Journey to the West

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Journey to the West
Sun Wukong
Original Title: 西游记
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Synopsis: One of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, about a monk's pilgrimage to India to obtain copies of Buddhist texts. His traveling companion Sun Wukong quickly becomes the story's protagonist.
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Journey to the West (西游记 Xīyóujì, pronounced roughly shee-yo-jee) is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, and first published in the 1590s, although it is plainly based on much older folk-legends. It is Inspired By the pilgrimage undertaken by the Tang dynasty Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who nearly a thousand years earlier travelled to India to study Buddhism at its source and obtain accurate copies of Buddhist texts known in China only through inaccurate nth-generation copies.

In the novel, Xuanzang (also called Tripitaka, a Chinese-Sanskrit bilingual pun that can't be explained concisely in English), at the request of the goddess Guan Yin, is accompanied by three supernatural beings who have been assigned to guide and protect him as penance for past misdeeds. Zhu Bajie, pig-like in appearance and a greedy hog in behaviour, and Sha Wujing, a river monster whose fierce appearance belies his thoughtful nature, are former heavenly dignitaries exiled to their current existences. The third companion is Sun Wukong.

Sun Wukong deserves a paragraph to himself. Warrior, magician, and trickster, the Handsome Monkey King (by acclamation of his subjects) and Great Sage Equal of Heaven (self-proclaimed) gets seven chapters devoted to his rise and fall before the novel's nominal hero first appears, and continues to steal the limelight throughout with practiced ease. Every reader has a favourite story -- the one about his bet with the Buddha is particularly popular -- but alas, this page is too small to do them all justice.

There's also Yulong, a dragon who eats Xuanzang's horse and in restitution is required to transform into horse shape and carry Xuanzang the rest of the way. But even the author seems to forget most of the time that he's not just a horse.

After many adventures, in which Sun Wukong and his allies defend Xuanzang from thieves, robbers, cannibals, vamps, false priests and monsters of all varieties (not to mention the horrifying affair of the escaped goldfish), they reach India and everybody lives happily ever after. Yay!

Journey to the West has been adapted to television many times - especially in Japan, where the story is called Saiyuki and the characters are Genjo Sanzo, Cho Hakkai, Sha Gojo, and Son Goku. Many anime series have at least one Shout-Out, and some go for outright plunder (from Gensomaden Saiyuki to, of all things, Dragon Ball - yes, that Goku was inspired directly by Son Goku). One Japanese live-action adaption of the 1970s, and its thoroughly gender-bent cast (the role of Xuanzang/Tripitaka/Genjo Sanzo is traditionally played by a woman), is still fondly remembered simply as Monkey in English-speaking countries from the irreverent (almost Gag Dub) BBC translated version, with its annoyingly catchy disco theme-song "Monkey Magic" (directly taken from the Japanese broadcast where it was also sung in Surprisingly Good English).

While it is popular in Japan, it's omnipresent in its native China. For example, there was a 1980's Journey to the West TV series in China that was so popular, it's said that to this day there's always at least one television station rerunning it anywhere in the nation. The show is amusing even if you don't understand Chinese. Jeff Lau's Chinese Odyssey films renewed the popularity of the novel for young Hong Kong audiences during the mid-90's.

The movie The Forbidden Kingdom, adapts the encounter of Xuanzang and Sun Wukong, complete with the "main" character being named Jason Tripitakas, and just like in Journey to the West, Xuanzang/Jason has the carpet pulled out from under him by the Monkey King. Possibly the prime example thereof, and arguably a Jet Li Crowning Moment of Awesome, would be that after Jason is explained by Jackie Chan's character to be the "Seeker" and thus the nominal hero, the Silent Monk -- a familiar created by the Monkey King -- looks him over before openly laughing in his face.

The team responsible for Gorillaz, Damon Albarn (he of Blur) and Jamie Hewlett (of Tank Girl fame), adapted the story into an opera in 2007. They also did a two-minute animated version for the 2008 Olympic Games, which was used as a title sequence for the BBC television coverage of the event.

Now has a character sheet!

