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Literature / Journey to the West

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Journey to the West (Traditional: 西遊記; Simplified: 西游记; Pinyin: Xī Yóu Jì; Pronounced roughly shee-yo-jee) is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature alongside Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, and Dream of the Red Chamber, and first published in the 1590s, although it is plainly based on much older folk-legends. It is Inspired by… the pilgrimage undertaken by the Tang dynasty Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who nearly a thousand years earlier travelled to India to study Buddhism at its source and obtain accurate copies of Buddhist texts (the "Three Baskets Scriptures") known in China only through inaccurate nth-generation copies.

In the novel, Xuanzangnote  is accompanied (at the request of the bodhisattva Guan Yin) by three supernatural beings who have been assigned to guide and protect him as penance for past misdeeds. Zhu Bajie, pig-like in appearance and a greedy hog in behavior, and Sha Wujing, a river monster whose fierce appearance belies his thoughtful nature, are former heavenly dignitaries exiled to their current existences. The third companion is Sun Wukong.

Sun Wukong deserves a paragraph to himself. Warrior, magician, and trickster, the Handsome Monkey King (by acclamation of his subjects) and Great Sage Equal of Heaven (self-proclaimed) gets seven chapters devoted to his rise and fall before the novel's nominal hero first appears, and continues to steal the limelight throughout with practiced ease. Every reader has a favourite Sun Wukong story — the one about his bet with the Buddha is particularly popular — but alas, this page is too small to do them all justice. He also has tons and tons of imitators.

There's also Yulong, a dragon who eats Xuanzang's horse and in restitution is required to transform into horse shape and carry Xuanzang the rest of the way. But even the author seems to forget most of the time that he's not just a horse.

After many adventures, in which Sun Wukong and his allies defend Xuanzang from thieves, robbers, cannibals, vamps, false priests and monsters of all varieties (not to mention the horrifying affair of the escaped goldfish), they reach India and everybody lives happily ever after. Hooray!

Journey to the West has been adapted to television many times - especially in Japan, where the story is called Saiyuki and the characters are Genjo Sanzo, Cho Hakkai, Sha Gojo, and Son Goku (all just the on'yomi Japanese reading of the Chinese character names). Many anime series have at least one Shout-Out, and some go for outright plunder (from Gensomaden Saiyuki to, of all things, Dragon Ball - yes, that Son Goku was inspired directly by and named after this Son Goku). One Japanese live-action adaption of The '70s, and its thoroughly gender-bent cast (the role of Xuanzang/Tripitaka/Genjo Sanzo is traditionally played by a woman), is still fondly remembered simply as Monkey in English-speaking countries from the irreverent (almost Gag Dub) BBC translated version, with its annoyingly catchy disco theme-song "Monkey Magic" (directly taken from the Japanese broadcast where it was also sung in English). The most recent TV adaptation as of this writing is 2011's Journey to the West. Another notable Japanese adaptation was a film by none other than Osamu Tezuka that was localized in the west as Alakazam the Great; this film, while generally obscure, is best known for being the inspiration for Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. series.

While it is popular in Japan, it's omnipresent in its native China. For example, there was a 1980s Journey to the West TV series in China that was so popular, it's said that to this day there's always at least one television station rerunning it anywhere in the nation (and also in Vietnam, where it's just as famous and widely loved.) The show is amusing even if you don't understand Chinese.

The tetralogy from Shaw Brothers made in the late 60s, The Monkey Goes West, is in particular the first instance of a ground-breaking adaptation of the novel series. Jeff Lau's A Chinese Odyssey films renewed the popularity of the novel for young Hong Kong audiences during the mid-'90s.

The movie The Forbidden Kingdom adapts the encounter of Xuanzang and Sun Wukong, complete with the "main" character being named Jason Tripitakas, and just like in Journey to the West, Xuanzang/Jason has the carpet pulled out from under him by the Monkey King.

The team responsible for Gorillaz, Damon Albarn (of Blur) and Jamie Hewlett (of Tank Girl fame), adapted the story into an opera in 2007. They also did a two-minute animated version for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, which was used as a title sequence for the BBC television coverage of the event.

There are many works based, more or less, on Journey to the West; for a list, see the Referenced By page. (The distinction between "based on Journey to the West" and "contains many references to Journey to the West" is not always clear.)

You can read the whole story here.

This story provides examples of:

