“The Journey to the West” and the most famous monkey in China

What do you associate with the title “Journey to the West”? A tour guide? A modern story? If you have already heard of the monkey king, the answer should not be difficult.

“The Journey to the West” or Xi You Ji, is the title of a book that belongs to the “four most wondrous classical novels” of China. The plot revolves around Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who travels west to India with his four disciples, including the famous monkey king Sun Wukong, in search for holy scriptures. The other protagonists are the half-pig and half-monk Zhu Bajie and the water monster Sha Wujing. Xuanzang’s noble steed is a white horse that used to be a river dragon.

The story dates back to a historically documented India trip: A monk named Xuanzang traveled to India in search of holy scriptures, more precisely the Mahayana, in the seventh century. With history at its base, the author Wu Cheng’en weaves a legend full of Buddhism and Taoism, heroes, demons, divine figures, supernatural power, and kung-fu. The fabulous monkey king is a classic trickster figure, equal parts arrogant, impatient, funny, upright, and brave.

Thanks to the monkey king the more than 2000-page long novel is still popular today, and every child in China knows Sun Wukong. The story, or individual parts of it, have been adapted in various mediums – operas, films, comics, computer games, and continue to inspire.

If you would like to read classic Chinese literature, this novel very entertaining. It could also fall into the “Fantasy” genre, full of humor and adventures. Several excellent translations into English exist.