Works based on Journey to the West include:
  • Saiyuki
  • Dragon Ball, mainly in the first story arc -- this history was pretty much forgotten by the time Dragonball Z came around, though
  • Monkey Magic, animated series.
  • Gokuu Midnight Eye
  • Monkey series
  • Starzinger is Journey to the West In Space! (Dubbed into English as Spaceketeers; The Three Musketeers In Space!)
  • Alakazam the Great
  • Saiyuki (PS 1 video game)
  • Monkey Hero (Obscure PS 1 game developed by BLAM!)
  • The Monkey King: The Legend Begins (Wii video game)
  • The Forbidden Kingdom (2008 movie starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan)
  • Secret Journey (Shotacon hentai manga by Poju)
  • Shinzo
  • Kǒudài Xīyóujì (An MMORPG, known in English as Ether Saga Online)
  • Monkey King (An unsubbed, undubbed Chinese cartoon.)
  • A Chinese Odyssey (Two movies directed by Jeff Lau staring Stephen Chow. A later Jeff Lau film, Chinese Odyssey 2002, has no relation to Journey to the West.)
  • Princess Iron Fan (China's first feature length animated film.)
  • The Shaw Bros. films Monkey Goes West, Princess Iron Fan (not the animated one above), Cave of the Silken Web, and The Land of Many Perfumes.
  • The graphic novel American Born Chinese ties together Monkey's story with the tale of a Chinese-American boy's coming of age story and the sitcom-like hilarity of an all-American jock plagued by his painfully stereotypical Chinese cousin. And the Christmas story.
  • Journey to the West: Legends of the Monkey King, an animated series co-produced by CCTV and Cinar, and aired in Canada in the late 1990's via Teletoon. More recently aired on This TV.
  • Saint (Wii video game)
  • Enslaved, for the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3.
  • The Lost Empire: The Legend Of The Monkey King
  • Son Son, a 1984 Capcom arcade game; the title character('s grandaughter) appears in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and has Sun Wukong's powers from the original story
  • Mighty Monkey, a 1982 Universal arcade Shoot'Em Up
  • Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken, an infamous Action RPG for the Famicom
References to Journey to the West are made in:

