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March 8, 2014
Table of Contents
1 Introduction
Sun Wukong


Sun Wukong (zh-tspw |t=孫悟空 |s=孙悟空 |p=Sūn W?kōng |w=Sun Wu-k'ung; also surn vukorn), the Monkey King, is perhaps the most famous and beloved fictional character in all of classical Chinese literature. A magician, priest, ruler, sage, and warrior in the shape of a monkey, he is the mischievous protagonist of Journey to the West, based on popular tales dating back to the Tang dynasty. The novel narrates his adventures from birth, in particular how he accompanied the monk Xuanzang (fictional character)|Xuanzang to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India.

(listed in the order that he first acquired them)
  • Meihou Wang (美猴王): Meaning "Beautiful Monkey King".

  • His name Sun (孫) is based on the Chinese word Hu2Sun1 (猢猻) which means monkey.

  • Wukong (悟空): Meaning "aware of shunyata|emptiness". The name given to him by his first master, Subodhi.

  • Bimawen (弼馬溫): The title of the keeper of the Heavenly Horses. Sun Wukong was given this position by the Jade Emperor after his first intrusion into Heaven.

  • Qitian Dasheng (齊天大聖): Meaning "great sage equal of Heaven". Sun Wukong demanded this title from the Jade Emperor and was eventually granted it.

  • Xingzhe (行者): Meaning "traveller". The name given to him by Xuan Zang.

In addition to the names used in the novel, the Monkey King has other names in various parts of China:
  • Gou De Tien (猴齊天) in Taiwanese

  • Ma Lou Jing (馬騮精) in Cantonese

Legends tells that Wukong was born out of a rock and through his many adventures he was able to master an array of amazing abilities and powers. He knows 72 transformations, double that of Zhu Bajie.

Through a series of audacious stunts he acquires the powers of immortality, shape-changing ability, cloud travel skills, and ownership of a handy "as-you-will resizeable staff (stick)|staff" which can be nestled behind the ear for easy carrying or resized to tree-trunk size for pounding the sense out of dragons and demons. His magical staff was a supporting pillar he "robbed" from the under-sea palace of the East Sea dragon king. The monkey king also forced the dragon king to offer him other magical "gifts" including his beautiful golden armour. Above all he has monkey chutzpah.

Sun Wukong learned many of his magical tricks while serving as a disciple under the Patriarch Subodhi; it was the Patriarch who gave him the name "Wukong" ("aware of shunyata|emptiness"). The Patriarch, who by the time they parted ways was certain the monkey would come to a bad end, made him promise never to tell anyone who his teacher was.

He was invited to the Heavenly Kingdom by the Jade Emperor in the hopes that a promotion and title would make him a little more manageable. He proved to be an incorrigible monkey, however, and soon he was scarfing down the Empress's Peaches of Immortality and popping Lord Lao Tzu's Pills of Indestructibility like they were Tic Tacs. Feeling guilty, but not that guilty, he became the biggest headache for everybody in heaven. Finally, the heavenly authorities had no choice but to attempt to subdue him.

He fought and defeated the Army of Heaven of 100,000 strong, Four Heavenly Kings, Erlang Shen and Nezha successively. Eventually, by the great effort and teamwork by the heavenly forces, including many famous deities, he was finally captured. After several more mundane execution attempts failed, Wukong was stuffed into Lord Lao Tzu's eight-way trigem cauldron to be distilled into an elixir. The cauldron's sacred flames were hot enough to consume anything (including immortals). After a good long cook and then some, the cauldron exploded and out jumped the Monkey King — stronger and refined (for he was born of a rock). Not only was he not harmed in any way, he now had the ability to 'see' evil through what is called Huo Yan JingJing (Firey eyes flickering) no matter which form they appeared as.

All other options exhausted, they finally appealed to the Buddha himself, who arrived in an instant from his temple in the West. The Buddha bet with Sun Wukong that he could not fly out of his palm. Wukong, knowing that in one flip he can cover eighteen thousand miles, was over-confident of his own ability and agreed. He took a great leap and landed in a desolate section of heaven. There were nothing but five 'pillars' visible. Wukong surmised that he had reached the ends of heaven. He made a marking on the centre pillar as proof that he was there (not unlike a modern day vandal). Then he leapt back and landed in Buddha's palm. Smiling, Buddha asked him to turn around. He looked back and saw that the marking he made earlier was on Buddha's middle finger. Wukong had lost the bet. Immediately, he tried to escape, but Buddha turned over his palm and imprisoned Monkey under a mountain. There he remained imprisoned for five centuries until he offered to serve Xuanzang (fictional character)|Sanzang, the Tang Priest , who was destined to make the journey to the West to retrieve the Buddhist scriptures for China. The bodhisattva Guanyin helped Sanzang by giving him a magical headband which Sanzang tricked Monkey into wearing. With a special chant Sanzang is able to tighten the band until Monkey cannot bear the pain. In that way he is brought to his true calling as a disciple of Buddha.

For the rest of the epic Sun Wukong faithfully helps the Tang Dynasty|Tang Priest on his journey to the west. They are joined by Pig (Zhu Bajie) and Friar Sand (Sha Wujing), two other monsters who have been tamed in advance by Guanyin and woven into Sanzang's destiny. The group gets into many scrapes and must learn many Buddhist lessons before they return safely to the Tang empire with the treasure of the Buddhist scripture.

The Sun Wu Kong festival is celebrated on the 16th day of the 8th Lunar Month on the Chinese Calendar. Festivals feature recreations of his ordeals such as Fire walking|walking on a bed of coals and climbing a ladder of knives.

In Hong Kong it is celebrated at the Buddhist Temple in Sau Mau Ping which has a shrine to Sun Wu Kong.

Inspite of its popularity (or perhaps because of it) legends regarding Sun Wukong have changed with the ebb and flow that is Chinese culture. The tale with Buddha and the "Pillars" is a prime example and did not appear until the Han Dynasty when Buddhism was first introduced to China. Various legends concerning Sun Wukong on the other hand date back to before written Chinese history, changing to adapt to the most popular Chinese religion of a given era.

It is believed that the character Sun Wukong was partly based on Hanuman, the "monkey god" of Hindu described in a book by the historical Xuanzang. He also bears some similarities to mischievous six year old boys. Sun Wukong became so well-known in China that he was once worshipped by some as a real god.

Son Goku (Dragon Ball)|Son Goku, the central character in the Japanese manga Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z and anime Dragon Ball (original series)|Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT, is partly based on Sun Wukong. Other parallels can be seen in Goku's telescoping staff and Oolong, the shape-changing pig.

The character Son Goku in the manga Gensomaden Saiyuki, whose plot is loosely based on Journey to the West, is partly based on Sun Wukong.

Monkey (television)|Monkey, a Japanese TV show from the seventies.

Journey to the West (TV series)|Journey to the West, a Chinese 1986 live action series and some other adaptations.

Stephen Chow made two comedy movies, the "A Chinese Odyssey" series, in 1994 that were loosely based on the character.

Sun Wukong is on the shortlist of candidates for the mascot of the 2008 Summer Olympics to be held in Beijing.

"The Ape" by Milo Manara retells the story of the ape - with humor, sexy artwork and political overtones. It ran for several months in issues of Heavy Metal (magazine), in the early 80's.

  • Sun Wukong's entry at Godchecker is a tongue-in-cheek take on the Great Sage.

  • Complete novel.

  • introduction to a discussion of the possible foreign origin of Sun Wukong

Category:Fictional monkeys
Category:Fictional clergy and religious
Category:Literary characters

de:Son Goku

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sun Wukong".

Last Modified:   2005-04-13

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