Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, is a figure who features in a body of legends that can be traced back to the Song dynasty. He appears as a main character in the 16th century Chinese classical novel Journey to the West (西游记/西遊記) and is found in many later stories and adaptations. In the novel, he is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha, he later accompanies the monk Tang Sanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from "the West".
|Birthplace||Flowers and Fruit Mountain|
|Source||Journey to the West, 16th century|
|Ability||immortality, 72 Di Sha transformation, Jin Dou Cloud, Unbreakable Body, Eye of Truth.|
|Weapon||Ruyi Jingu Bang|
"Sun Wukong" in Traditional (top) and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
|IPA||[myaʊʔ mí̃] (Miào Mīn)|
|Vietnamese||Tôn Ngộ Không|
|Indonesian||Sun Go Kong|
Sun Wukong possesses immense strength; he is able to lift his 13.500 jīn or 7960 kg staff with ease. He is also extremely fast, able to travel 108,000 li (21,675 kilometres (13,468 mi) in one somersault. Sun also knows the 72 Earthly transformations, which allow him to transform into various animals and objects. Sun Wukong is a skilled fighter, capable of defeating the best warriors of heaven. Each of his hairs possesses magical properties, capable of being transformed into clones of the Monkey King himself, and/or into various weapons, animals, and other objects. He knows spells to command wind, part water, conjure protective circles against demons, and freeze humans, demons, and gods alike.
One of the most enduring Chinese literary characters, Sun Wukong has a varied background and colorful cultural history. Sun Wukong's origin is from the White Monkey legends from the Chinese Chu kingdom (700–223 BC), which revered gibbons and especially white ones. These legends gave rise to stories and art motifs during the Han dynasty, eventually contributing to the rise of the Sun Wukong figure. Sun Wukong was initially developed as a Taoist immortal/Deity before being incorporated into Buddhist legends. He is also considered by some scholars to be influenced by elements of both Chinese folk tales and the Hindu deity Hanuman from the Ramayana.
Birth and early lifeEdit
According to the legend, Sun Wukong is born from a magic stone that sits atop the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. The stone develops a magic womb, which bursts open one day to produce a stone egg about the size of a ball.
When wind blows on the egg, it turns into a stone monkey that can already crawl and walk. As his eyes move, two beams of golden light shoot toward the Jade palace and startle the Jade Emperor. When he sees the light he orders two of his officers to investigate. They report the stone monkey, and that the light is dying down as the monkey eats and drinks. The Jade Emperor believes him to be nothing special.
On the mountain, the monkey befriends various animals, and joins a group of other monkeys. After playing, the monkeys regularly bathe in a stream.
One day, they decide to seek the stream's source, and climb the mountain to a waterfall. They declare that whoever goes through the waterfall, finds the stream's source, and comes out again will become their king. The stone monkey volunteers and jumps into the waterfall.
He finds a large iron bridge over rushing water, across which is a cave. He persuades the other monkeys to jump in also, and they make it into their home. Sun Wukong then reminds them of their prior declaration, so they declare him their king. He takes the throne and calls himself Handsome Monkey King.
Sun Wukong establishes himself as a powerful and influential demon. In search of a weapon, he travels to the oceans and acquires the Golden-banded staff Ruyi Jingu Bang (如意金箍棒), a treasure of Ao Kuang, the dragon-king of the Eastern Seas. Upon Sun Wukong's approach, the staff glows to signify it has found its true master. It can change its size, multiply, and fight according to its master's whim. It weighs 13,500 jin (8.1 tons). When not wielding the weapon, Sun Wukong shrinks it down to the size of a sewing needle and tucks it behind his ear.
In addition to taking the magical staff, Wukong defeats the dragons of the four seas in battle and forces them to give him a golden chain mail shirt (鎖子黃金甲), a phoenix-feather cap (鳳翅紫金冠 Fèngchìzǐjinguān), and cloud-walking boots (藕絲步雲履 Ǒusībùyúnlǚ). The phoenix-feather cap was one of the treasures of the dragon kings, a circlet of red gold adorned with phoenix feathers. Traditionally it is depicted as a metal circlet with two striped feathers attached to the front, presumably the signature plumage of the fenghuang or Chinese phoenix.
