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Journey to the West

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Journey to the West (西遊記, Xīyóujì in Chinese and Saiyūki in Japanese) is a 16th century Chinese legend and one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, which Dragon Ball is loosely based upon. Originally published anonymously in the 1590s during the Ming Dynasty, it has been ascribed to the scholar Wú Chéng'ēn since the 20th century, even though no direct evidence of its authorship survives.

The tale is also often known simply as Monkey. This was one title used for a popular, abridged translation by Arthur Waley. The Waley translation has also been published as Adventures of the Monkey God; and Monkey: [A] Folk Novel of China; and The Adventures of Monkey.

The novel is a fictionalized account of the legends around the Buddhist monk Xuánzàng's pilgrimage to India during the Táng dynasty in order to obtain Buddhist religious texts called sutras. On instruction from the Buddha, the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin Guānyīn gives this task to the monk and his three protectors in the form of disciples: namely Sūn Wùkōng, Zhū Bājiè and Shā Wùjìng; together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuánzàng's horse mount. These four characters have agreed to help Xuánzàng as an atonement for past sins.

Some scholars propose that the book satirizes the effete Chinese government at the time. Journey to the West has a strong background in Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and value systems; the pantheon of Taoist deities and Buddhist bodhisattvas is still reflective of Chinese folk religious beliefs today.

Part of the novel's enduring popularity comes from the fact that it works on multiple levels: it is a first-rate adventure story, a dispenser of spiritual insight, and an extended allegory in which the group of pilgrims journeying toward India stands for the individual journeying toward enlightenment.


The novel comprises 100 chapters that can be divided into four very unequal parts. The first, which includes chapters 1–7, is really a self-contained prequel to the main body of the story. It deals entirely with the earlier exploits of Sūn Wùkōng, a monkey born from a stone nourished by the Five Elements, who learns the art of the Tao, 72 polymorphic transformations, combat and secrets of immortality, and through guile and force makes a name for himself as the Qítiān Dàshèng, or "Great Sage Equal to Heaven". His powers grow to match the forces of all of the Eastern (Taoist) deities, and the prologue culminates in Sūn's rebellion against Heaven, during a time when he garnered a post in the celestial bureaucracy. Hubris proves his downfall when the Buddha manages to trap him under a mountain for five hundred years.

Only following this introductory story is the nominal main character, Xuánzàng, introduced. Chapters 8–12 provide his early biography and the background to his great journey. Dismayed that "the land of the South knows only greed, hedonism, promiscuity, and sins", the Buddha instructs the Bodhisattva Guānyīn to search Táng China for someone to take the Buddhist sutras of "transcendence and persuasion for good will" back to the East. Part of the story here also relates to how Xuánzàng becomes a monk (as well as revealing his past life as the "Golden Cicada" and comes about being sent on this pilgrimage by the Emperor Táng Tàizōng, who previously escaped death with the help of an underworld official).

The third and longest section of the work is chapters 13–99, an episodic adventure story which combines elements of the quest as well as the picaresque. The skeleton of the story is Xuánzàng's quest to bring back Buddhist scriptures from Vulture Peak in India, but the flesh is provided by the conflict between Xuánzàng's disciples and the various evils that beset him on the way.

The scenery of this section is, nominally, the sparsely populated lands along the Silk Road between China and India, including Xinjiang, Turkestan, and Afghanistan. The geography described in the book is, however, almost entirely fantastic; once Xuánzàng departs Cháng'ān, the Táng capital and crosses the frontier (somewhere in Gansu province), he finds himself in a wilderness of deep gorges and tall mountains, all inhabited by flesh-eating demons who regard him as a potential meal (since his flesh was believed to give Immortality to whoever eats it), with here and there a hidden monastery or royal city-state amid the wilds.

The episodic structure of this section is to some extent formulaic. Episodes consist of 1–4 chapters, and usually involve Xuánzàng being captured and his life threatened, while his disciples try to find an ingenious (and often violent) way of liberating him. Although some of Xuánzàng's predicaments are political and involve ordinary human beings, they more frequently consist of run-ins with various goblins and ogres, many of whom turn out to be the earthly manifestations of heavenly beings (whose sins will be negated by eating the flesh of Xuanzang) or animal-spirits with enough Taoist spiritual merit to assume semi-human forms.

Chapters 13–22 do not follow this structure precisely, as they introduce Xuánzàng's disciples, who, inspired or goaded by Guānyīn, meet and agree to serve him along the way, in order to atone for their sins in their past lives.

