Guest Author - Caroline Baker
The Monkey King is one of the most widely known Chinese legends. While the story is truly about the journey one monk has, the comedy and trickery of the Monkey King is what captures the heart of this story.
As the legend begins, the Monkey King is born from the earth and known as the stone monkey. He joined the other monkeys who dared anyone to enter a cave said to lead to the heavens. The stone monkey was the only one to do so and they declared him King. From that point forward, he would be called the Monkey King. As time went on, he feared that he would soon die and began a quest. It was on this journey that he learned the secrets of Martial Arts and immortality. He returned home to teach his monkey friends these arts.
Over time, the Monkey King went through many phases of greed, always seeing things on the other side as being better. His constant seeking for recognition and gregarious interest in food and wine leads him through many lands, both on earth, in the heavens, and in the Netherlands. He encounters many conflicts and angers many of the gods, who are all too weak to control the Monkey King. With him comes much war and chaos.
Eventually, these gods call upon Buddha to help them. Because the Monkey King is immortal, he cannot be killed. Instead, Buddha encases the monkey for five hundred years. At the end of this time is when Xuan Zang, a Buddhist Monk, makes his pilgrimage across China to the heartland of the Buddhist religion (today's India) in order to learn the sutras.
Buddha summons the Monkey King from his place beneath the mountains to serve as a guide for the Monk. In addition, they are joined by two companions: Pigsy, a frighten pig immortal (somewhat like Piglet but bigger) who must make this journey to repent for his crime of assaulting a fairy, and Sandy, a former sea monster.
Together the four companions make their journey to India. Along the way, the Monkey King is filled with antics of trickery, deceit, disobedience... and yet through it all, he still helps the monk and can be seen as overall having a good heart. It's just in his nature to play.
The Monkey King comes from a book known as Journey to the West and is loosely based on the real journey of Xuan Zang, who lived during the Tang Dynasty, into India to bring back Buddhism scriptures to China.
Throughout history, the story has been a major part of Chinese culture. It has been made into a famous Chinese Opera, which is still being performed today. The CD to the right, the story is retold through the songs of the Opera. One can hear in the performer's voices the pain and suffering of the monk and the whimsical, but heartfelt, trials of the Monkey King.
Chinese Children from all ages and all around the world know about the Monkey King. His whimsical white face adorns many children's products and are recaptured in comic strips and cartoons. Even stories, such as the one to the left, have found their way to the English language, to be enjoyed by an even wider audience.