Upon his return to the mountain, he demonstrates the new weapon to his followers and draws the attention of other beastly powers, who seek to ally with him. He forms a fraternity with the Bull Demon King (牛魔王), the Saurian Demon King (蛟魔王), the Single-horned Demon King (单角魔王), the Roc Demon King (鵬魔王), the Lion Spirit King (獅狔王), the Macaque Spirit King (獼猴王) and the Snub-nosed monkey Spirit King (禺狨王).[Note 1]
Sun Wukong then defies Hell's attempt to collect his soul. Instead of reincarnating, he wipes his name out of the Book of Life and Death along with the names of all monkeys known to him. The Dragon Kings and the Kings of Hell report him to the Jade Emperor.
Havoc in HeavenEdit
Hoping that a promotion and a rank amongst the gods will make him more manageable, the Jade Emperor invites Sun Wukong to Heaven. The monkey believes he will receive an honorable place as one of the gods but is instead made the Protector of the Horses to watch over the stables, the lowest job in heaven. He rebels and proclaims himself The Great Sage, Heaven's Equal and sets the Cloud Horses free in vengeance.
The Heavens are forced to recognize his title; however, they again try to put him off as the guardian of the Heavenly Peach Garden. When he finds that he is excluded from a royal banquet that includes every other important god and goddess, his indignation turns to open defiance. He steals and consumes Xi Wangmu's Peaches of immortality, Laozi's pills of longevity, and the Jade Emperor's royal wine, then escapes back to his kingdom in preparation for his rebellion.
Sun Wukong later single-handedly defeats the Army of Heaven's 100,000 celestial warriors, all 28 constellations, four heavenly kings, and Nezha, and proves himself equal to the best of Heaven's generals, Erlang Shen. Eventually, through the teamwork of Taoist and Buddhist forces, including the efforts from some of the greatest deities, and then finally by the Bodhisattva of mercy, Guanyin, Sun Wukong is captured. After several failed attempts at execution, Sun Wukong is locked into Laozi's eight-way trigram Crucible to be distilled into an elixir (so that Laozi could regain his pills of longevity) by samadhi fires. After 49 days, however, when the cauldron is opened, Sun Wukong jumps out, having survived by hiding in a corner in which there was no fire and is now able to recognize evil with huǒyǎn-jīnjīng (火眼金睛) (lit. "golden-gaze fiery-eyes"), an eye condition that also gives him a weakness to smoke, and proceeds to destroy the crucible, following Heaven's remaining forces.
The Jade Emperor and the authorities of Heaven appeal to the Buddha, who arrives from his temple in the West. Buddha bets that Sun Wukong cannot escape from Buddha's palm. Sun Wukong smugly accepts the bet. He leaps and flies to the end of the world. Seeing nothing but five pillars, Wukong believes he has reached the ends of Heaven. To prove his trail, he marks the pillars with a phrase declaring himself the great sage equal to heaven (and in some versions, urinates on the pillar he signed on). He leaps back and lands in the Buddha's palm. He is surprised to find that the five "pillars" he found are in fact the fingers of the Buddha's hand. When Wukong tries to escape, the Buddha turns his hand into a mountain. Before Wukong can lift it off, the Buddha seals him there using a paper talisman bearing the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum in gold letters. Sun Wukong remains imprisoned for five hundred years.
Disciple to Tang SanzangEdit
Five hundred years later, the Bodhisattva Guanyin searches for disciples to protect a pilgrim on a journey to the West to retrieve the Buddhist sutras. In hearing of this, Sun Wukong offers to serve the pilgrim, Tang Sanzang, a monk of the Tang dynasty, in exchange for his freedom after the pilgrimage is complete. Understanding that the monkey will be difficult to control, Guanyin gives Tang Sanzang a gift from the Buddha: a magical circlet which, once Sun Wukong is tricked into putting it on, can never be removed. When Tang Sanzang chants a certain sutra, the band will tighten and cause an unbearable headache. To be fair, Guanyin gives Sun Wukong three special hairs, to be used in dire emergencies. Under Tang Sanzang's supervision, Sun Wukong is allowed to journey to the West.