  • Achilles in His Tent: When Wukong quits the quest (sometimes at the same time as being fired by Tang Sanzang) he goes back to his mountain kingdom of monkey demons, and does not come back until Tang Sanzang has been turned into a tiger and everyone has been trounced by the demon. Bajie is sent to plead for Wukong's help, but he doesn't succeed until he tricks Wukong by saying the demon was insulting him.
  • Action Girl: Several she-devils qualify as this when they're not busy seducing Xuanzang. Bonus points if they are animal demons and have fighting styles that match, i.e. spider demons.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The original novel gleefully describes how hideous Xuanzang’s three disciples are at every opportunity (Wukong apparently has red eyes and a "face like a thunder god"), and it's even a minor plot point at several parts. Most of the adaptations - especially the cartoons - tone this down a lot.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The portrayals of Sun Wukong and Tang Sanzang in the novel aren't so noble compared to the more popular adaptations. In the original, Sun Wukong lacks mercy in countless instances and Tang Sanzang is continually naive and acts inconsistently or even hypocritically. Their two-dimensional individual characterization and negative portrayals can both be explained by dissonance with today's values, and also by the fact that the novel's main characters were intended to be an allegory for the state of a single individual's spiritual journey - each character represents a different aspect of human nature.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Probably due to some form of Lost in Translation. Sha Wujing was originally a demon dwelling in a river of sand. When the story was brought over to Japan, it seems the part about the river being sand got left out, and so Sha Wujing, now Sha Gojyo, was turned into their river-dwelling man-eating (ish) monster, the kappa, hence why all Japanese references to Sha Gojyo at least give him kappa traits.
  • A Day in the Limelight / This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Whenever the enemy has a lair underwater, and only then, Sha Wujing and Zhu Bajie will outshine Wukong.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: Ur-Example. Humans are clustered together in walled-off cities, with all the land in between being infested with man-eating demons, but the cities themselves are somehow demon-free (with a few exceptions) despite this. Even within the cities, there seems to always be a quest of some sort in need of conveniently-timed protagonists to solve, usually involving killing something and/or proving the righteousness of Buddhism in some way.
  • Almighty Janitor:
    • When Wukong demands a place in Heaven near the beginning, he gets assigned the job of Heavenly... Stable Boy. This becomes a Chekhov's Skill later in the story, because all horses gain an innate respect/fear for Wukong because of this. Cultural joke because monkeys were once kept with horses because people believed they could keep horses healthy. Wukong's literal title for this job is "Ban Horse Plague."
    • Bajie's reward for completing the quest is to become the deity who is charged with actually eating all of the food and drink that is sacrificed to Buddha from every altar in the world, for the rest of eternity. Buddha explains that Bajie, for all he improved, is still far too crude and earthy to become a Boddhistva like the others, but he still deserves a reward and it was hoped that this would suffice. Needless to say, as far as Bajie is concerned, he has the best job in Heaven.
  • Always Someone Better:
    • Sun Wukong manages to thrash the entire celestial army, but Erlang Shen matches him in single combat. You can read more into this if you remember Erlang Shen is supposed to have the same powers as Wukong. Also an example of Conservation of Ninjutsu.
    • The Buddha is the one who finally and definitively subdues Wukong by winning their bet and dropping a mountain on him.
    • Wukong also respects/fears the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin, because she's got a bunch of equipment that can genuinely hurt him (such as the infamous Headband of Agony), but also because she's usually nice to him and helps them out.
    • In the book, it's implied that the Big Three Religions/Representative Heads (Buddhism/Buddha, Taoism/Laozi, Confucianism/Jade Emperor) are having a power struggle in the background. Buddhism consistently wins out in many instances, although Laozi likes to show off every now and again too. The author also makes it a point that Buddha is the one that beats Wukong, and that Wukong has only kowtowed to three people: Buddha, Guanyin, and Xuanzang.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Xuanzang and company after they successfully bring back the sacred scriptures. At least, Xuanzang and Wukong do. Bajie and Wujing were already immortals in the first place, and Wujing gets the best promotion as arhat. The dragon horse gets to be a naga.
  • Atrocious Arthropods:
    • The Scorpion Lady is an evil demon who tries to get Tripitaka to sleep with her. Her true form is that of a large scorpion.
    • The Spiderling Spirits are seven spider demons who take the form of human women and try to eat Tripitaka.
    • The Hundred-Eyed Demon Lord is a centipede demon and the adoptive brother to the aforementioned Spiderling Spirits. He tries to poison the main protagonists and takes Tang Sanzang hostage, refusing to let him go even when Monkey threatens his sisters.
  • Badass Boast: These are frequent and often in verse. Usually proceeded by "Listen to my recital." Can be about everything from powers, to weapons, to really simple things. In later chapters, Wukong and Bajie do this just to recite their backstory for the demons' benefit.
  • Bare-Bottomed Monkey: One of the four celestial monkeys besides Wukong himself, monkeys who exist outside the ten classifications of life, is the Red-Buttocked Horse Monkey. Said monkey has knowledge of yin and yang, human affairs, and how to avoid death.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie do it all the time. The dragon horse tried it once, but didn't succeed. Wujing does not get to do this.