See Journey to the West/Shout-Out

Tropes used in Journey to the West include:
  • Achilles in His Tent: When Wukong quits himself from the quest (sometimes at the same time as being fired by Tang Sang Zang) he goes back to his kingdom of monkey demons.
  • Action Girl: Several she devils qualifies as this when they're not busy seducing Tripitaka.
  • Adapted Out: Most adaptations either omitted Yu Lung or reduced his role, save Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but the latter removed Sha Wujing.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Xuanzang and company after they successfully bring back the sacred scriptures.
  • Almighty Janitor: Wukong gets assigned the job of Heavenly... Stable Boy. This becomes a Chekhov's Skill later in the story because all horses gain an innate respect/fear for Wukong because of this.
    • Bajie's reward for completing the quest is to become the deity who is charged with actually eating all of the food and drink that is sacrificed to Buddha from every altar in the world, for the rest of eternity. Buddha explains that Bajie, for all he improved, is still far too crude and earthy to become a Boddhistva like the others, but he still deserves a reward and it was hoped that this would suffice. Needless to say, as far as Bajie is concerned, he has the best job in Heaven.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie do it all the time.
  • Blade on a Stick: This is ancient China, so expect to see spears and halbeards everywhere.
  • Blow You Away: One Fetch Quest was to get a magical fan so that they could blow out a supernaturally powerful volcano and pass through the area unharmed. Unfortunately, said magical fan was owned by the mother of Hong Hai Er, whose ass Wukong had soundly kicked in an earlier story arc.
    • Earlier they're confronted by the Yellow Wind Demon King, whose fiendish winds can blind even Sun Wukong.
  • Boring Return Journey: The journey to the West takes 86 chapters. The return to the East (with supernatural assistance loaned by the Buddha) takes 1.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Literally happens to Baije during one run-in with a monster though he has the decency to drop trou.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Oh, yeah. Wukong's weapon is an iron rod that is able to grow very humongously and is said to weigh 8100kg.
    • Acquired, full size, from an undersea dragon king that had no idea what to do with it. Which was then shrunk with monkey magic. And put behind Wukong's ear.
    • Sha Wujing and several other demons frequently employ clubs and hammers as weapons.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Bajie, who started the series blackmailing a girl to serve as his eventual bride and fights a continual battle against gluttony and lust. (The whole reason he ended up as a pig-demon in the first place was that he made inappropriate remarks to a fellow goddess.)
    • In one translation, he actually committed sexual harassment/tried to rape her. His punishment was much more fitting than that of Wujing, who was banished from Heaven and turned into a flesh-eating river monster for dropping a full cup of wine at a feast during his days as a celestial servant.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: Sun Wukong's home and some other fiendish lairs.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy
  • Celibate Hero: Xuanzang is a celibate monk, but keeps getting abducted by beautiful women and female demons who find him attractive, good to eat, or both.
    • Good to eat because it is said that a single bite of his flesh will grant the eater immortality.
    • The big however is that the female demons only want him for sex, which depending on the monster is either physically harmless (Xuanzang does consider it A Fate Worse Than Death) or Out with a Bang. Either way, they want him to make the first move and keep it consensual.
  • Character Development: Just as important as kicking demon-ass is Monkey's personal journey to becoming a decent person. He is not so much fundamentally-bad as he is a selfish Adult Child who needed the guidance of a loving, patient and wise father-figure to truly grow up, which he found in Tripitaka. By the time he is deemed worthy of truly joining the Gods at the end of his journey, he has grown from a tantrum-throwing tyrant into a kind-hearted, compassionate and noble protector of the weak.
  • Cool Sword: Many demons wields scimitars and swords in battle. The most notable one is the Seven Star Sword.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: The Garuda King in the Three Monsters arc. By virtue of being Buddha's pet and the brother of Buddha's foster mother, he knows everything there is to know about Sun Wukong's tricks and how to counter them. He was also the demon that came the closest to actually eating Xuanzang. Wukong only subdued him by calling in the Buddha himself to control Garuda.
  • Deus Ex Machina: Whenever Wukong can't resolve something himself, he generally goes to Guan Yin for help, or if it's beyond her abilities, Buddha himself. He's also lodged his share of complaints against the Celestial Court.
    • In addition, Wukong talks to local gods so frequently and casually that they're the equivalent of mere bystanders.
    • It should be noted that all of Heaven called upon the Buddha to help them contain Wukong when literally everything they tried ended up failing or making him worse.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Shā Wùjìng, a general of heaven, was beaten with a rod 800 times, forced to reincarnate into a flesh-eating demon, and everyday swords would come from heaven to stab him. The only way he could avoid this last part was to hide in a river. His crime? Accidentally breaking a valuable vase.
  • Dude in Distress: Being abducted (for food or otherwise), deceived and generally harassed seems to be a main occupation of Xuanzang. Usually just to show how Badass Sun Wukong is.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Sun Wukong.
  • Evil Twin: The whole team ends up with their own Dopplegangers; naturally, Sun Wukong's is the hardest to deal with.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Giant Space Flea From Nowhere: The Scorpion-Woman. There were no mountains (for once) so she literally just appears in a crowd.
