Also known as Journey to the West, the Monkey King is one of the four classics of Chinese literature, standing alongside Dream of the Red Chamber
, the Water Margin and Three Kingdoms in the pantheon of must-read Chinese novels. Originally a popular legend, the story was written down in the late Ming Dynasty. In its current form it is essentially inaccessible to all but very advanced speakers, and so as with Dream of the Red Chamber
, remains largely unread among native English speakers.
As with all of our annotated Chinese short stories
, we encourage premium subscribers
to click through to our text page and read the original 16th century text. You will not need a dictionary to do this. Simply hover your mouse over any word for a popup containing an exact definition of the word in its proper context
. Be sure to enable the "extra notes
" field in your popups for additional information including explanatory notes, suggested translations and much more. We will be publishing the remainder of the first chapter in serial form over the next few months.
What should you expect in this passage? As with many works of great literature, the Monkey King begins with a creation myth. In this case we have the Chinese creation myth. Our first few paragraphs concern how the universe came into existence. They describe how a figure named Pan Gu tore open the indistinct void that preceded the creation of the heavens and set in motion a never-ending cycle of creation and destruction in which the earth and humankind itself plays a part.
In very short order our story passes from the creation of the heavens and earth to the creation of the stars and planets, and then onwards to the dawn of beasts and men. We will shortly meet the Monkey King (Sun Wukong), an allegorical figure representing mankind itself, whom our story will follow as he joins a caravan to India to retrieve sacred Buddhist texts. A chronicle of the Buddhist journey to enlightenment itself, the Monkey King is in turns playful, delightful and profound. It is filled with exciting stories, interesting characters and is often pure fun. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.