|Sun Wukong depicted in Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 1889.|
|Vietnamese||Tôn Ngộ Không|
|RTGS||Heng Chia (from a Hokkian pronunciation of "行者" (Xíng Zhě))|
Sun Wukong (simplified Chinese: 孙悟空; traditional Chinese: 孫悟空; pinyin: Sūn Wùkōng), also known as the Monkey King, is a main character in the classical Chinese epic novel Journey to the West (Chinese: 西遊記; pinyin: Xīyóujì) written by Wu Cheng'en. In the novel, he is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India.
Sun Wukong possesses an immense amount of strength; he is able to lift his 13,500 jīn (8,100 kg or 17,881 lbs) staff with ease. He is also superbly fast, able to travel 108,000 li (54,000 kilometers or 33,554 mi) in one somersault. Sun knows 72 transformations, which allows him to transform into various animals and objects; he has trouble, however, transforming into other people, because 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 either into a clone of the Monkey King himself, or various weapons, animals, and other objects. He also knows spells that can command wind, part water, conjure protective circles against demons, and freeze humans, demons, and gods alike.
One of the most enduring Chinese literary characters, Sun Wukong has a varied background and colorful cultural history. For example, Sun Wukong is considered by some American, Chinese, and Indian scholars to be influenced by both the Hindu deity Hanuman from the Ramayana and elements of Chinese folklore.
Birth and early life 
Sun Wukong was born from a mythical stone formed from the primal forces of chaos, located on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit (hua guo shan). After joining a clan of monkeys, he earned their respect by discovering the Water Curtain Cave (shui lian dong) 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). He soon realized that despite his power over the monkeys, he was still only mortal. Determined to find immortality, he traveled on a raft to civilized lands, where he became the disciple of a Taoist immortal, who bears resemblance and alludes to Subodhi. He was able to acquire human speech and manners through his travels.
Subodhi was initially reluctant to take him because he was not human; but the monkey's pertinacity 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 or 33,554 mi) 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, at the urging of the other disciples, began showing-off and demonstrating his abilities to them. His master was not happy with this, and cast him out of his temple. Before they parted, he ordered that Sun Wukong promise never to tell anyone how he acquired his powers.
At the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, Sun 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 Golden-banded staff Ruyi Jingu Bang, 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 Sun Wukong's approach, the pillar started to glow, signifying that it had found its true master. Its versatility meant that Sun 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 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 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).
Upon his triumphant return, he demonstrated the new weapon to his followers, growing his size in proportion to the original length of the staff. The uproar drew attention of other beastly powers who sought to ally with him. Sun Wukong formed a fraternity with the Bull Demon King (牛魔王), the Saurian Demon King (蛟魔王), the Roc Demon King (鵬魔王), the Lion Spirit King (獅狔王), the Macaque Spirit King (獼猴王) and the Snub-nosed monkey Spirit King (禺狨王).[Note 1]
Sun Wukong then defied Hell's attempt to collect his soul. Instead of reincarnating like all other living beings, he wiped his name out of the "Book of Life and Death" and with it the names of all other monkeys known to him. The Dragon Kings and the Kings of Hell then 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 Sun Wukong to Heaven, where the monkey believed he would receive an honorable place as one of the gods. Instead, he was made the Protector of the Horses to watch over the stables, which was the lowest job in heaven. When he discovered this, Sun Wukong rebelled and proclaimed himself the "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven", and allied with some of the most powerful demons on earth. Then he got revenge by setting the Cloud Horses free. The Heavens' initial attempt at subduing the Monkey King was unsuccessful, and they were forced to recognize his title; however, they tried again 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, Sun Wukong's indignation again turned to open defiance. After stealing and consuming 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.
Sun Wukong later single-handedly 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, the son of Li Jiang Jun who proved himself worthy - and 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, Sun Wukong was captured. After several failed attempts at execution, Sun Wukong was locked into Lao Tzu's eight-way trigram Crucible to be distilled into an elixir, (so that Lao Tzu could regain his "pills of longevity"), by the most sacred and the most severe samadhi fires. After 49 days, however, when the cauldron was opened, Sun Wukong jumped out, stronger than ever before. 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, and proceeded to destroy Heaven's remaining forces.
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 Sun Wukong that he (Sun Wukong) could not escape from his (Buddha's) palm. Sun 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 with a phrase declaring himself "the great sage equal to heaven" (and in other versions, urinated on the pillar he signed on). Afterward, he leaped back and landed in the 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, the Buddha turned his hand into a mountain. Before Wukong could shrug it off, the Buddha sealed him there using a paper talisman on which was written the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum in gold letters, wherein Sun 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, Xuanzang, a monk of the Tang Dynasty, in exchange for his freedom after the pilgrimage was complete. Guanyin understood that the monkey would be hard to control, and therefore gave Xuanzang a gift from the Buddha: a magical headband which, once Sun Wukong was tricked into putting it on himself, could never be removed. With a special chant, the band would tighten and cause unbearable pain to the monkey's head. To be fair, Guanyin also gave Sun Wukong three special hairs, which could be used in dire emergencies. Under Xuanzang's supervision, Sun Wukong was allowed to journey to the West.