  • Blow You Away:
    • The Yellow Wind Demon King, whose fiendish winds can blind even Sun Wukong.
    • One Fetch Quest was to get a magical fan so that they could blow out a supernaturally powerful volcano and pass through the area unharmed. Unfortunately, said magical fan was owned by Princess Iron Fan, the mother of Red Boy (Hong Hai'er), whose ass Wukong had soundly kicked in an earlier story arc. Princess Iron Fan is not very welcoming. Unfortunately, they not only cannot continue on the quest without blowing out the volcano, the volcano was created by Wukong when he burst out of Laozi's Eight Trigrams Brazier.
  • Boring Return Journey: The journey to the West takes 86 chapters. The return to the East (with supernatural assistance loaned by the Buddha) takes 1.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Literally happens to Baije during one run-in with a monster though he has the decency to drop trou.
  • Broken Aesop: Buddhism is supposedly very important. In contrast, most of the conflicts are solved through a combination of cunning and violence.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: In chapter 42, Sun Wukong takes the appearance of the father of Red Boy (Hong Hai'er), a monster who kidnapped his master. Under this disguise, he tells the monster that Sun Wukong is an unrivaled fighter.
  • Can't Default to Murder: Sun Wukong frequently has to be held back from killing people by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang via the enchanted headband stuck on his head, even when it's genuinely the best solution.
  • Carry a Big Stick:
    • Wukong's weapon is an iron rod/cudgel that is able to grow to an enormous size and is said to weigh 8100kg. (Acquired, full size, from an undersea dragon king that had no idea what to do with it. Which was then shrunk with monkey magic. And put behind Wukong's ear.) It also qualifies as Martial Arts Staff, or at least this is how Wukong usually uses it.
    • Sha Wujing and several other demons frequently employ clubs and hammers as weapons.
  • Casanova Wannabe: The story introduces you to Bajie as a demon that Wukong must subdue, because he pretended to be a normal man and convinced a rich man to marry off his daughter to him. After he got drunk at the wedding and his disguise wore off, he locked the girl in a part of the house and refused to let her leave. As the story goes on, Bajie fights a continual battle against gluttony and lust. (The whole reason he ended up as a pig-demon in the first place was that he made inappropriate remarks to Chang'E, the goddess of the moon. In one translation, he actually committed sexual harassment/tried to rape her.) Bajie does not improve by the end of the story, although that's largely because he represents the base human desires/id, including sexual desire.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: Sun Wukong's home and some other fiendish lairs. Wukong's home is literally behind a giant waterfall. He becomes the Handsome Monkey King by betting the other monkeys he could jump through the waterfall. He does, finds the beautiful cavern home, and duly is crowned the Monkey King.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: All of reality works because of the Jade Emperor issuing decrees to lesser heavenly officials who do a given duty. For instance, he tells a water dragon where to send rain. Sun Wukong occasionally uses his connections/influence with certain officials to acquire some object or other objective. For someone who was sentenced as a criminal twice by Heaven, he gets along shockingly well with many Heavenly immortals. During the quest he manages to borrow a number of precious objects from other immortals, and also gets a few of them to help him fight off the demons.
  • Celibate Hero: Xuanzang is a celibate monk, but keeps getting abducted by beautiful women and female demons who find him attractive, good to eat, or both because of the rumor that eating Xuanzang would grant you immortality and magical power. For female demons, they get the option of not only eating Xuanzang, but also having sex with him to achieve the same goal. The big deal, is that the female demons only want him for sex, which depending on the monster is either physically harmless (Xuanzang considers it A Fate Worse Than Death) or Out with a Bang. Either way, they want him to make the first move and keep it consensual. Then there's the part that by having him consent to sex, he would be breaking his vows which is kind of important. Because monks believe that you should preserve your inner "essence" and not have sex, having sex was believed to remove some of that essence from you.
  • Character Development: Just as important as kicking demon-ass is Wukong’s personal journey to becoming a decent person. He is not so much fundamentally-bad as he is a selfish Manchild who needed the guidance of a loving, patient and wise father-figure to truly grow up, which he found in Xuanzang. By the time he is deemed worthy of truly joining the Gods at the end of his journey, he has grown from a tantrum-throwing tyrant into a kind-hearted, compassionate and noble protector of the weak.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: The Journey would not have taken nearly so long if Xuanzang didn't insist on helping everyone they met along the way. However, this is part of the point of the journey; we find out that 81 trials/hardships are demanded by the Buddha as part of their quest to reach enlightenment, and he even adds an extra one after they've finally gotten the scriptures and are on their way back because he realized they're still one short.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Any time a large group of nameless beings appear expect them to be be defeated by a single character to showcase how powerful said character is.
    • In the opening chapter, Wukong almost single-handedly (albeit with the aid of his clones) routs the best warriors of Heaven along with 100,000 heavenly troops only to be defeated by Erlang Shen.
    • Whenever the group encounters large numbers of nameless demons expect Wukong or Bajie to kill all of them on their own.
