Sun Wukong depicted in Japanese Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 1889.
|Vietnamese||Tôn Ngộ Không|
|RTGS||Heng Chia (from Hokkien pronunciation of "行者" (Hêng-chiá))|
|Indonesian||Sun Go Kong|
Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, is a mythological figure who features in a body of legends, which can be traced back to the period of the Song dynasty. He appears as a main character in the 16th century Chinese classical novel Journey to the West. Sun Wukong is also found in many later stories and adaptations. 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 immense strength; he is able to lift his 13,500 jīn (7,960 kilograms (17,550 lb)) staff with ease. He is also extremely fast, able to travel 108,000 li (21,675 kilometres (13,468 mi)) in one somersault. (Note that this is more than half way around the world.) Sun knows 72 transformations, which allow him to transform into various animals and objects; however, he is troubled in transforming into other forms, due to the accompanying incomplete transformation of his tail. Sun Wukong is a skilled fighter, capable of holding his own against the best warriors of heaven. Each of his hairs possess magical properties, capable of being transformed into clones of the Monkey King himself, and/or into various weapons, animals, and other objects. He knows spells to 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. Sun Wukong's origin is from the White Monkey legends from the Chinese Chu kingdom (700–223 BC), who revered gibbons and especially white-colored ones. These legends gave rise to stories and art motifs during the Han dynasty, eventually contributing to the rise of the Sun Wukong figure. Sun Wukong was initially developed as a Taoist immortal before being incorporated into Buddhist myths. He is also considered by some scholars to be influenced by elements of both Chinese folklore and the Hindu deity Hanuman from the Ramayana.
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Birth and Early Life
According to the legend, Sun Wukong is born from a magic stone that sits atop the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. The stone develops a magic womb, which bursts open one day to produce a stone egg about the size of a ball.
When wind blows on the egg, it turns into a stone monkey that can already crawl and walk. He bows to each of the four quarters. As his eyes move, two beams of golden light shoot toward the Jade palace and startle the Jade Emperor. When he sees the light he orders two of his officers to investigate. They report the stone monkey, and that the light is dying down as the monkey eats and drinks. The Jade Emperor believes him to be nothing special.
On the mountain, the monkey befriends various animals, and joins a group of other monkeys. After playing, the monkeys regularly bathe in a stream.
One day, they decide to seek the stream’s source, and climb the mountain to a waterfall. They declare that whoever goes through the waterfall, finds the stream’s source, and comes out again will become their king. The stone monkey volunteers and jumps into the waterfall.
He finds a large iron bridge over rushing water, across which is a house. He brings the other monkeys to raid the house and they make it into their home, declaring the stone monkey their king. He takes the throne and calls himself Handsome Monkey King.
Sun Wukong establishes himself as a powerful and influential demon. In search of a weapon, he travels to the oceans and acquires the Golden-banded staff Ruyi Jingu Bang, a treasure of Ao Guang, the dragon-king of the Eastern Seas. Upon Sun Wukong's approach, the staff glows to signify it has found its true master. It can change its size, multiply, and fight according to its master’s whim. It weighs 13,500 jin (8.1 tons). When not wielding the weapon, Sun Wukong shrinks it down to the size of a sewing needle and tucks it behind his ear.
In addition to taking the magical staff, Wukong defeats the dragons of the four seas in battle and forces them to give him a golden chain mail shirt (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 return to the mountain, he demonstrates the new weapon to his followers and draws the attention of other beastly powers, who seek to ally with him. He forms 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 defies Hell's attempt to collect his soul. Instead of reincarnating, he wipes his name out of the Book of Life and Death along with the names of all monkeys known to him. The Dragon Kings and the Kings of Hell report him to the Jade Emperor.
Havoc in the Heavenly Kingdom
Hoping that a promotion and a rank amongst the gods will make him more manageable, the Jade Emperor invites Sun Wukong to Heaven. The monkey believes he will receive an honorable place as one of the gods but is instead made the Protector of the Horses to watch over the stables, the lowest job in heaven. He rebels and proclaims himself the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven and sets the Cloud Horses free in vengeance.
The Heavens are forced to recognize his title; however, they again try to put him off as the guardian of the Heavenly Garden. When he finds that he is excluded from a royal banquet that includes every other important god and goddess, his indignation turns to open defiance. He steals and consumes Xi Wangmu's Peaches of immortality, Laozi's pills of longevity, and the Jade Emperor's royal wine, then escapes back to his kingdom in preparation for his rebellion.
