”; it also means “to be pleased with oneself”, referring to his ego. Hóu (“monkey”) also highlights his “naughty and impish” character.
- Sūn Wùkōng (孫悟空)
- The name given to him by his first master, Patriarch Bodhi. The surname Sūn was given as an in-joke about the monkey, as monkeys are also called húsūn (猢猻), and can mean either a literal or a figurative “monkey” (or “macaque“). The surname sūn (孫) and the “monkey”-sūn (猻) only differs in that the latter carries an extra “dog” (quǎn) radical to highlight that 猻 refers to an animal. The given name Wùkōng means “awakened to emptiness“. This is translated into Japanese as Son Gokū.
- Bìmǎwēn (弼馬溫)
- The title of the keeper of the Heavenly Horses, a punning of bìmǎwēn (避馬瘟; lit. “avoiding the horses’ plague”). A monkey was often put in a stable as people believed its presence could prevent the horses from catching illness. Sun Wukong was given this position by the Jade Emperor after his first intrusion into Heaven. He was promised that it was a good position to have, and that he, at least in this section, would be in the highest position. After discovering it was, in actuality, one of the lowest jobs in Heaven, he became angry, smashed the entire stable, set the horses free, and then quit. From then on, the title bìmǎwēn was used by his adversaries to mock him.
- Qítiān Dàshèng (齊天大聖)
- Meaning “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven”. Wùkōng demanded this title from the Jade Emperor and was eventually granted it. This is translated into Japanese as seiten-taisei (“great sage”, dàshèng and taisei, is a Chinese and Japanese honorific). The title originally holds no power, though it is officially a high rank. Later the title was granted the responsibility to guard the Heavenly Peach Garden, due to that many Heavenly Officials noticed that Sun Wukong had nothing to do.
- Xíngzhě (行者)
- Meaning “ascetic”, it refers to a wandering monk, a priest’s servant, or a person engaged in performing religious austerities. Xuanzang calls Wukong Sūn-xíngzhě when he accepts him as his companion. This is translated into Japanese as gyōja (making him Son-gyōja).
- Dòu-zhànshèng-fó (鬥戰聖佛)
- “Battle-Mystic-Buddha”. Wukong was given this name once he ascended to buddhahood at the end of the Journey to the West. This name is mentioned during the Chinese Buddhist evening services, specifically during the eighty-eight Buddhas repentance.
In addition to the names used in the novel, the Monkey King has other names in different languages:
- Kâu-chê-thian (猴齊天) in Taiwanese (Taiwan): “Monkey, Equal of Heaven”.
- Maa5 lau1 zing1 (馬騮精) in Cantonese (Hong Kong and Guangdong): “Monkey Imp” (called by his enemies)
- Saiten Taisei Son Goku in Japanese (Japan): “Great Sage Equal of Heaven”
Appearances in other media
Sun Wukong has been a staple character in many forms of media from many East Asian countries, most famously the 1965 Chinese animated film Havoc in Heaven.
Film and television
Many actors including Masaaki Sakai, Liu Xiao Ling Tong, Stephen Chow, Yueh Hua (of Shaw Brothers fame), and Dicky Cheung have portrayed Sun in films and television shows. Jet Li portrays the character in the 2008 movie The Forbidden Kingdom, which condenses many of the elements of his character (his mischief, his playing havoc amongst the gods, his magical staff obtained from the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea, and his three magical hairs) into a single narrative.
In 1985, filmmaker Chris Columbus wrote an early draft for the third Indiana Jones film (which eventually became Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and focused on the Holy Grail instead), which featured the Monkey King. In Columbus’ first draft Sun Wu Kung (as it is spelt there) is benevolent deity and god to a city of pygmies and apes in Africa; but in the second draft he is a villain. George Lucas eventually decided the character was too unrealistic  The script was leaked online in 1997, and many believed it was an early draft for the fourth film as the date was mistakenly printed as 1995..
In 1986 in was filmed Chinese serial Monkey King (Xi you ji, directed by Jie Yang), which featured 25 episodes of length from 40 to 55 minutes. It tells story of Monkey king Sun Wukong from his birth from rock and sea through his journey.
The manga and anime series Dragon Ball was based on Journey to the West, and the protagonist was named Son Goku (the Japanese way to pronounce the kanji Sun Wukong). However, while Goku had a few items in his possession similar to the Monkey King (such as a somersault cloud and an extending magical staff), he appeared to be more human than monkey (he is later revealed to be a member of a race of monkey-tailed aliens called Saiyans), and his initial mischievous behavior stems from his youth and innocence, rather than from arrogance and sometimes outright malice.
Gene Luen Yang‘s graphic novel American Born Chinese, uses the legend of “The Monkey King,” as a major metaphor throughout the book. He uses the Monkey King’s quest to be equal to a god to compare the feelings the main character, a Chinese immigrant, is having fitting in to American society.
 Video Games
Sun Wukong has also appeared as a playable character in numerous titles such as Saiyuki: Journey West and Warriors Orochi 2. It is notable that in the latter, he is an antagonist character (albeit along with Himiko certainly the least malevolent of them) since in this game he was freed not by Xuanzang but by Taira Kiyomori, who he then felt obligated to support. The expansion Warriors Orochi Z later features a female Xuanzang, which foreshadows Wukong’s true redemption.
- ^ a b c d e f Journey to the West, Wu Cheng’en (1500-1582), Translated by Foreign Languages Press, Beijing 1993.
- ^ Chinaposters – front
- ^ (Chinese) http://www.cctv.com/program/tsfx/topic/geography/C17917/02/
- ^ Shahar, Meir. The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008 (ISBN 0824831101)
- ^ Rinzler, J.W.; Laurent Bouzereau (2008). The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. Random House. pp. 188–89. ISBN 9780091926618.
- ^ David Hughes (November 2005). “The Long Strange Journey of Indiana Jones IV”. Empire. pp. 131.
 External links
- Sun Wukong Character Profile A detailed character profile of Sun Wukong, with character history, listing and explanations of his various names and titles, detailed information on his weapon, abilities, powers, and skills, and also a detailed explanation of his personality.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Sun Wukong|
- Story of Sun Wukong with manhua
- Sun Wukong’s entry at Godchecker is a tongue-in-cheek take on the Great Sage.
- (Chinese) ‘Journey to the West’
- Sun Wukong at Encyclopedia Mythica
- History of Monkey King with links to performances of “Journey to the West” by New York City’s Official Storyteller
in arabic #69 – al-Qādir