  • Giant Spider: The Seven Spider Ladies.
  • Horny Devils: At least three female demons (the Scorpion Woman, the Earth Flow Lady and the Jade Hare) are very beautiful and want to achieve immortality by taking Tripitaka's "yang". (or having sex with him, if you prefer.)
  • Human Pack Mule: The horse carries Xuanzang, but Zhu Bajie carries everything else.
  • Impossible Task: Jumping out of the Buddha's palm.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Zhu Bajie's rake. Other examples include pots, bells, cymbals, an iron gorse, a scraper and a pestle.
  • In a Single Bound: Wukong can circumvent the globe with a single backflip.
  • Indy Ploy: What Sun Wukong usually does after Xuanzang gets kidnapped again.
  • Inspired By: The historical journey of Xuanzang to India - except he did it with a handful of human assistants and even made a few legs of the trip by himself.
  • Jerkass Gods:
    • Sun Wukong, before his imprisonment, literally beats up, steals from, and terrorizes nearly everyone he meets. He scares a Dragon God to such an extent that he gives Wukong the nail holding the Milky Way in place just to get him out of his house. He gets better. ...sort of.
    • And after they do collect the scriptures, the Buddha's servants hand over a bunch of blank scrolls after realising that the pilgrims didn't bring any gifts, although Buddha does comment that blank scriptures like them are true scriptures. Zen, eh?
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Wukong, after he was stuck under a rock for a few centuries, is so grateful to Xuanzang that he swears everlasting loyalty (though Xuanzang, being a monk, doesn't approve of Wukong's more violent problem solving methods). Previous to his attitude adjustment, Wukong was more of a Jerkass Stu.
  • Just Eat Him: Some larger devils tries to get rid of Sun Wukong by swallowing him. They end up with an awful case of stomach ache to say the least.
  • Killer Rabbit: Even a goldfish can turn into a fearsome ogre.
  • Kilroy Was Here: Wukong leaves his name (and piss) on what he thinks is a mighty pillar when trying to escape from Buddha's grasp. Nope, those were Buddha's fingers.
  • Knight Templar: Sun Wukong when it comes to dealing with demons and bandits whom all he sees as evil monsters who prey on the weak (especially those who want to eat Xuanzang). This is most notably seen during the White Bone Demon and the Doppleganger chapters. In some adaptations, Xuanzong kicks Wukong out not because what he did (like killing an innocent human which was actually a demon in disguise or a group of bandits), but because of his Knight Templarish attitude.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing each fight Sun Wukong before discovering that they're on the same side.
  • Last of His Kind: The 6-eared Macaque. Then Wukong makes sure the species is extinct.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: There are no end to mortals who 'cultivated their conduct' and/or 'refined their spirit' to become immortal and love it. The Wuzhuang temple has a community of immortals because of a tree that produces life extending fruit and are extremely protective of it. Truth in Television, sort of, as this was the goal of real life Taoists.
  • Lost Forever: One page of the scripture gets permanently stuck to a rock when they fall into a river and the pages get wet.
  • MacGuffin: The scriptures in the Thunder Monastary are the reason for the pilgrimage.
  • Made of Indestructium: Wukong survived being thrown into a godly fire, said to be able to kill immortals and gods, for 49 days! That he had previously gorged himself on the Peaches of Immortality, the Elixir of Immortality, and the Pills of Immortality helped. In fact, all the fire did (having originally been used to produce the immortality medicines) was cause them to harden inside his body, making him not just immortal but Made of Diamond as well.
    • The smoke of the fire also affected Wukong's eyes, granting him the ability to see through illusions, disguises and transformations. Some versions of the story however state that Wukong survived because he stood in the currents of wind made by the fanning of the servants to keep the fire going. Either way, Heaven really screwed itself over big time.
  • Mister Seahorse: Although it was averted before something actually happened, there is a section of the novel (beginning in chapter 53) about Sun Wukong going to retrieve a pregnancy antidote because Zhu Bajie and Xuanzang unknowingly drank magical pregnancy-inducing river water flowing through a town filled with nothing but women.
  • Morphic Resonance: An extreme case -- although his 72 transformations include many perfectly shaped animal disguises, Sun Wukong can only turn his head into that of a human and must conceal the rest of his body.
  • Not in This For Your Revolution: The other main characters are all bound to Xuanzang out of duty rather than personal choice.
    • Though all three, to varying degrees, come to genuinely care about the monk as a father-figure.
  • Not Quite Flight: Wukong travels via very, very powerful jumping.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: During a hilarious incident in a kingdom entirely populated by women. Slight subversion: they can reproduce without him via a magic spring, but they understandably want men too. Poor, poor Xuanzang...
  • One-Man Army: During the journey, Wukong is able to fight and defeat just about every Mook, Elite Mook and the fricking Dragon of the Heavens, each said to fight like a god himself. Before that, he fought the heavenly army of 100,000 strong, let it rip through heaven's greatest champions and not just survived every single thing they had to throw at him, but HE GOT EVEN STRONGER. By the time he was punished by the Buddha, he was on the brink of actually becoming the Emperor of heaven himself.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The Dragon King of the Eastern Ocean has in his armory a piece of magic iron that was used to measure the depth of the Milky Way. It is 20 feet long and as thick as a barrel. No dragon can lift it. Then one day it begins to glow, and soon Wukong arrives seeking a weapon. He picks up the rod and tells it to become smaller: it shrinks to fit him (but is still as thick as a rice bowl and weighs many thousand pounds). He can get it to be any size he wants, and when not in use, he reduces it to the size of a needle and stores it in his ear.