Sun Wukong later single-handedly defeats the Army of Heaven's 100,000 celestial warriors, all 28 constellations, four heavenly kings, and Nezha, and proves 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, and then finally by the Bodhisattva of mercy, Guanyin, Sun Wukong is captured. After several failed attempts at execution, Sun Wukong is locked into Laozi's eight-way trigram Crucible to be distilled into an elixir (so that Laozi could regain his pills of longevity) by samadhi fires. After 49 days, however, when the cauldron is opened, Sun Wukong jumps out, even stronger. He is now able to recognize evil with huǒyǎn-jīnjīng (火眼金睛) (lit. "golden-gaze fiery-eyes"), an eye condition that also gives him a weakness to smoke, and proceeds to destroy Heaven's remaining forces.
The Jade Emperor and the authorities of Heaven appeal to the Buddha, who arrives from his temple in the West. The Buddha bets that Sun Wukong cannot escape from Buddha's palm. Sun Wukong smugly accepts the bet. He leaps and flies to the end of the world. Seeing nothing but five pillars, Wukong believes he has reached the ends of Heaven. To prove his trail, he marks the pillars with a phrase declaring himself the great sage equal to heaven (and in some versions, urinates on the pillar he signed on). He leaps back and lands in the Buddha's palm. He is surprised to find that the five "pillars" he found are in fact the fingers of the Buddha's hand. When Wukong tries to escape, the Buddha turns his hand into a mountain. Before Wukong can shrug it off, the Buddha seals him there using a paper talisman bearing the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum in gold letters. Sun Wukong remains imprisoned for five centuries.
Disciple to Xuanzang
Five hundred years later, the Bodhisattva Guanyin searches for disciples to protect a pilgrim on a journey to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras. In hearing of this, Sun Wukong offers to serve the pilgrim, Xuanzang, a monk of the Tang Dynasty, in exchange for his freedom after the pilgrimage is complete. Understanding that the monkey will be difficult to control, Guanyin gives Xuanzang a gift from the Buddha: a magical headband which, once Sun Wukong is tricked into putting it on, can never be removed. With a special chant, the band will tighten and cause unbearable pain. To be fair, Guanyin gives Sun Wukong three special hairs, to be used in dire emergencies. Under Xuanzang's supervision, Sun Wukong is allowed to journey to the West.
Throughout the epic novel Journey to the West, Sun Wukong faithfully helps Xuanzang on his journey to India. They are joined by "Pigsy" (猪八戒 Zhu Bajie) and "Sandy" (沙悟浄 Sha Wujing), both of whom accompany the priest in order to atone for their previous crimes. Xuanzang's safety is constantly under threat from demons and other supernatural beings, as well as bandits; Sun Wukong often acts as his bodyguard to combat these threats. The group encounters a series of eighty-one tribulations before accomplishing their mission and returning safely to China. There, Sun Wukong is granted Buddhahood, becoming the "Victorious Fighting Buddha" (Dòu-zhànshèng-fó (鬥戰勝佛)), for his service and strength.
Names and titles
Sun Wukong (孫悟空) is known/pronounced as Suen Ng-hung in Cantonese, Tôn Ngộ Không in Vietnamese, Sun Ngokong in Thai, Sun Gokong or Sun Go Kong in Malay and Indonesian, Son Ogong in Korean, and Son Gokū in Japanese.
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", sometimes translated as Aware Of Vacuity.
- 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 (Dàshèng, 大聖). 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.
- Líng-míngdàn-hóu (靈明石猴)
- "Intelligent Stone Monkey". Wukong is revealed to be as one of the four spiritual primates that do not belong to any of the ten categories that all beings in the universe are classified under. His fellow spiritual primates are the Six-Eared Macaque (六耳獼猴) (who is one of his antagonists in the main storyline), and the Red-Bottomed Horse Monkey (赤尻馬猴) & the Long-Armed Ape Monkey (通臂猿猴) (neither of who make actual appearances, only mentioned in passing by the Buddha), their powers and abilities all on par with each-other.
- Sūn Zhǎnglǎo (孫長老)
- Zhǎnglǎo used as honorific for monk, because Sun Wukong believed Buddhism.
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)
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.
- Some scholars believe this character may have originated in the first disciple of Xuanzang, Shi Banto.
- The Hindu deity Hanuman from the Ramayana is also considered by some scholars to be one of the influences for Sun Wukong.
- 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 Shaoshi Mountain (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.
- List of media adaptations of Journey to the West
- Festival of Monkey King (God), China
- Birthday of the Monkey God
- Dafo Temple, Zhangye
- Shahar, Meir (2008). The Shaolin monastery: History, religion, and the Chinese martial arts. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9780824831103.
- 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)
- 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
- (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)
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sun Wukong.|
- 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.
- Monkey King Thrice Beats White-Skeleton Demon
- 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
- History of Monkey King with links to performances of Journey to the West by New York City's Official Storyteller