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Journey to the West - Intro and Satire Aspect


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#1 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 09:04 AM

Most of the kids in China will probably know the novel "Journey to the West (Xi You Ji 西游记)" largely because of comics, cartoons etc. I read the short story when I was young and only began to read the original version recently after undertaking a chinese literature class. In this thread, I'll give a short introduction as well as leave you some points to notice (such as its theme and satire aspect) so that you can note it when you're reading it.

Brief Introduction of Journey to the West


The Journey to the west is a chinese classic novel about gods and demons. It was one of the 4 classical fiction (together with Red Chamber Dream, Romance of 3 kingdoms and Water Margin). In the novel, it describe the story of Tang venerable Xuan Zang's travel to the western land to obtain the buddhist scriptures. It displayed the traditional theme of punishing the evil while praising the good. The book was roughly written during mid Ming dynasty (16th century) and had been translated into many other foreign languages.

The characters in the novel such as Monkey "Sun Wu kong 孙悟空", Tang Seng 唐僧, Pig "Zhu Ba Jie 猪八戒", Sand Monk "Sha Seng 沙僧" etc as well as stories such as "Creating Havoc in the heavenly court (大闹天宫)", "3 times hitting white bone demon (三打白骨精)", "Fire Mountain (火焰山) are popular among the folks. The novels had been themes of chinese opera, movies, animation, comics etc.

Most regarded the author of the novel as Wu ChengEn (吴承恩)

Historical Origin of the novel


The character Tang Seng was based on a real historical figure Xuan Zang who lived during Tang dynasty. In the novel however his story had become fictionalized. In 629, Xuan Zang went on a pilgrimage tour to India to learn about the buddhism and obtain buddhist scripture. His disciple compiled a book called "Travel Records of Western Region (大唐西域记)". After Xuan Zang's death, his two other disciples Hui Li 慧立 and Yan Cong 严悰 compiled another book called "Biography of Compassion Monastery San Zhang Venerables (大慈恩司三藏法师传)" in order to honor their master's record. In the book, there are also some legendary aspects of Xuan Zang, which was regarded as the start of the legendary story in "Journey to the West". After that, his story began to be spread among the folks.

By late Tang and 5 dynasties period, there were various records of the story of Xuan Zang going to the west. Today's Dunhuang murals in which Xuan Zang obtained his scripture was originated during Western Xia period. It already indicated monkey's face. During Southern Song period, the published "Da Tang San Zang Qu Jing Shi Hua 大唐三藏取经诗话" also had a monkey. In other various opera of Song and Yuan dynasty such as "Er Lang Shen Shuo Qi Tian Da Shen 二郎神锁齐天大圣" all had origins of "Journey to the West". By Ming era, the Journey to the West was written.


Theme of the Novel

The essential theme of the novel is fantasy (about gods and demons). The main character Sun Wu Kong was a monkey. At the same time, the novel also reflect a combination of 3 religions as one, namely Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism. It combined the heaven of the Daoism, the deity system of hell and sea together with the western paradise of the buddhism. At the same time, it also projected the loyalty and filial piety of heavenly beings. Journey to the West also came up with the view "one should take turn to be emperor, next year will be my home", and at the same time, the heavenly deity system was a reflection of the Ming political society.

In his book "Chinese Novel Historical Overview (中国小说史略)", Lu Xun once commented that the Journey to the west was a reflection of one's life. When a person was young, he would be active and daring to rebel, he can disobey any form of rules and power. But once the person was fixed onto a leader, he would follow the rules and overcome all the temptations and obstacles in life (81 obstacles) and will finally achieve 'enlightenment'. This person is of course referring to the main character Sun Wukong who was later 'tamed'.
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#2 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 09:37 AM

Satire Aspect of Journey to the West

If you read the novel closely, you will find many satire (mockery) aspect in the novel. Most scholars regarded the novel to carry some aspect of the author (Wu ChengEn) 's own experience where he was trying to reveal his unequal feeling and dissatisfaction against the settings of his environment. He uses the "obtaining scripture" as the main focus, and within it added certain comical aspects of Sun Wukong and Zhu Ba Jie, but in actual fact, he was mocking the dark, corrupted social and political environment of Ming dynasty.