    • Wukong suffers from this whenever he makes copies of himself once the journey begins. The demon he is fighting always has a power or weapon that defeats the copies.
  • Continuity Nod: Occasionally the group will meet characters they met earlier or talk about previous adventures, such as the "River of Heaven" arc where Xuanzang complains about always having trouble at river crossings.
  • Cool Sword: Many demons wield scimitars and swords in battle. The most notable one is the Seven Star Sword.
  • Covering for the Noise: In the 1999 animated adaptation, Zhu Bajie was supposed to be pretending to be a mute to remain undercover. However when he speaks in agreement and almost tips off the authorities, Sun Wukong covers for him by saying that was the sound of his stomach growling.
  • Crossover Cosmology: Taoism and Confucianism with their immortals and celestial bureaucracy is shown as existing in (sorta) harmony with the bodhisattvas of Buddhism.
  • Deus ex Machina: Whenever Wukong can't resolve something himself, he generally goes to Guan Yin for help, or if it's beyond her abilities, Buddha himself. He's also lodged his share of complaints against the Celestial Court.
  • Diabolus ex Nihilo: The Scorpion-Woman. There were no mountains (for once) so she literally just appears in a crowd.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Wukong's various pranks during the banquet of Heaven.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
    • Wukong beats up whole armies, including several gods.
    • By the time of the journey, he already is one of the strongest and most feared of all beings... but the Scorpion Lady, who has managed to hurt Buddha himself in the past, manages to defeat Wukong with one tail strike.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Shā Wùjìng, a general of heaven, was given 800 lashings and forced to reincarnate as a flesh-eating demon, and every week a flying sword would come and stab him in the breast and in the side 100 times. The only way he could avoid this last part was to hide in a river. His crime? Accidentally breaking a crystal cup at one of the Festivals of Immortal Peaches.
  • Distressed Dude: Being abducted (for food or otherwise), deceived and generally harassed seems to be a main occupation of Xuanzang. Usually just to show how badass Sun Wukong is.
  • The Dreaded: Sun Wukong once fought every army in Heaven. Alone. And almost won. Anyone who knows who he is tends to freak out and panic in his presence purely because of how nightmarishly powerful he is, even people who are on his side.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Wukong finally meets his match with Buddha, who imprisons him for 500 years under a mountain after he wins their bet. The bet was that Wukong could somersault out of Buddha's palm. He does, and sees five pillars at the end of the earth. Wukong writes Great Sage Equal to Heaven was Here, and then pees on one of the pillars, and somersaults back. Then Buddha shows him his hand, which says the same message on it and even smells faintly of monkey pee. Buddha then flips his hand over and traps him under the Five Phases Mountain to lie there until Guanyin recruits him for Xuanzang's journey.
  • Doorstopper: As per usual with the Chinese classics, unspooling all those logograms into letters can bulk the text up to ~2000 pages. Due to the book's episodic nature, more "Western friendly" translations deal with the problem by sticking only to the essential stories.
    • For example, the 1942 abridgement by Arthur Whaley (missing out most of the chapters and nearly all of the poetry) is about a fifth the size of the full 4-volume translation by Anthony Yu.
  • Eat Me: A very effective strategy of Wukong. Wukong's 72 transformations make disguising as food pretty easy for him and the baddies are defenceless once Wukong finds his way into their stomachs no matter how powerful they are outside. A very powerful monster in the midstory, Huangmeier (aka Yellow Eyebrows), against whom Wukong had virtually no chancing of winning in normal battles, was eventually subdued by using this strategy.
  • Enlightenment Superpower: Many of Sun Wukong's powers, including the shapeshifting, the ability to summon duplicates of himself, and the ability to leap large distances in a single bound, were gained as side-effects of studying the secrets of the universe under the sage Subhuti. Subhuti eventually asked him to leave when he realized he was more interested in the superpowers than the enlightenment, and forbids Wukong from telling anyone who he learned his skills from.
  • Evil Twin: After Wukong is falsely accused of murdering some bandits, Xuanzang kicks him out of the group again and Wukong runs off in tears. Then Xuanzang runs into another Wukong that knocks him out and steals their stuff. By the end of the story, the whole team ends up with their own Dopplegangers; naturally, Sun Wukong's is the hardest to deal with. Buddha later explains the fake Wukong is actually a six-eared macaque, although the animal had never been heard of before and never again makes an appearance in the series. The fake Wukong could represent Xuanzang's own false beliefs about Wukong's character, and at the end he is set right. Conspiracy theories have suggested it could have been Wukong's own double, and he did it to get back at Xuanzang.
  • Find Out Next Time: Each chapter ends with the narrator encouraging the reader to proceed to the next chapter to find out what happens next.
    • This may be a throwback to the oral storytelling tradition, where a marketplace storyteller would entice his audience to come back (and pay him again) the next day to hear another part of the story.
  • Giant Spider: The Seven Spider Ladies. Bonus points for them being sexy and having webs everywhere.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: In chapter 72, the seven spider ladies are bathing in a hot spring. Sun Wukong in the guise of a falcon steals their clothes, so they are forced to stay in the water until Zhu Bajie attacks them.