Throughout the epic novel 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. It was later revealed that the priest's horse was in fact a dragon prince. Xuanzang's safety was constantly under threat from demons and other supernatural beings (some who believed that his flesh, once consumed, would bring them longevity, and others who did not want him to succeed with his quest to obtain the scriptures), as well as from bandits, wherefore Sun Wukong often acted as his bodyguard and given free access to the powers of Heaven to combat these threats. The group encountered a series of eighty-one tribulations, (because 9 × 9 = 81), before accomplishing their mission and returning safely to China. There, Sun Wukong was granted Buddhahood for his service and strength.
In spite of their popularity (or perhaps because of it), legends regarding Sun Wukong have changed with 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 exist, and they tend to change and adapt to the popular Chinese religion of a given era.
- 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.
- Some scholars believe this character may have originated in the first disciple of Xuan Zang, Shi Banto.
- The Hindu deity Hanuman from the Ramayana is also considered by some scholars to be an inspiration for Sun Wukong.
- Sun Wukong is so prominent in Journey to the West that the famous translation by Arthur Waley, entitled Monkey, led to other versions of Journey to the West, also called Monkey, among them a well-known Japanese television show.
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 him. The Shaolin monks later realize that the kitchen worker was the Monastery's guardian deity, Vajrapani, in disguise. Shahar compares the worker's transformation in the stove with Sun Wukong's time in Laozi's crucible, their use of the staff, and the fact that Sun Wukong and his weapon can both grow to gigantic proportions.
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".
Names and titles 
Sun Wukong (孫悟空) is known/pronounced as Suen Ng Hung in Cantonese, Son Oh Gong in Korean, Tôn Ngộ Không in Vietnamese, Son Gokū in Japanese (also the name of Sun Wukong's parody, Son Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise), and Sun Go Kong in Indonesian.
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 sphere 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 (Subodhi). 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 differ 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".
- 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 took this title suggested to him by one of his demon friends, after he wreaked havoc in heaven people who heard of him called him Great Sage. This is pronounced in 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 the Jade Emperor keeping him busy so he won't make trouble.
- 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 pronounced in Japanese as gyōja (making him Son-gyōja).
- Dòu-zhànshèng-fó (鬥戰勝佛)
- "Victorious Fighting Buddha". Wukong was given this name once he ascended to buddhahood at the end of the Journey to the West. This name is also mentioned during the traditional 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 Minnan (Taiwan): "Monkey, Equal of Heaven".
- Maa5 lau1 zing1 (馬騮精) in Cantonese (Hong Kong and Guangdong): "Monkey Imp" (called by his enemies)
In Xiyoubu 
The brief satirical novel Xiyoubu (西游补, "Supplement to the Journey to the West," c. 1640) follows Sun as he is trapped in a magical dream world created by the Qing Fish Demon, the embodiment of desire (情, qing). Sun travels back and forth through time, during which he serves as the adjunct King of Hell and judges the soul of the recently dead traitor Qin Hui during the Song Dynasty, takes on the appearance of a beautiful concubine and causes the downfall of the Qin Dynasty, and even faces King Paramita, one of his five sons born to the demoness Princess Iron Fan, on the battlefield during the Tang Dynasty. The events of the Xiyoubu take place between the end of chapter 61 and the beginning of chapter 62 of Journey to the West. The author, Tong Yue (童说), wrote the book because he wanted to create an opponent—in this case desire—that Sun could not defeat with his great strength and martial skill.
See also 
- Journey to the West, Wu Cheng'en (1500-1582), Translated by Foreign Languages Press, Beijing 1993.
- Hera S. Walker, "Indigenous or Foreign?: A Look at the Origins of the Monkey Hero Sun Wukong," Sino-Platonic Papers, 81 (September 1998)
- Wendy Doniger. "Hanuman (Hindu mythology)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
- Ramnath Subbaraman, "Beyond the Question of the Monkey Imposter: Indian Influence on the Chinese Novel The Journey to the West," Sino-Platonic Papers, 114 (March 2002)
- After their initial meeting, the Daoist master Subodhi (Bodhi) tells Monkey: " Though your features are not the most attractive, you do resemble a monkey (hu-sun [猢猻]) that feeds on pine seeds. This gives me the idea of deriving your surname from your appearance. [...] Within my tradition are twelve characters which have been used to name the pupils according to their divisions. You are one who belongs to the tenth generation. [...] Your rank falls precisely on the word "wake-to" (wu [悟]). You will hence be given the religious name 'Wake to Vacuity' (wu-k'ung [悟空]). (Yu, Anthony C. The journey to the west (Vol. I). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980, p. 82)
- (Chinese) http://web.archive.org/web/20090423014805/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 0-8248-3110-1)
- Chinaposters - front
- King Paramita is the only son to make an appearance and to be called by name in the novel. These sons did not originally appear in Journey to the West.
- Tong, Yue, Shuen-fu Lin, Larry James Schulz, and Chengẻn Wu. The Tower of Myriad Mirrors: A Supplement to Journey to the West. Michigan classics in Chinese studies, 1. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2000
- Tong, The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, p. 5
- Tong, The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, p. 133
- Naming the demon kings is tricky (as are many other things in Journey to the West). First, there are several translations into English. Second, some of them translate some names incorrectly. Third, Chinese characters used to describe certain animals at the time Journey was written are much less specific than we might want. Hopefully, the 6th brother belongs (with decreasing probability) to Colobinae, Snub-nosed monkey, Golden snub-nosed monkey.
- 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.
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