Wu Cheng-en has won the world fame by his satirical novel “Journey to the West”. The book is based on the Chinese folklore. At the center of the story are the adventures of the Monkey: a Buddhist monk travels around India, making a legendary pilgrimage. It is an adventure story, which allegorically represents a group of people, who travel in search for the enlightenment. This fascinating story tells describes the journey of Buddhist monk Xuanzang (Tripitaka), the Monkey King Sun Wukong, the magic hog Zhu Ba-tsze’s, the monk Sha-sena, and a white horse dragon, all of whom go to India, searching for the sacred sutras. The novel is full of the fantastic adventures and battles with werewolves. “Journey to the West” is the most popular Chinese tale, which is widely known worldwide. The author of “Journey to the West” ascertains with bitterness: there is a social beginning in each of us; it creates the civilization and can destroy it. It can also lead to universal wildness, by cutting off the channels which unite the corporal and spiritual forms of the human nature.
The Fantastic Epic Genre of the Most Popular Chinese Tale
Wu Cheng-en’s novel “Journey to the West” became the beginning of the the fantastic epic genre. The author’s narration about the adventures of Sun Wukong – the king of monkeys – became one of the most favorite in China and one of the most known abroad. The main hero of the novel is Monkey, a very powerful and colorful character. In his vivid narration, the writer cruelly derides and castigates the state system, public orders, and customs in ancient China. He condemns the parasitism and hypocrisy of the ruling classes, as well as the cruelty, self-interest, and egoism of the rich. Human oppression, impoverished workers, and the harmful power of gold were not unique to China. Therefore, Wu Cheng-en’s satire has had much wider value.
The novel “Journey to the West” is based on the national legends about the journey of Xuanzang, the monk, to India in the 7th century. Gradually, as the plot develops, new details make it more and more similar to a magic fairy tale, where additional plots and new characters are not connected to the main subject. The monk has “magic assistants”:the king of Monkeys Sun Wukong, sent to the earth for the alarm arranged by him in the Heaven palace, and a pig, also sent from heaven for its faults.
Sun Wukong (the king of Monkey) is the main character of “Journey to the West”. He was born from a stone and possesses supernatural strength. He rebels against Heaven, and is imprisoned in a mountain by Buddha. Afterwards, he starts his journey to obtain the Buddhist sutras in India. He is very strong, fast, and can accomplish 72 transformations. These transformations allow him to transform either into objects and animals or into other people. He can fight skillfully, and he is very powerful. Five hundred years later, Sun Wukong is released by Xuanzang, a monk going to the West. As a sign of gratitude, Sun Wukong becomes Xuanzang’s pupil and starts protecting him. However, the fact that Sun Wukong has killed the robbers who attacked makes the monk indignant. In a quarrel, Sun Wukong decides to leave the teacher, but then repents and returns.
Sun Wukong is a heroic character, while Zhu Bajie is comic. Together with monk Xuanzang, they form a very interesting group, which reacts to the reality in a different way. Sun Wukong defeats enemies, while the monk speaks of the virtues and evils. Sun Wukong, like Gulliver, is the symbol of vital force and rebelliousness.
Every time the monk reads a special mantra, the hoop is compressed, causing Sun Wukong an intolerable headache. At the end of their journey, to reward Sun Wukong for his diligence, the Buddha of Western Paradise chooses him to be the all-conquering Buddha. Sun Wukong serves Xuanzang for the rest of his life.
Religion and Moral Aspect of the Tale
By castigating the Chinese bourgeoisie, represented in the images of the dirty, greedy monkeys, Wu Cheng-en opposes it to the noble pilgrims who do not know any lust for adventures. The writer declares that he hates the human nature and considers it vicious. Those, whom the king of monkey meets in his journey, are mean, insignificant, and not as powerful as he is. These people make up a common human prototype. Vices that are peculiar of Sun Wukong make up a caricature description of the human and social vices. These people are affected by avarice, aggressiveness, self-interest, and power. Wu Cheng-en also touches the theme of Gods. However, the writer is hostile to aristocratic atheism. Religion should be clear from dirt and nonsense; it should be “natural”, and then it can play a role of a known moral bridle. Wu Cheng-en shares his purely deistic thoughts about God – the primary engine of the Universe – with his readers.
Monkey in “Journey to the West” is the source and instrument of the brilliant social satire, not on the mankind, in general, but on the so-called “mass society”. This concept is used by Western sociologists to describe the world of mass production and mass consumption, which altogether result in depersonalization of people.
Wu Cheng-en’s hero tries to make the impossible, namely, to stop being a human and realize his social nature. In fact, social animals seek organized structure. In case of a more prestigious structure that satisfies individual vanity, one will easily leave the former and try to enter the latter..
Being guided only by the norms and rules thought up by their minds and dictated by public needs, people can support only a short-term social balance. Human reason easily counts momentary benefits but is not capable of estimating future expenses. The mind is not so cold; it is overflowed with emotions. The mind is not so independent; it is subordinated by human arrogance. This program of self-destruction is put in people. Thus, civilized society that allows people to stand apart from the environment, to live more conveniently and free from daily household chores does not change human nature. Trying to escape from the natural chaos, the civilization itself generates the processes, which cannot be managed. Therefore, it is possible to say, that, in his novels, Wu Cheng-en refers to the role of personality. He believes that the role of personality in “Journey to the West” is exceptional. The actions of the human characters and fantastic creatures occupy the central place in the novel. The writer recognizes that individual behaviors are conditioned by a particular historical context, the age spirit, as well as education, origin and, often, religion. Some traces of the writer’s preferences in terms of culture, mythology and attitude to Gods can be traced in his novel. Wu Cheng-en recognizes the uniqueness of the given historical situation, and these features (political, state, religious) are effective and functional in specific conditions.
According to Wu Cheng-en, the main functions of history as a science are education and information (depending on the addressee). Historical and cultural research is as useful as obvious are the lessons that follow. Wu Cheng-en’s lesson, of course, does not cause enthusiasm among the modern adherents of humanistic ideals, who persistently continue to believe in the omnipotence of the human reason and scientific and technical progress.