  • Out of Focus: As one Deviant ART user said, "No one likes you, Yu Lung. Not even your dad."
    • The author even seems to occasionally forget he's not a real horse and what few moments of action he actually does are only because Wukong's gone and everyone else has been captured.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Probably they're the least dangerous type of demons met by Sun Wukong.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The Lady of the Earth Flow, is actually the spirit of an albino bat/rat, dual wields swords and has a bit of Horny Devils at it.
  • Paper Fan of Doom: The Banana Leaf Fan, which manipulates fire. The aptly named Iron Fan Princess wields a magical fan which can Blow You Away.
  • Playing with Fire: Several examples, including the Gold Horned King's Banana Leaf Fan, Red Boy's Samadhi of Fire and a magical bell which can summon flames.
  • Purple Prose: It's not purple prose, it's friggin' purple poetry, but descriptive asides peppering the novel defy any other definition.
    • It gets downright florid when they reach Thorn Ridge and Xuanzang takes part in essentially a freestyle poetry jam.
  • Physical God: Ironically, The Buddha matches this much, much better than the actual gods. Though this may be as much translation issues than anything else as Eastern gods aren't really equivalent to the Western idea of such.
  • The Quest: The whole premise and reason for the novel. Xuanzang has to bring the holy books from India, and he needs protection and help on the way, opening the way to a lot of wacky hijinks.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Sun Wukong takes on the Celestial Bureaucracy single-handed... and almost wins.
  • Restraining Bolt: Sun Wukong has a circlet around his head which contracts if Xuanzang says the command phrase and is most often used when Wukong goes on a There Is No Kill Like Overkill rampage. Rather hilariously, his demon companions trick Xuanzang into saying the word every chance they get.
    • It becomes particularly relevant to the plot when dealing with the Evil Twin.
  • Rhino Rampage: The three rhino kings near the end. The Rhinoceros King, despite his name and single horn, is actually a bull.
  • Shout-Out: So many have been made to Journey to the West that they have their own page.
  • Sidequest: Take a drink every time Wukong and company get sidetracked because 1) Xuanzang got kidnapped and/or 2) the locals are being menaced by a demon.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Sun Wukong's teacher, Bodhi/Bhuti/Subhuti.
  • Stock Shout Out: The modus operandi of many East Asian artists seems to be: "When really, really, really stumped for ideas, nick them from Journey To The West."
  • Stupid Good: Xuanzang, SO very much. Every time a demon disguises itself as a human in peril, you can wager your donkey that Xuanzang will insist on helping said disguised demon. Despite knowing that demons can take human form, and that Wukong can see through their disguises, Xuanzang gladly ignores Wukong's advice because he's just that compassionate of a guy. Only once in the entire book, in one of the later chapters, does he consider that Wukong might be right... only to revert back to Stupid Good when the demon (disguised as a child) puts on the puppy dog eyes.
  • Supernaturally Delicious and Nutritious: Xuanzang.
  • Superpower Lottery: Sun Wukong almost won it, if not for the fact that he's almost useless in water. Amongst his opponents there's the Rhinoceros King, whose ring can suck in every single weapon you use against him, including Su Wukong's rod, the weaponry of a whole army of gods and an army of flame beasts.
  • Take That: Apparently, some scholars believe that the work is one big Take That against the decadent government at the time.
  • That's No Moon: Those weren't pillars that Wukong vandalized, those were Budda's fingers!
  • This Was His True Form: Inverted -- Many of the antagonists are wild animals that have learned to mimic human form (the Chinese version of the henge described on the Obake page); they revert to their true form when killed.
  • Trickster Archetype: Sun Wukong. Who else?
  • Too Dumb to Live: Xuanzang is incapable of seeing through the disguises of the demons that kidnap him. Understandable since he's a human. But you would think after the first few times of his blindness getting him kidnapped and almost raped or eaten he would wise up and listen when Sun Wukong and the others tell him not to trust the pitiful looking stranger seeking their assistance.
  • Touched by Vorlons: Any animal within earshot of a practicing Taoist or Buddhist whether the religious figure intends it or not will gain some degree of the same powers as the travelers. This is what led to the incident with the Scorpion-Woman, as even Buddha and Guanyin didn't want a damn thing to do with her. The Dragon-Horse even points this out when the group needs his piss to make a medicine that even if he pisses in a stream, the fish will turn into dragons.
  • True Sight: Wukong, of course.
  • Weapons That Suck: Several examples, including the Crinsom Gourd and Jade Pot (which both melt the victim),the Vajura Ring (which can suck and snatch every weapon, flame or danger around), the Human Bag (which sucks people inside it) and finally, the most dangerous one, the Yin Yang Pot, which destroys whoever's inside it with flames, serpents and dragons.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back/We Cannot Go on Without You: Happens each time Wukong gets expelled from the group (or quits himself).
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Killing a human is very bad. Killing a monster or wild animal, even one that has demonstrated human levels of intelligence, self-awareness, and emotion, is no problem.
  • Worf Effect: Bajie and Wujing pretty much only exist to get the crap beaten out of them to show that Wukong needs to swoop in and save the day again.
  • Zerg Rush: Wukong can create numerous clones of himself. And given that this is Mister God Mode Sue we're talking about here, a Zerg Rush of Wukong clones is nothing to sneeze at.
    • Subverted with the Yellow Wind demon (who blows the clones away like straw) and the Gold Horned King and Red Boy (who both torch the clones into oblivion).