Throughout the epic novel Journey to the West, Sun Wukong faithfully helps Tang Sanzang on his journey to India. They are joined by "Pigsy" (猪八戒 Zhu Bajie) and "Sandy" (沙悟浄 Sha Wujing), both of whom accompany the priest in order to atone for their previous crimes. Tang Sanzang's safety is constantly under threat from demons and other supernatural beings, as well as bandits. It is believed that by eating Tang Sanzang's flesh, one will obtain immortality and great power. Sun Wukong often acts as his bodyguard to combat these threats. The group encounters a series of eighty-one tribulations before accomplishing their mission and returning safely to China. During the journey, Sun Wukong learns about virtues and learns the teachings of Buddhism. There, Sun Wukong is granted Buddhahood, becoming the "Victorious Fighting Buddha" (Dòu-zhànshèng-fó (鬥戰勝佛)), for his service and strength.
Names and titlesEdit
Sun Wukong is known/pronounced as Suen Ng-hung in Cantonese, Son Gokū in Japanese, Son Oh Gong in Korean, Sun Ngō͘-khong in Minnan, Tôn Ngộ Không in Vietnamese, Sung Ghokong or Sung Gokhong in Javanese, Sun Ngokong in Thai, and Sun Gokong in Malay and Indonesian.
Listed in the order that they were acquired:
- Shí Hóu (石猴)
- Meaning the "Stone monkey". This refers to his physical essence, being born from a sphere of rock after millennia of incubation on the Bloom Mountains/Flower-Fruit Mountain.
- Měi Hóuwáng (美猴王)
- Meaning "Handsome Monkey-King", or Houwang for short. The adjective Měi means "beautiful, handsome, pretty"; it also means "to be pleased with oneself", referring to his ego. Hóu ("monkey") also highlights his "naughty and impish" character.
- Sūn Wùkōng (孫悟空)
- The name given to him by his first master, Patriarch Bodhi (Subodhi). The surname Sūn was given as an in-joke about the monkey, as monkeys are also called húsūn (猢猻), and can mean either a literal or a figurative "monkey" (or "macaque"). The surname sūn (孫) and the "monkey" sūn (猻) only differ in that the latter carries an extra "dog" (quǎn) radical to highlight that 猻 refers to an animal. The given name Wùkōng means "awakened to emptiness", sometimes translated as Aware of Vacuity.
- Bìmǎwēn (弼馬溫)
- The title of the keeper of the Heavenly Horses, a punning of bìmǎwēn (避馬瘟; lit. "avoiding the horses' plague"). A monkey was often put in a stable as people believed its presence could prevent the horses from catching illness. Sun Wukong was given this position by the Jade Emperor after his first intrusion into Heaven. He was promised that it was a good position to have, and that he, at least in this section, would be in the highest position. After discovering it was, in actuality, one of the lowest jobs in Heaven, he became angry, smashed the entire stable, set the horses free, and then quit. From then on, the title bìmǎwēn was used by his adversaries to mock him.
- Qítiān Dàshèng (齊天大聖)
- Meaning "The Great Sage, Heaven's Equal". Wùkōng took this title suggested to him by one of his demon friends, after he wreaked havoc in heaven people who heard of him called him Great Sage (Dàshèng, 大聖). The title originally holds no power, though it is officially a high rank. Later the title was granted the responsibility to guard the Heavenly Peach Garden, due to the Jade Emperor keeping him busy so he won't make trouble.
- Xíngzhě (行者)
- Meaning "ascetic", it refers to a wandering monk, a priest's servant, or a person engaged in performing religious austerities. Tang Sanzang calls Wukong Sūn-xíngzhě when he accepts him as his companion. This is pronounced in Japanese as gyōja (making him Son-gyōja).
- Dòu-zhànshèng-fó (鬥戰勝佛)
- "Victorious Fighting Buddha". Wukong was given this name once he ascended to buddhahood at the end of the Journey to the West. This name is also mentioned during the traditional Chinese Buddhist evening services, specifically during the eighty-eight Buddhas repentance.
- Líng-míngdàn-hóu (靈明石猴)
- "Intelligent Stone Monkey". Wukong is revealed to be as one of the four spiritual primates that do not belong to any of the ten categories that all beings in the universe are classified under. His fellow spiritual primates are the Six-Eared Macaque (六耳獼猴) (who is one of his antagonists in the main storyline), and the Red-Bottomed Horse Monkey (赤尻馬猴) & the Long-Armed Ape Monkey (通臂猿猴) (neither of who make actual appearances, only mentioned in passing by the Buddha), their powers and abilities all on par with each-other.
- Sūn Zhǎnglǎo (孫長老)
- Zhǎnglǎo used as honorific for monk, because Sun Wukong believed in Buddhism.
In addition to the names used in the novel, the Monkey King has other names in different languages:
Sun Wukong is able to gain immortality through five different means, all of which stack up to make him one of the most immortal and invincible beings.
Disciple to SubhutiEdit
After feeling down about the future and death, Wukong sets out to find the immortal Taoism sage Subhuti to learn how to be immortal. There, Wukong learns spells to grasp all five elements and cultivate the way of immortality, as well as the 72 Earthly transformations. After seven years of training with the sage, Wukong gains immortality. It is noted that, technically, the Court of Heaven does not approve of this method of immortality.
Book of MortalsEdit
In the middle of the night, Wukong's soul is tied up and dragged to the World of Darkness. He is informed there that his life in the human world has come to an end. In anger, Wukong fights his way through the World of Darkness to complain to "The Ten Kings", who are the judges of the dead. The Ten Kings try to address the complaint and calm Wukong by saying there are many people in the world who have the same name and the fetchers of the dead may have gotten the wrong name. Wukong demands to see the register of life and death, then scribbles out his name, thus making him untouchable by the fetchers of death. It is because Wukong has learned magic/magical arts as a disciple to Subhuti that he is able to scare and demand the book of mortals from the Ten Kings and remove his name, thus making him even more immortal. After this incident, the Ten Kings complain to the Jade Emperor.
Peach of ImmortalityEdit
Soon after the Ten Kings complain to the Jade Emperor, the Court of Heaven appoints Sun Wukong as "Keeper of the Heavenly Horses", which is a fancy name for a stable boy. Angered by this, Wukong rebels and the Havoc in Heaven begins. During the Havoc in Heaven, Wukong is assigned to be the "Guardian of the Heavenly Peach Garden". The peach garden include three types of peaches, all of which grant over 3,000 years of life if only one is consumed. The first type blooms every three thousand years; anyone who eats it will become immortal, and their body will become both light and strong. The second type blooms every six thousand years; anyone who eats it will be able to fly and enjoy eternal youth. The third type blooms every nine thousand years; anyone who eats it will become "eternal as heaven and earth, as long-lived as the sun and moon". While serving as the guardian, Wukong does not hesitate to eat the peaches, thus granting him immortality and the abilities that come with the peaches. If Wukong had not been appointed as the Guardian of the Heavenly Peach Garden, he would not have eaten the Peaches of Immortality and gained another level of immortality.
Because of Wukong's rebellious antics following his immortality after being a disciple to Subhuti and removing his name to the book of mortals, Wukong is not considered as an important celestial deity and is thus not invited to the Queen Mother of the West's royal banquet. After finding out that the Queen Mother of the West has not invited him to the royal banquet, which every other important deity was invited to, Wukong impersonates one of the deities that was invited and shows up early to see the deal with the banquet. He immediately gets distracted by the aroma of the wine and decides to steal and drink it. The heavenly wine also happens to have the ability to turn anyone who drinks it to an immortal.
Pills of LongevityEdit
While drunk from the heavenly wine from the royal banquet, Wukong stumbles into Laozi's alchemy lab, where he finds Laozi's pills of longevity, known as "The Immortals' Greatest Treasure." Filled with curiosity about the pills, Wukong eats a gourd of them. Those who eat the pills will become immortal. If Wukong had not been drunk from the heavenly wine, he would not have stumbled into Laozi's alchemy lab and eaten the pills of longevity.
Aftermath of ImmortalityEdit
Following Wukong's three cause-and-effect methods of immortality during his time in heaven, he escapes back to his home at the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. The Court of Heaven finds out what Wukong has done and a battle to capture Wukong ensues. Due to the five levels of immortality Wukong has achieved, his body has become nearly invincible and thus survives the multiple execution attempts by heaven. In the notable last execution, Wukong is placed inside Laozi's furnace in hopes that he will be distilled into the pills of the immortality elixir. Wukong survives 49 days of the samadhi fire in Laozi's furnace and gains the ability to recognize evil. In desperation, the court of heaven seeks help from Buddha, who finally imprisons Wukong under a mountain. Wukong's immortality and abilities ultimately come into use after Guanyin suggest him to be a disciple to Tang Sanzang in the Journey to the West. There, he protects Sanzang from the evil demons who try to eat Sanzang to gain immortality. Wukong's immortality protects him from the various ways the demons try to kill him, such as beheading, disemboweling, poisoning, boiling oil, and so on, none of which kill Wukong. It should also be noted that sometime during the journey, Wukong obtains a Man-fruit (人參果), a fruit even more rare and powerful than the Peaches of Immortality, as only 30 of them will spawn off one particular tree only found on the Longevity Mountain (萬壽山) every 10,000 years. While one smell can grant 360 years of life, consuming one will grant another 47,000 years of life.
The brief satirical novel Xiyoubu (西游补, "Supplement to the Journey to the West," c. 1640) follows Sun as he is trapped in a magical dream world created by the Qing Fish Demon, the embodiment of desire (情, qing). Sun travels back and forth through time, during which he serves as the adjunct King of Hell and judges the soul of the recently dead traitor Qin Hui during the Song dynasty, takes on the appearance of a beautiful concubine and causes the downfall of the Qin dynasty, and even faces King Paramita, one of his five sons born to the demoness Princess Iron Fan, on the battlefield during the Tang dynasty. The events of the Xiyoubu take place between the end of chapter 61 and the beginning of chapter 62 of Journey to the West. The author, Tong Yue (童说), wrote the book because he wanted to create an opponent—in this case desire—that Sun could not defeat with his great strength and martial skill.
- Some scholars believe this character may have originated from the first disciple of Xuanzang, Shi Banto.
- The Hindu deity Hanuman from the Ramayana is also considered by some scholars to be one of the influences for Sun Wukong.
- In The Shaolin Monastery (2008), Tel Aviv University Prof. Meir Shahar claims that Sun influenced a legend concerning the origins of the Shaolin staff method. The legend takes place during the Red Turban Rebellion of the Yuan dynasty. Bandits lay siege to the monastery, but it is saved by a lowly kitchen worker wielding a long fire poker as a makeshift staff. He leaps into the oven and emerges as a monstrous giant big enough to stand astride both Mount Song and the imperial fort atop Shaoshi Mountain (which are five miles apart). The bandits flee when they behold him. The Shaolin monks later realize that the kitchen worker was the Monastery's guardian deity, Vajrapani, in disguise. Shahar compares the worker's transformation in the stove with Sun Wukong's time in Laozi's crucible, their use of the staff, and the fact that Sun Wukong and his weapon can both grow to gigantic proportions.
- The character of Son Goku in Dragon Ball is based on Sun Wukong, as attested by his monkey tail, staff, and name (which is simply the Japanese reading of the same name in Chinese: "孫悟空").
- Chinese DAMPE satellite is nicknamed after Wu Kong. The name could be understood as "understand the void" literally, relates to the undiscovered dark matter.
- The character Sun Wukong in RWBY is actually based on the lore; but instead of using his hair to make the clones, he can make the clones using his semblance through his aura.
- Sun Wukong appears in the light novel Campione! as a heretic god of steel.
- The title character from the Capcom game SonSon, and the character's granddaughter (also named SonSon) who appears in Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, are both based on the character of Sun Wukong, with the Jindou Cloud, staff, clones, and other various references to the character appearing. SonSon as a game is also a general reference to Journey To The West.
- In Dota 2 (Valve Corporation's popular MOBA) there is a hero called Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, which is based on Sun Wukong.
- Wukong is a playable character in the game Warframe, having abilities focused around his Iron Staff, cloud walking, immortality and cloning himself.
- In Riot's MOBA game League of Legends, Wukong is a playable champion which takes his name, appearance, and weapon from Sun Wukong.
- Sun Wukong is one of the playable characters in Koei's Warriors Orochi series.
- Sun Wukong is a playable character in HiRez Studio's MOBA, Smite. Wukong has abilities based on his staff shifting size, his ability to transform, and his ability to duplicate. 
- Sun Wukong is a recurring demon in Megami Tensei series, usually appearing under the name Seiten Taisei (Japanese translation of his Qítiān Dàshèng title). Notably, he appears in Persona 5 as the ultimate Persona of Ryuji Sakamoto.
- (from Hokkien pronunciation of "行者" (Hêng-chiá))
- Shahar, Meir (2008). The Shaolin monastery: History, religion, and the Chinese martial arts. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9780824831103.
- Journey to the West, Wu Cheng'en (1500–1582), Translated by Foreign Languages Press, Beijing 1993.
- Hera S. Walker, "Indigenous or Foreign?: A Look at the Origins of the Monkey Hero Sun Wukong," Sino-Platonic Papers, 81 (September 1998)
- Wendy Doniger. "Hanuman (Hindu mythology)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
- Ramnath Subbaraman, "Beyond the Question of the Monkey Imposter: Indian Influence on the Chinese Novel The Journey to the West," Sino-Platonic Papers, 114 (March 2002)
- Wu, Cheng−en (1982). Journey to the West. Translated by Jenner, William John Francis. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press. ISBN 0835110036.
- King Paramita is the only son to make an appearance and to be called by name in the novel. These sons did not originally appear in Journey to the West.
- Tong, Yue, Shuen-fu Lin, Larry James Schulz, and Chengẻn Wu. The Tower of Myriad Mirrors: A Supplement to Journey to the West. Michigan classics in Chinese studies, 1. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2000
- Tong, The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, p. 5
- Tong, The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, p. 133
- ‹See Tfd›(in Chinese) http://www.cctv.com/program/tsfx/topic/geography/C17917/02/
- Shahar, Meir. The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008 (ISBN 0-8248-3110-1)
- "From Sun Wukong to Son Goku: Mythology in Graphic Novels – The Graphic Novel".
- "China's new Monkey King set for journey into space". Xinhua. 16 December 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
- "RWBY episodes". rooster teeth. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
- "Dota 2". Monkey King. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
- Naming the demon kings is tricky (as are many other things in Journey to the West). First, there are several translations into English. Second, some of them translate some names incorrectly. Third, Chinese characters used to describe certain animals at the time Journey was written are much less specific than we might want. Hopefully, the 6th brother belongs (with decreasing probability) to Colobinae, Snub-nosed monkey, Golden snub-nosed monkey.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sun Wukong.|
- Sun Wukong Character Profile A detailed character profile of Sun Wukong, with character history, listing and explanations of his various names and titles, detailed information on his weapon, abilities, powers, and skills, and also a detailed explanation of his personality.
- Monkey King Thrice Beats White-Skeleton Demon
- Story of Sun Wukong with manhua
- Sun Wukong's entry at Godchecker is a tongue-in-cheek take on the Great Sage.
- ‹See Tfd›(in Chinese) Journey to the West