Episode 75: Monkey King

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Today we will talk about the favorite of most Chinese people especially kids. I am not exaggerating – the monkey King Sun WuKong 孙悟空. If you never heard about him, you might know Goku from the cartoon Dragon Ball who is based on the monkey king.

Sun WuKong is a figure from a Chinese novel from the Ming Dynasty 明朝 from 16th century called Journey to the West 西游记, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. It is one of my favorite novels of all time for sure. The novel is about a legendary journey from China to the west which is India of a Buddhist monk XuanZang 玄奘 and his three disciples to obtain Buddhist sacred sutra in the Tang dynasty 唐朝. Sun WuKong , monkey king is one of the three disciples and the most powerful one. Journey to the West has roots in Chinese mythology, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, which we already mentioned a lot of times in our podcast. We will talk about more stories from the book in the future. In the English translated books, Monkey by Arthur Waley is the most well-known abridged version. If you are interested in reading the book, I would recommend that one.


Sun WuKong, Sun is his last name, WuKong is a very Buddhists name given by his teacher. Wu means awakened or enlightenment which is in the name of all the three disciples. Kong means emptiness. In Buddhism, everything in the world is an illusion and emptiness in the end. In the Waley version, it is translated as aware of vacuity.


He isn’t called Monkey King because of he was born in a royal family or something. He was born from a stone egg created by the heaven and earth. He lives on HuaGuoShan 花果山, Flower Fruit Mountain. He was entitled as the Handsome Monkey King 美猴王 by his monkey tribe.


He can lift 13500 jin 斤, which is around 8000 kilograms. He can travel 108000 li 里, which is around 21600 kilometers in one somersault. Sun WuKong knows 72 transformations into animals and objects. He is a skillful fighter and each of his hairs possesses magics including being transformed into objects and clones of the Monkey King himself. He knows all kinds of spells. His eyes are called golden gaze fiery eyes 火眼金睛 that are able to recognize evil. He is basically the super hero of all the super heroes. He wasn’t born like this but became more powerful step by step. We will talk about all the stories in our future episodes.

His main weapon is called JingGu Bang , a long stick he robbed from the dragon king of the Eastern Seas. It can change its size, multiply and fight accordingly. It weighs 13500 jin around 8 tons. Sun WuKong shrinks it to the size of a needle and tucks it behind his ear. Along with the JingGu Bang, he also obtained chain mail shirt 锁子黄金甲, a phoenix feather cap 凤翅紫金冠 and cloud walking boots 藕丝 步云履.


He is not perfect especially in terms of his personalities. He is a rebel, never good at following the principles, impatient and naughty like a kid or a monkey. That’s why we like him cause he is not perfect and a very interesting character. His behavior is somewhat limited by a band placed on his head by GuanYin, Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism. His master monk Tang SanZang can tighten the band by chanting the Ring Tightening Mantra when he needs to chastise him.


I can’t wait to share the stories in the Journey to the West in the future.


西游记Journey to the West


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