  • Hot as Hell: At least three female demons (the Scorpion Woman, the Earth Flow Lady and the Jade Hare) are very beautiful and want to achieve immortality by taking Xuanzang’s "yang". (or having sex with him, if you prefer.) Literal evil temptation.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Sanzang always, always, always thinks that he's being approached by a harmless old lady, or a nice stranger offering their Sacred Hospitality for the night, or...
  • Human Pack Mule: The horse carries Xuanzang, but Zhu Bajie carries everything else — when he's not convincing Sha Wujing to do it for him.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing trick some Taoists into drinking their urine by passing it off as holy water. The Taoists get mad and challenge the four travelers to various magical challenges, like meditating on a stack of tables, using magic to survive decapitation, and taking a bath in boiling oil. Wukong makes sure to succeed in all of them, and then uses the challenges to kill off each of the Taoists.
  • Impossible Task: Jumping out of the Buddha's palm. Monkey's legendary leap only takes him to the end of the Buddha's fingers. It's an allegory.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Zhu Bajie's nine jade-toothed rake. Other examples include pots, bells, cymbals, an iron gorse, a scraper and a pestle. That said, a weapon that looked very much like a rake was actually used as a part of Chinese warfare at one point.
  • In a Single Bound: Wukong can travel "108,000 li" in a single backflip.note  It's basically hyperbole for "a very long distance" and 108 is a significant number in Buddhism, because it's a multiple of nine.
  • Indy Ploy: What Sun Wukong usually does after Xuanzang gets kidnapped again, only his go off like he's really Crazy-Prepared. At one point, Sun Wukong lampshades this, by explaining to another character the structure of a typical adventure episode.
  • Informed Ability: Xuanzang’s much-vaunted holiness is undercut by his tendency to tell petty lies, how easily he can be swayed by Bajie, his readiness to torture Sun Wukong, and the fact that his Buddhist stoicism breaks down any time he thinks his journey might be delayed. He also stops asking his disciples not to kill after the first couple of times. Allegorical as he represents the normal person and their struggle between human nature and enlightenment.
  • Jerkass Gods:
    • Sun Wukong, before his imprisonment, literally beats up, steals from, and terrorizes nearly everyone he meets. He scares a Dragon King to such an extent that he gives Wukong the nail holding the ocean in place just to get him out of his house. He gets better... sort of.
    • After they collect the scriptures, the Buddha's servants hand over a bunch of blank scrolls after realising that the pilgrims didn't bring any gifts, although Buddha does comment that blank scriptures like them are true scriptures. Zen, eh?
    • While Xuanzang and co. were being flown back to China by the Eight Vajrapanis, Guanyin asked how many ordeals they had suffered on their way to him. After finding out it was 80, she decided to have them go through another one because they were one short of the number required to reach the truth, and as soon as the Vajrapanis hear of the command they instantly drop the group where they are.
    • All the gods in the series, to some extent, are this. They know full well that they can subdue all the monsters on Earth and save countless humans, yet they refuse to do so. It's only when the monsters get in Xuanzang's way that they decide to take action. The fact that many monsters were formerly their pets, and only became monsters because they failed to contain them increases their moral failing. Sort of excused by saying that Heaven orchestrated this whole journey for Xuanzang, and made sure there were enough demons along the way to challenge him. But Heaven can also just be cruel in general...
    • In one story, a kingdom had been suffering under a heavy drought for years, because the king once had an argument with his wife and he got so mad he overturned the table of offerings for Heaven onto the floor. Then he let the dogs clean it up. To answer this double insult, Heaven organized for a mountain of rice, a mountain of flour, and a padlock hanging above a single lamp. Until this one chicken ate all the rice, and one dog licked up all the flour, AND the padlock finally melted, Heaven would not grant rain to the kingdom.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Wukong, after he was stuck under a rock for a few centuries, is so grateful to Xuanzang that he swears everlasting loyalty (though Xuanzang, being a monk, doesn't approve of Wukong's more violent problem solving methods).
  • Just Eat Him: Some larger devils try to get rid of Sun Wukong by swallowing him. They end up with an awful case of stomach ache to say the least. In some stories Wukong realizes how effective his threats are when he says them inside someone's stomach, so he actively finds ways to get swallowed in order to rescue Xuanzang.
  • Killer Rabbit: Even a goldfish can turn into a fearsome ogre. To make it worse, it was one of Guanyin's goldfish, and the demon had been forcing the village to sacrifice small children for him to eat once a year.
  • Kilroy Was Here: Wukong leaves his name (and piss) on what he thinks is a mighty pillar when trying to escape from Buddha's grasp. Nope, those were Buddha's fingers. It's an allegory.
  • Knight Templar: Sun Wukong can be like this when it comes to dealing with demons and bandits, all of whom he sees as evil monsters who prey on the weak (especially those who want to eat Xuanzang). This is most notably seen during the White Bone Demon and the Doppelgänger chapters. In some adaptations, Xuanzong kicks Wukong out not because of what he did (like killing an innocent human which was actually a demon in disguise or a group of bandits), but because of his Knight Templarish attitude.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing each fight Sun Wukong before discovering that they're on the same side. Then they each give up their demon lifestyle and become one of Xuanzang's disciples.
