#90 – Special: Monkey Business

http://embed.acast.com/thehistoryofchina/-90-special-monkeybusiness

In celebration of the Year of the Monkey, this week we take a look at China’s most famous demonic simian, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, and his Journey to the West guarding the Buddhist monk Xuanzang. Then we’ll look at the historical 15 year long westward journey of Xuanzang as he seeks sutras from India to bring enlightenment to China.

Time Period Covered:
602-664 CE

Major Historical Figures:
San Zang Master Xuanzang (Chen Hui) [602-664]

Major Fictional Figures:
Sun Wukong (The Handsome Monkey King, Mei Hou Wang)
Zhu Bajie (Pig of the Eight Commandments)
Sha Wujing (The Sandy Friar)
Bodhisattva Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy and Compassion)

Major Works Cited:
Wu, Chang’en, The Journey to the West (1592).
Xuanzang, Da Tang Xiyu Ji (Great Tang Records of the Western Regions) (646).
“The History of Xuan Zang.” http://www.vbtutor.net/Xiyouji/history.htm
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) (602—664 C.E.)” web.archive.org/web/2013011608330….edu/xuanzang/#H1
Cao, Shibang. “Fact vs. Fiction” in Dust in the Wind: Retracing Dharma Master Xuanzang’s Western Pilgrimage

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3 thoughts on “#90 – Special: Monkey Business

  1. Nice title picture. This one perhaps depicts the characters more “truthfully” to Xiyouji’s text, whereas all illustrations that I had seen are all “beautified” to the extent it is difficult to understand why the crew’s human hosts are always terrified of the three apprentices at the beginning. Especially for Sha Monk, he has no special inhuman features except a “face of misfortune” (晦气脸色).

    Very enlightening historic account of Xuanzang’s historic tour. Though I had read fragments of challenges that met him, that the Journey consistently refers to Xuanzang as Tang San Zang throughout really ingrained the idea that he was an official Tang ambassador of sort. And that he was selected as human sacrifice in real life makes me giggle, for that befits the many misfortunes in the Journey when one monster or another selects him as victim for exactly the same reasons.

    1. There’s actually quite a few historical seeds of truth in a lot of the legend! Obviously highly warped in the telling, to be sure, but the Monk Sha, for instance, has been noted to be attributed to the vision of the desert titan imploring Xuanzang to continue onward. As for monkey, apart from being a much older character inserted into the story, he was also imbued with the real Xuanzang’s personal intellect and problem-solving capabilities (while the fictional Shifu was a naive goody-two-shoes unable to do much beyond await his supernatural assistance to arrive)

    2. “This one perhaps depicts the characters more “truthfully” to Xiyouji’s text, whereas all illustrations that I had seen are all “beautified” to the extent it is difficult to understand why the crew’s human hosts are always terrified of the three apprentices at the beginning.”

      That’s something I’ve rolled my eyes at quite a bit, as well. Even (perhaps especially) the old TV show and many of the film adaptations portray Sha as a bald monk with big beads about his neck, and Zhu as a cutsy fat guy with floppy ears and a pig nose.

      They’re demons! They’re *supposed* to be terrifying! Hence I was quite excited to find an image that “fit” with my mind’s eye view of them so well 🙂

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