Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en

” Journey to the West” is a 16th-century Chinese novel commonly attributed to Wu Cheng’en. The original name of this novel in China is “Xi You Ji”. This is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, along with “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, “Water Margin”, and “‘Dream of the Red Chamber”. In English-speaking countries, the novel is best known through its abridged translation by Arthur Waley, “‘Monkey”.

Journey to the West Characters

“Journey to the West”‘s characters are a combination of folk characters and one character based on a real individual. In the Chinese edition, the Monkey King is the title character, not Xuanzang.

  • Tang Sanzang: Based on Xuanzang, a real monk who traveled to India in the 7th century, Tang Sanzang is a monk trusted with leading a group of pilgrims to bring the original Buddhist scriptures back to China. However, the journey is dangerous, and he, being a monk, cannot fight the monsters in his way.
  • Sun Wukong: Also known as the Monkey King, Sun Wukong was born from a stone egg and is obsessed with gaining immortality. After various great feats, he is given charge of the stables in heaven. However, his tricks and antics eventually lead him to be sealed under a mountain for five hundred years until Tang Sanzang finds him. The Monkey King in “Journey to the West” is one of the novel’s most popular characters due to his humor and fighting prowess.
  • Zhu Bajie: Often called Monk Pig or simply Pig in English translations, Zhu Bajie was once an immortal Marshal of the Heavenly Canopy. However, after getting drunk and harassing the goddess of the moon, he was banished to be reincarnated. Due to an error in the Reincarnation Wheel, he is born not from a human, but a pig, resulting in him being reborn as a half-pig, half-man. He is tasked with following Tang Sanzang in his quest.
  • Sha Wujing: Dubbed as Sandy of Friar Sand in English translations, Sha Wujing was a General in heaven but was banished after accidentally smashing a crystal goblet. Made to look hideous, he eventually joined the pilgrimage with Tang Sanzang after his exile.
  • Yulong: Yulong is a dragon, technically called the White Dragon Horse, who eats Tang Sanzang’s horse. However, he is then required to turn into a horse in order to serve as penance.

Summary of Journey to the West

“Journey to the West” is divided into 100 chapters; however, its summary can be divided into four parts.

  1. Chapters one to seven serve as a prologue to Sun Wukong’s backstory. As he comes to be known as the Monkey King, Sun learns seventy-two transformations, the art of Tao, advanced combat, and the secret to immortality. He becomes powerful enough to challenge heaven itself, so Buddha intervenes and manages to seal him under a mountain for five hundred years.
  2. Chapters eight to twelve give a detailed account of the journey of Tang Sanzang as he, disillusioned with the culture around him, searches for answers and is called forth by the Buddha. He instructs him to conduct a pilgrimage to bring knowledge back to China.
  3. Chapters thirteen through ninety-nine are the longest sections of the text. Tang Sanzang finds the teachings in India but must discover a way to bring them back to China. While Tan Sanzang is based on a real figure, the geography of this section is almost entirely fictional. Sun Wukong joins the pilgrimage in Chapter thirteen, but he is constantly chastised for his use of violence by Tan Sanzang. In Chapter nineteen, Zhu Bajie joins the party but seeks a way to get out of his duties. They eventually meet Yulong, who becomes a horse for Tang Sanzang and has almost no speaking parts for the rest of the epic. The party travels through various reigns, including lands governed entirely by women, the realm of flaming mountains, and places filled with spider spirits. The text implies that these obstacles are tests set forth by the Buddha.
  4. Though, in chapter eighty-seven, Tang Sanzang reaches India after fourteen years. He finally arrives at Vulture Peak and receives the full scriptures from the living Buddha. The final chapter concludes the story as each pilgrim receives rewards for their part in the journey. All members attain some level of divinity for having passed the various trials on their journey.

Analysis of Journey to the West

“Journey to the West” is, at its heart, a satirical look at Chinese society and bureaucracy. The story shows how the various teachings of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism can coexist. Largely like the pilgrims represent various aspects of each faith and yet manage to work together to reach a common goal, each belief system manages to work together and live harmoniously with the others. As the story progresses, the lines that separate these philosophies become blurred. Sun Wukong appears to be mocking Buddhism since Taoism was the dominant faith at the time of the novel’s writing. In a more modern reading, Sun Wukong is often wrongly punished by Tang Sanzang despite being innocent, a relationship that parallels the relationship between modern Chinese civilians and the government, which persecutes them for purely political reasons. In the end, the moral of the novel is that there are various ways to reach enlightenment.

Lesson Summary

” Journey to the West” is one of the Four Great Classical Chinese Novels and is written by Wu Cheng’en. The novel showcases a political and religious journey featuring various characters, both real and fictional. Tang Sanzang, also known as Xuanzang, is a monk and a pilgrim who needs to reach India to find the true teachings of the Buddha but is unable to fight the monsters he encounters. Though he is the hero of the story, Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, is the most popular character because of his mischievousness and fighting prowess. In fact, the first seven chapters of the novel focus on him. Other pilgrims, such as Zhu Bajie, known in the English translation as Monk Pig or Pig, join the journey later on. Eventually, after fourteen years of traveling, the group reaches India and fulfills its quest. Every member achieves some level of divinity.

Join the conversation