  • Last of His Kind: The 6-eared Macaque. Then Wukong makes sure the species is extinct.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: There are no end to mortals who 'cultivated their conduct' and/or 'refined their spirit' to become immortal and love it. The Wuzhuang temple has a community of immortals because of a ginsheng tree that produces life extending fruit and are extremely protective of it. The Jade Emperor has immortality-granting peaches and immortality wine, and Laozi can make immortality pills. Wukong manages to consume a surprising amount of all of these things.
    • Many yaoguai are either secretly minor immortals or immortal creatures, or are animals that have cultivated their conduct and begun working towards enlightenment.
  • MacGuffin: The Three Baskets scriptures in the Thunder Monastery are the reason for the pilgrimage.
  • Made of Indestructium: Wukong survived being thrown into a brazier filled with samadhi fire, said to be able to kill immortals and gods, for 49 days! That he had previously gorged himself on the Peaches of Immortality, the Elixir of Immortality, and the Pills of Immortality helped. In fact, all the fire did (having originally been used to produce the immortality medicines) was cause them to harden inside his body, making him not just immortal but Made of Diamond as well. The smoke of the fire also affected Wukong's eyes, granting him the ability to see through illusions, disguises and transformations. Some versions of the story however state that Wukong survived because he stood in the currents of wind made by the fanning of the servants to keep the fire going. Either way, Heaven really screwed itself over big time.
  • Mister Seahorse: Although it was averted before something actually happened, there is a section of the novel (beginning in chapter 53) about Sun Wukong going to retrieve a pregnancy antidote because Zhu Bajie and Xuanzang unknowingly drank magical pregnancy-inducing river water flowing through a town filled with nothing but women. Wukong then has to fight a demon that's been hoarding the magical abortion water to himself, before Bajie and Xuanzang have to give birth.
  • Monster of the Week: All the action in the story comes from Xuanzang being abducted by one demon after another, and his disciples having to figure out a way to rescue him.
  • Morphic Resonance: An extreme case — although his 72 transformations include many perfectly shaped animal disguises, Sun Wukong can only turn his head into that of a human and must conceal the rest of his body. His tail also comically never seems to cooperate with the transformations.
  • Munchkin: Sun Wukong's abilities are utterly over the top.
  • Nepotism: Why the Black River God couldn't get the celestial bureaucracy to kick out Tuolong/Kid Croc after he usurped the river. Ironically, Tuolong's uncle, the Western Dragon King Ao Run was very not okay with said usurpation.
  • Non-Action Guy: Xuanzang does nothing but pray and complain and despair. Ironically, his nine-ringed staff is a khakkhara, which monks can use to fight with. He does not use it to fight.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: The other main characters are all bound to Xuanzang out of duty rather than personal choice to begin with. Though all three, to varying degrees, come to genuinely care about the monk as a father-figure.
  • Not Quite Flight: Wukong travels via very, very powerful jumping. Either that or riding on a cloud.
  • One-Man Army: During the journey, Wukong is able to fight and defeat just about every Mook, Elite Mook and the fricking Dragon of the Heavens, each said to fight like a god himself. Before that, he fought the heavenly army of 100,000 strong at the same time, ripped through heaven's greatest champions and not just survived every single thing they could throw at him, but HE GOT EVEN STRONGER. By the time he was punished by the Buddha, he was on the brink of actually becoming the Emperor of Heaven himself.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The Dragon King of the Eastern Ocean has in his armory a piece of magic iron that was used to measure the depth of the Milky Way. It is 20 feet long and as thick as a barrel. No one can lift it. Then one day it begins to glow, and soon Wukong arrives seeking a weapon. He picks up the rod and tells it to become smaller: it shrinks to fit him (but is still as thick as a rice bowl and weighs many thousand pounds). He can get it to be any size he wants, and when not in use, he reduces it to the size of a needle and stores it in his ear.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: During a hilarious incident in a kingdom entirely populated by women. They can reproduce without him via a magic spring, but they understandably want men too. Poor, poor Xuanzang...
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Probably they're the least dangerous type of demons met by Sun Wukong.
    • It may also be culture shock for some to see the Dragon Kings talk and act like regular people, including having pretty human-looking wives. Generally they are depicted as standing upright, wearing richly-made silk robes, and participating in Heaven's bureaucracy.
    • Xuanzang rides one, after the dragon submits to being made into a horse as penance for his errors. The dragon is also a prince, and like the other dragons, can turn into a human.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The Lady of the Earth Flow is actually the spirit of an albino bat/rat, dual wields swords and has a bit of Hot as Hell too.
  • Out of Focus: As one DeviantArt user said, "No one likes you, Yu Lung. Not even your dad." The author even seems to occasionally forget he's not a real horse and what few moments of action he does are only because Wukong's gone and everyone else has been captured. He also never gets an actual name, and is only referred to by different nicknames.
  • Paper Fan of Doom: The Banana Leaf Fan, which manipulates fire. The aptly named Iron Fan Princess wields a magical fan which can Blow You Away.
  • Playing with Fire: Several examples, including the Gold Horned King's Banana Leaf Fan, Red Boy's Samadhi of Fire and a magical bell which can summon flames.
  • Plot Hole: Early on, Stone Monkey and a bunch of other monkeys find a palace in a cave behind a waterfall. The palace has bowls of food, plates, and beds, but no actual inhabitants. Rather than ponder who built this palace and where the inhabitants went, they just set up shop in there themselves. Fortunately for them nobody ever comes home to kick them out.