    The first is Sun Wukong, or Monkey, previously "Great Sage Equal to Heaven" and literally "Monkey Awakened to Emptiness", trapped by Buddha for rebelling against Heaven. He appears right away in Chapter 13. The most intelligent and violent of the disciples, he is constantly reproved for his violence by Xuánzàng. Ultimately, he can only be controlled by a magic gold band that the Bodhisattva has placed around his head, which causes him excruciating pain when Xuánzàng says certain magic words.
    The second, appearing in 19, is Zhu Bajie, literally "Pig of Eight-Commandments", sometimes translated as Pigsy or just Pig. He was previously Marshal Tīan Péng, commander of the Heavenly Naval forces, banished to the mortal realm for flirting with the Princess of the Moon Chang'e. He is characterized by his insatiable appetites for food and sex, and is constantly looking for a way out of his duties, but is always kept in line by Sūn Wùkōng.
    The third, appearing in chapter 22, is the river-ogre Sha Wujing, also translated as Friar Sand or Sandy and literally "Snad Awakened to Purity". He was previously Great General who Folds the Curtain, banished to the mortal realm for dropping (and shattering) a crystal goblet of the Heavenly Queen Mother. He is a quiet but generally dependable character, who serves as the straight foil to the comic relief of Sūn and Zhū who despite this trait, is the nicest out of his two other fellow disciples.
    Possibly to be counted as a fourth disciple is the third prince of the Dragon-King, Yùlóng Sāntàizǐ, who was sentenced to death for setting fire to his father's great pearl. He was saved by Guānyīn from execution to stay and wait for his call of duty. He appears first in chapter 15, but has almost no speaking role, as throughout most of the story he appears in the transformed shape of a horse that Xuánzàng rides on.

Chapter 22, where Shā is introduced, also provides a geographical boundary, as the river of quicksand that the travelers cross brings them into a new "continent". Chapters 23–86 take place in the wilderness, and consist of 24 episodes of varying length, each characterized by a different magical monster or evil magician. There are impassably wide rivers, flaming mountains, a kingdom ruled by women, a lair of seductive spider-spirits, and many other fantastic scenarios. Throughout the journey, the four brave disciples have to fend off attacks on their master and teacher Xuánzàng from various monsters and calamities.

It is strongly suggested that most of these calamities are engineered by fate and/or the Buddha, as, while the monsters who attack are vast in power and many in number, no real harm ever comes to the four travelers. Some of the monsters turn out to be escaped heavenly animals belonging to bodhisattvas or Taoist sages and spirits. Towards the end of the book there is a scene where the Buddha literally commands the fulfillment of the last disaster, because Xuánzàng is one short of the eighty-one disasters he needs to attain Buddhahood.

In chapter 87, Xuánzàng finally reaches the borderlands of India, and chapters 87–99 present magical adventures in a somewhat more mundane (though still exotic) setting. At length, after a pilgrimage said to have taken fourteen years (the text actually only provides evidence for nine of those years, but presumably there was room to add additional episodes) they arrive at the half-real, half-legendary destination of Vulture Peak, where, in a scene simultaneously mystical and comic, Xuánzàng receives the scriptures from the living Buddha.

Chapter 100, the last of all, quickly describes the return journey to the Táng Empire, and the aftermath in which each traveler receives a reward in the form of posts in the bureaucracy of the heavens. Sūn Wùkōng and Xuánzàng achieve Buddhahood, Wùjìng becomes the Golden Arhat, the dragon is made a Naga, and Bājiè, whose good deeds have always been tempered by his greed, is promoted to an altar cleanser (i.e. eater of excess offerings at altars).
Historical context

The classic story of the Journey to the West was based on real events. In real life, Xuanzang (born c. 602 - 664) was a monk at Jingtu Temple in late-Sui Dynasty and early-Tang Dynasty Chang'an. Motivated by the poor quality of Chinese translations of Buddhist scripture at the time, Xuanzang left Chang'an in 629, despite the border being closed at the time due to war with the Gokturks. Helped by sympathetic Buddhists, he traveled via Gansu and Qinghai to Kumul (Hami), thence following the Tian Shan mountains to Turfan. He then crossed what are today Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, into Gandhara, reaching India in 630. Xuanzang traveled throughout the Indian subcontinent for the next thirteen years, visiting important Buddhist pilgrimage sites and studying at the ancient university at Nalanda.

Xuanzang left India in 643 and arrived back in Chang'an in 646 to a warm reception by Emperor Taizong of Tang. He joined Da Ci'en Monastery (Monastery of Great Maternal Grace), where he led the building of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in order to store the scriptures and icons he had brought back from India. He recorded his journey in the book Journey to the West in the Great Tang Dynasty. With the support of the Emperor, he established an institute at Yuhua Gong (Palace of the Lustre of Jade) monastery dedicated to translating into Chinese the scriptures he had brought back. His translation and commentary work established him as the founder of the Dharma character school of Buddhism. Xuanzang died on March 7, 664. The Xingjiao Monastery was established in 669 to house his ashes.

Popular stories of Xuánzàng's journey were in existence long before Journey to the West was written. In these versions, dating as far back as Southern Song, a monkey character was already a primary protagonist. Before the Yuan Dynasty and early Ming, elements of the Monkey story were already seen.

What is Journey to the West?

