The Monkey king or Sun Wukong-from the classic book Journey to the West is a kind of “superhero” representative of traditional Chinese culture. However, it is very different from Western superheroes like Spiderman or Superman. Western superheroes seem vulnerable to human weaknesses. The Monkey King, on the other hand, not only has great powers but during his history, he also suffers a great test that transforms his life.

At first, the Monkey King despised all the other deities, caused chaos on a whim, and he believed he was the best of all and was unbeatable. Until finally a great Buddha held him under a mountain as a form of punishment.

Five hundred years later, the Buddha arranged for the Monkey King to also have a greater mission: to protect the monk Tang (his new master) and to help him bring the Buddhist scriptures to China so that Buddhism could spread throughout the country. On the way, the Monkey King surpassed 81 tribulations and incident after incident, learns to be more humble and shed his selfish nature. Very different from the other superheroes, right?

Journey to the West

“Journey to the West” is one of the four classics of Chinese literature. Written in the 16th century by the novelist Wu Chen’en of the Ming Dynasty, this adventure story combines action, humor, and spiritual teachings. The novel takes place in the 7th century. It tells the story of one of the disciples of the Buddha Shakyamuni, who was banished from a heavenly paradise for committing the crime of disrespect to the Buddha law. He was sent to the human world and forced to spend ten lives practicing religious auto-culture to atone for his sins.

In his tenth life, during the Tang Dynasty, he reincarnated as a monk named Xuan Zang (also known as monk Tang and Tripitaka). The Tang emperor assigned this monk to travel to the West and bring the Buddhist scriptures of Mahayana back to China.

After having a vision of Bodhisattva Guanyin that inspired him, the monk accepted the mission and began his sacred search. But monk Tang was not qualified to undertake such a dangerous journey. Shy, he could not face evil creatures who wanted to kill him and eat him (after all, it was said that his flesh bestowed immortality).

For that reason, the Goddess Guanyin organized an eclectic group to be his disciples and protect him: the brave but impetuous Monkey King (also known as Sun Wukong), the lustful Pigsy, the taciturn Sandy and the White Dragon Horse. They had all been banished to the human world after committing sins in heaven. Thanks to her mercy, Guanyin gives them one more chance to return to their heavenly home: to convert to Buddhism and to protect the monk Tang on his pilgrimage.