  • Purple Prose: It's not purple prose, it's friggin' purple poetry, but descriptive asides peppering the novel defy any other definition. It gets downright florid when they reach Thorn Ridge and Xuanzang takes part in essentially a freestyle poetry jam with some magical sentient human-looking trees. One is an female apricot tree that tries to seduce him after he's shown off his superior poetry skills.
  • Physical God: Ironically, The Buddha matches this much, much better than the gods themselves. This is as much a translation issue than anything else as Eastern gods aren't really equivalent to the Western idea of such.
  • Quest to the West: The whole premise and reason for the novel is Xuanzang has to bring the holy Three Baskets sutras from India, and he needs protection and help on the way, opening the way to a lot of wacky hijinks. This four-people quest format has led to a lot of adaptations and loosely inspired works, such as Inuyasha.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Sun Wukong takes on the Celestial Bureaucracy single-handed... and almost wins.
  • Redemption Quest: The whole reason Sun Wukong and the other bodyguards go on the quest is to earn redemption for past crimes.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Any given story arc has a good chance of someone mentioning how Monkey trashed Heaven 500 years ago.
  • Restraining Bolt: Sun Wukong has a circlet around his head which contracts if Xuanzang chants a sutra and is most often used when Wukong goes on a There Is No Kill Like Overkill rampage. Rather hilariously, his demon companions trick Xuanzang into saying the word every chance they get. It becomes particularly relevant to the plot when dealing with the Evil Twin.
    • Allegorical as Wukong represents Xuanzang's mind and an enlightened mind. There are times when Xuanzang doesn't believe Wukong is telling the truth and punishes him by giving him magical migraines, thus showing that Xuanzang isn't enlightened yet.
  • Rhino Rampage: The three rhino kings near the end. The Rhinoceros King, despite his name and single horn, is actually a bull.
  • Running Gag: Whenever Xuanzang is in trouble, Zhu Bajie suggests that he, Sun Wukong and Sha Wujing should share out the luggage and go back to where they came from.
  • Seductive Spider: The series spider-demoness and her cronies, shapeshifting spider-women who tries to seduce Tripitaka into giving up his quest and submitting under their order. Their default forms are giant spiders, while there are adaptations that depicts them as the classical half-woman half-spider seductress.
  • Shapeshifter Showdown:
    • Early in the story, Sun Wukong transforms himself to escape the god Erlang. However, Erlang's magical third eye gives him an advantage, as no matter what form Wukong takes, Erlang can see through the disguise and transform into an appropriate predator. Wukong tries to make a last escape by disguising himself as a temple, but Erlang catches him and ultimately brings the Monkey King to Heaven for trial.
    • During the journey itself, Sun Wukong engages in another such battle against the Bull Demon King. It climaxes with the Bull Demon King turning into his true form, a colossal white bull, and Wukong making himself gigantic in turn. The ensuing Behemoth Battle proves so intense that the gods have to intervene and help Sun Wukong subdue the Bull Demon King for good.
  • Shapeshifting Seducer:
    • Transforming into a beautiful woman is one of the most common tactics employed by the demons that Tripitaka's group encounters in order to eat the buddhist monk.
    • Sun Wukong does this several times as well, transforming into the wives of several demons in order to trick them into lowering their guard.
  • Side Quest: Take a drink every time Wukong and company get sidetracked because 1) Xuanzang got kidnapped and/or 2) the locals are being menaced by a demon.
    • Take a drink everytime Wukong or someone else mentions his past conflict with Heaven, or whenever Bajie is complaining or being lazy.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Sun Wukong's teacher, Bodhi/Bhuti/Subhuti/Xuputi.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Thy name is Sun Wukong.
  • Stock Shout-Out: The modus operandi of many East Asian artists seems to be: "When really, really, really stumped for ideas, nick them from Journey To The West."
  • Stock Wushu Weapons: Nearly all the immortals and monsters encountered are experts of martial arts to varying extents. When they aren't Improbable Weapon User (rakes, pestles, triangular canes...), they tend to wield the appropriate weapons, including sabers, polearms, spears and axes. Curiously enough, there are only two istances in the novel where Sun Wukong and his opponent actually engange in proper weaponless kung fu.
  • Stupid Good: Every time a demon disguises itself as a human in peril, you can wager your donkey that Xuanzang will insist on helping said disguised demon. Despite knowing that demons can take human form, and that Wukong can see through their disguises, Xuanzang gladly ignores Wukong's advice because he's just that compassionate of a guy. Only once in the entire book, in one of the later chapters, does he consider that Wukong might be right... only to revert back to Stupid Good when the demon (disguised as a child) puts on the puppy dog eyes. This is justified by the very fact that he is suppose to be a really good Buddhist monk. It wouldn't be particularly Buddhist to be selectively compassionate and only help the people he wants to help.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: As powerful as Sun Wukong and his companions are, occasionally they encounter threats beyond their ability to deal with. Often, they have to get help from Guan Yin, Buddha, or other gods to help subdue the demons they are fighting. Or, very occasionally, the horse, when the author actually remembers that said horse is a transformed dragon. This also lets the author do immortal cameos with Nezha and other important deities.
  • Supernaturally Delicious and Nutritious: Xuanzang is considered a "super food" by demons because of his high degree of holiness.