The following reveal the metaphorical analogy (satire aspect):

Jade Emperors and Heavenly Deities
They were seen to be the bureucracy of the Ming dynasty, which revealed a degree of darkness, corruption and inept. Jade Emperor was for instance unable to do anything against the havoc of the Monkey King. So too was his officials. In the novel, the any ruler was portrayed either as a weakling or as a tyrant, for instance Jade Emperor, Che Chi Kingdom's king, Bi Qiu Kingdom's king etc.

Buddha:
Contrary to what most buddhist regarded Buddhas as a compassionate and peaceful being, in the novel, the Buddha was portrayed as as person who use violent method against Sun Wu kong (who rebelled against unequal punishment of the Heavenly court). When he returned to Mt. Lin, he also bragged about how he was treated so well as the Lin Sou Court of heaven by Jde Emperor. In the end, he even allowed his disciple to accept bribery. He was seen to be arrogant,which was a mockery of the 'general's of the court.


Sun Wu Kong (Monkey):
Sun Wu Kong represented the 'good loyal official' in the court who dared to speak against the "court". His 'rebellious' attitude was seen to be a reflection of standing up against the evil and honoring 'righteousness' against many bad officials in the court who attempted to alienate him. Sun Wu Kong was a "monkey", therefore not a human, and this implied a different attitude (something like a foreign creature) towards him. In a later stage, it revealed that he was eventually 'tamed' and had to give up to the reality of the society.


Tang San Zang (Xuan Zang)
Xuan Zang was portrayed as the 'inept emperor' who was easily misled by bad officials.

Zhu Ba Jie (Pig)
Reveal a typical bad official who often speaks ill of Sun Wu Kong in front of Tang San Zang, who often try to mislead Tang San Zang.

Sha Seng (Sand Monk)
Represent the silent peasant/citizen who always keep silent and tolerate the unruly taking advantage by high officials

Other demons
You will notice that in each storyline, after Sun Wu Kong had managed to subdue a demon, a particular God will appear, asking to pardon the demon. This imply a case of Ming dynasty when high officials/emperor will often want to cover-up the bad deeds of lower-rank officials and pardon the lower officials, which resulted in lower-rank officials being corrupt.
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#3 Ashura

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 03:32 AM

Sun Wu Kong (Monkey):
Sun Wu Kong represented the 'good loyal official' in the court who dared to speak against the "court". His 'rebellious' attitude was seen to be a reflection of standing up against the evil and honoring 'righteousness' against many bad officials in the court who attempted to alienate him. Sun Wu Kong was a "monkey", therefore not a human, and this implied a different attitude (something like a foreign creature) towards him. In a later stage, it revealed that he was eventually 'tamed' and had to give up to the reality of the society.

I have a different view about Wu Kong. At the beginning he is portrayed as a being who has huge potential. In this sense he has no values of good and evil but he has the capacity to understand them, and as he begins to develop, he goes on to search for better understanding of values. I call it the toddler stance. Later on he becomes stronger and develops his ego as he travels along in his journey. Because he is strong, he tends to view that his ideas must be right and will not be afraid to fight over them. I call this the adolescent stance. In this stance Wu Kong is anti-social, misunderstood, angry, and is very much a rock-star to the audience both within and without the book. When he meets Buddha he tastes defeat against the societal order and sort of cooled down a bit. At this point his adult stance begins. During this stance the idea of conscience and responsibilty begins to take root in his heart, and many times in the book he consciously decides to stick with Xuan Zhang when Xuan Zhang is in trouble. At the end he accomplishes his mission and dies peacefully in his old age by becoming a buddha, metaphorically speaking.

The Journey to the West in this case, begins right at the beginning where Wu Kong is born and ends when he dies. It is a metaphor to the journey of life.
人間五十年、下天のうちをくらぶれば、夢幻の如くなり。

#4 Ashura

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 05:21 PM

You're taking the life-metaphor reading mentioned in the OP-- but you're responding to GZ's explanation of the social-satire reading in the 2nd post. There are various "schools" of reading for JTTW, so it's important to avoid "crossed-wires" by keeping within the "school" of reading you prefer-- when discussing issues within such a reading, of course

For cross-school discussions, e.g "whether the social-satire reading is closer to the author's intentions than the life-metaphor reading", it would be necessary to list all the textual and other reasons for taking one reading or the other, OTHER than one's "preference"-- a very academic/ literary exercise.

If you read the full context of my post, which I doubt you have, you will figure out that it is an analysis of the Wu Kong character. It is there to present another view and following the theme of the topic.

Please let the converstaion about the novel continue.
人間五十年、下天のうちをくらぶれば、夢幻の如くなり。




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