Xi You Ji also known as Journey to the West, is the story of a monk by the name of Tang Seng. During the seventh century, Tang Seng was sent from China to India by his brother the emperor to get a collection of Buddhist bibles. He faced many dangers along the way but finally reached India, returned and the 'Jing' or Gold (the bibles were priceless) and they currently reside in the giant Pagoda in Central Xi An, which is now open to tourists. Journey to the West isn't the true story but it's based on Tang Seng going from China to India in 629AD to 646AD, adding many mythical areas to the story and it has become one of the most loved stories in Chinese history. The main characters in Journey to the West are Tang Seng; "Sun Wu Kong" or "Wu Kong" for short; "Zhu Ba Jie" (mildly translates into Pig Monk); and "Sha Seng"(Sand Monk).

How does it relate to Dragonball?
This story inspired someone named Akira Toriyama to create the incredible story of Dragonball. In Journey to the West a character known as Monkey is what inspired Akira Toriyama to make Goku. This is why Goku has his tail and is able to transform into a giant monkey. Monkey also had an expanding staff and cloud that flies around. Although Goku receives his staff from his adoptive grandfather Gohan, Monkey received his from a Dragon King. Not only is Monkey's staff made of Iron but it weighs in at 13,500 pounds. There is a cloud in the story which is where Akira got the idea but Monkey spends most of his time Walking unlike Goku.

With respect to personality, they aren't so similar. Goku, a child, is naïve and innocent, good-hearted always wanting to help others. However, Monkey is a different matter. Clever and sly, his greatest shortcoming is his tremendous hubris. With his immense strength, he has no problem rebelling against Heaven and declaring himself, "The Great Sage Equaling Heaven." Incidentally, this action is comparable to Satan's revolt against God in the Bible, though it must be noted that Monkey is not evil, but instead highly arrogant and self-assured. Like most literary characters whose fatal flaw is pride, Monkey is punished for his actions. After spending five hundred years trapped beneath a mountain with nothing to eat or drink, he has a chance to redeem himself by assisting the Buddhist Priest Sanzang on his journey to the west to fetch scriptures from Buddha. In an early brush-in with bandits, Monkey kills all of them without a thought. Over the course of the journey, however, he gradually begins to restrain himself and purges himself of his intial propensity towards evil. Goku too is revealed to have a dual good/evil personality when he transforms into a rampaging, mindless, giant ape by the moon's light. It wouldn't be surprising if Toriyama derived that idea from Journey to the West.

The character Sanzang may seem nothing like Bulma, given that a bitchy girl and a pious monk seem to have just about nothing in common, upon closer examination, the similarities appear. First off, they're usually the only human amongst their non-human followers. Secondly, they set off on their journey alone and recruit these non-human followers along the way. Remember that Bulma meets Goku because he has a Dragon Ball that she wants. Another trait that Bulma and Sanzang share is their helplessness. They depend on Goku and Monkey to save them every time they're in danger. A recurring sight in Journey to the West is Monkey having to rescue a sobbing Sanzang who's been stripped naked and tied by demons who want to gain immortality by eating his flesh. Pilaf, a villain from Dragonball who wants the Dragon Balls to take over the world, is likely to have been based on the numerous power-hungry demons from Journey to the West. Lastly, both Bulma and Sanzang are bossy and not always likable as characters. Bulma is prone to yelling, while Sanzang nags his disciples and exhorts them not to be so bad.

In both stories, a pig serves as a comic foil to the protagonist monkey. Dragonball fans will recognize this to be Oolong. Complaining, cowardly, and lazy, he is modelled closely on Pig from Journey to the West. Both are the butt of jokes, and both get their groups in trouble. To their credit, they do help out, but these occasions are few and far. Usually it's their ability to do transformations that allow them to be of use. Pig is mightier than Oolong. With his nine-pronged rake, he's strong enough to do battle with demons. Additionally, he's an excellent swimmer. When Sanzang and Monkey first encounter him, he's a monster terrorizing villagers. Oolong was doing the same when Bulma and Goku run into him. Cheng'en and Toriyama acknowledge the expression "chauvinist pig" by their portrayal of the lust of both Pig and Oolong. On several occasions, Pig is tempted by pleasures of the flesh, and he always succumbs, though it always turns out to work against him. Oolong too is boorish. Besides being a peeping tom, he has a panty fetish.

There are further examples of Journey to the West influencing Dragonball. One case for instance, is when the path to a Dragon Ball is blocked by a blazing fire. Ox King is introduced at this point. The fire and Ox King are lifted straight out of Journey to the West, except that the original character is called "Hermit Ox" who likewise has a horned helmet. To look at another example, take the Dragonball character Puar, who like Oolong, is capable of transformations. In Journey to the West, Monkey and Pig are both able to shape shift. Then there's King Yemma. In Journey to the West and Chinese mythology, he's one of the ten kings of hell who judge the deceased. In Dragonball, he's the sole judge of the afterlife. It is important to realize that Toriyama did not copy Journey to the West. He was, however, noticeably influenced by it, and this influence is reflected in the characters and settings of Dragonball.