  • Superpower Lottery:
    • Sun Wukong almost won it, if not for the fact that he's almost useless in water.
    • Amongst his opponents there's the Rhinoceros King, whose ring can suck in every single weapon you use against him, including Sun Wukong's rod, the weaponry of a whole army of gods and an army of flame beasts.
  • Take That!: Some scholars believe that the work is one against the decadent government at the time.
  • Team Mercy vs. Team Murder: This is one of the main conflicts Tang Sanzang has with his disciple Sun Wukong. As a Buddhist monk, Sanzang would rather get through his pilgrimage without heads flying off and with as much diplomacy as possible, but Wukong and his companions are of the belief that their teacher's pacifism is silly and impractical. The story sometimes echoes this, since Wukong's might and violent acts do, in the end, save the day and get the constantly-in-duress Sanzang out of the hands of hungry demons (a fact that Wukong even mocks him over years into their journey); but the story is just as much about Wukong learning to temper himself and not resort to killing all the time.
  • That's No Moon: Those weren't pillars that Wukong vandalized, those were Budda's fingers!
  • This Was His True Form: Inverted — Many of the antagonists are wild animals that have learned to mimic human form (the Chinese version of the henge described on the obake page); they revert to their true form when killed.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Xuanzang is incapable of seeing through the disguises of the demons that kidnap him. It's understandable since he's a human, but you would think after the first few times of his blindness getting him kidnapped and almost raped or eaten he would wise up and listen when Sun Wukong and the others tell him not to trust the pitiful looking stranger seeking their assistance.
  • Touched by Vorlons: Any animal within earshot of a practicing Taoist or Buddhist whether the religious figure intends it or not will gain some degree of the same powers as the travelers.
    • This is what led to the incident with the Scorpion-Woman, as even Buddha and Guanyin didn't want a damn thing to do with her.
    • The Dragon-Horse even points this out when the group needs his piss to make a medicine; even if he pisses in a stream, the fish will turn into dragons.
  • The Trickster: Sun Wukong, the devious and rebellious monkey, is China's most well-known trickster.
  • True Sight: Wukong, as an unforeseen side effect of trying to melt him down in Lao Tzu's furnace, gained the ability to see through illusions.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Whenever accosted by beautiful women on his quest, Xuanzang's admirers offer to unite the male to the female.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The historical journey of Xuanzang to India - except he mostly did the entire thing himself, occasionally with a handful of human assistants. Real Xuanzang is also a badass: When he left he defied the emperor's order that no one leave the kingdom and snuck out, therefore putting himself at risk for decapitation. The Buddhist Sutras he brought back and translated became the basis for East Asian Buddhism, and his detailed records about his journey and what he saw became the foundation for historians' understanding of the Silk Road.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Xuanzang has a considerable number of opportunities to reject the celibacy that is expected of him, including several offers from supernatural sources, but he doesn't do so.
  • Weapons That Suck: Several examples, including the Crimson Gourd and Jade Pot (which both melt the victim), the Vajura Ring (which can suck and snatch every weapon, flame or danger around), the Human Bag (which sucks people inside it) and finally, the most dangerous one, the Yin Yang Pot, which destroys whoever's inside it with flames, serpents and dragons.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!/We Cannot Go On Without You: Happens each time Wukong gets expelled from the group (or quits himself).
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Zigzagged depending on the story arc. Killing humans is always very bad but the demons that kidnap Xuanzang are more likely to be imprisoned/reformed than killed. Guanyin outright says this trope to Wukong after one of his numerous freakouts as even innocent Half-Human Hybrid children are fair game but when subduing Red Boy/Boy Sage King she made sure to clear out every insect, bird and reptile within a hundred miles so they wouldn't be caught in the flood she released. When Red Boy makes another appearence, he lives on her island and has done a Heel–Face Turn thanks to her.
  • The Worf Effect:
    • Wukong and the Lion King have backstories of defeating big celestial armies alone.
    • Bajie and Wujing only exist to get the crap beaten out of them to show that Wukong needs to swoop in and save the day again.
    • Equally commonly is that Wukong is beaten as well and needs to fall back on greater Divine Intervention. Even then, some enemies like the Bull Demon King and the One-Horned King still give trouble to divine reinforcements.
  • Younger Mentor, Older Disciple: Tang Sanzang is a mortal monk in his twenties or thirties at oldest, while his three disciples are all immortal demigods who are centuries old, with Sun Wukong being over 500 years old due to his imprisonment under a mountain as punishment.
  • Zerg Rush: Wukong can create numerous clones of himself. A Zerg Rush of Wukong clones is nothing to sneeze at. This doesn't work with the Yellow Wind demon (who blows the clones away like straw) and the Gold Horned King and Red Boy (who both torch the clones into oblivion). Otherwise they can be frighteningly effective, as every Wukong flies around wielding the same staff he does.


Video Example(s):


The Child Stream Incident

Red from OSP retells an infamous chapter of Journey to The West, in which Tripitaka and Piggsy end up becoming pregnant, while at a Women-Only Town, after drinking from a childbearing stream. Luckily, they're able to get rid of it, before it becomes an issue.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / MisterSeahorse

Media sources: