Sūn Wùkōng, in the West often called Monkey King or simply Monkey, is a main character in the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West. He is a prominent cultural and folkloric figure across Asia.
Wùkōng begins life as a rock on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, which the winds shape into a monkey that becomes supernaturally animated. He soon becomes leader of a tribe of monkeys who take up safe residence in the Cave of the Water Curtain. Wùkōng reigns happily over the monkeys for many years until he finally begins to realize his own mortality. Seeking a way to become immortal, Wùkōng first trains under a Buddhist patriarch and masters many magic spells. When the Ten Judges of the Dead come to collect him, he fights back, managing to erase his name and all the monkeys’ names from the Book of Life and Death. Kings of Heaven report him to the Jade Emperor for this wrongdoings.
At the immortals’ residence on Mount Pénglái, Wùkōng is appointed Keeper of the Heavenly Horses to keep him out of trouble. When he finds out what a low rank this really is, he rebels, appointing himself “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven”. After a long fight, the gods are forced to recognize this title, and Wùkōng is appointed guardian of Xī Wáng Mǔ’s heavenly peach garden. When he learns that the Bā Xiān have excluded him from an important banquet, he rebels again, stealing Xī Wáng Mǔ’s peaches of immortality, Lao Tzu’s pills of longevity, and the Jade Emperor’s royal wine, devouring them all. He then returns to the Cave of the Water Curtain, where the Army of Heaven attacks. Wùkōng defeats the entire army as well as Erlang Shen, heaven’s greatest general.
Buddha finally traps Wùkōng in a mountain, under a seal with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. Here he remains until Guānyīn makes him Xuánzàng’s disciple. He accompanies Xuánzàng on the journey to retrieve sutras from India, alternatively protecting his companions and causing mischief. Wùkōng ultimately achieves enlightenment and becomes a Buddha, finally getting his long-desired immortality.
- Fèngchìzǐjinguān (鳳翅紫金冠)/”Phoenix-feather Cap”: One of the treasures of the Dragon Kings, Ào Qin gives this to him in order to get rid of him when he acquires the Rúyì Jīn Gū Bàng.
- 鎖子黃金甲/ “golden chain mail”: One of the treasures of the Dragon Kings; Ào Run gives this to him in order to get rid of him when he acquires the Rúyì Jīn Gū Bàng.
- Magical Headband: Not so much a possession as a trap; Guanyin gives Xuánzàng this headband to help him keep Wùkōng under control. A special chant causes the headband to tighten, inflicting terrible pain.
- Ǒusībùyúnlǚ (藕絲步雲履)/”cloud-stepping boots” or “cloud-stepping shoes”: Made of lotus fiber, these are one of the treasures of the Dragon Kings; Ào Ming gives them to him in order to get rid of him when he acquires the Rúyì Jīn Gū Bàng.
- Rúyì Jīn Gū Bàng (如意金箍棒)/”Magic Golden-Clasped Rod” or “Ideal Golden-bound Cudgel”: His primary weapon, originally an iron rod used to measure the depth of the sea. The Rúyì Jīn Gū Bàng was given to him by Ào Guǎng. The staff weighs 13,500 jin (8.1 tons), but Wùkōng can lift it easily and change it to any size. He usually shrinks it to the size of a sewing needle and puts it behind his apple when he is not using it.
- 72 Bian/”72 Transformations”: Allows him to shapeshift into almost any form—however, he is never able to transform his tail. He can also transform each of the 84,000 hairs on his body into another form, animate or inanimate, and often bites the hairs into pieces to create even more copies.
- Bi Huo Jue/”Fire Avoidance Charm”: Allows him to survive fire.
- Bi Shui Jue/”Water Avoidance Charm”: Allows him to survive deep water; however, he is unable to fight while using this ability.
- Body Freezing Spell: Allows him to immobilize enemies.
- Huǒyǎn-jīnjīng(火眼金睛)/”fiery-eyes golden-gaze”: Allows him to identify evil no matter what form it takes; however, it also causes smoke to sting his eyes. Wùkōng acquired this ability after Lao Tzu traps Wùkōng in his cauldron for 49 days, attempting to distill him as punishment.
- Jie Suo Fa/”Lock-Breaking Spell”: Allows him to point a finger or his staff and open any lock.
- Jīndǒuyún/”cloud-somersault” or “cloud trapeze”: Allows him to cover 108,000 li (54,000 km, 33,554 mi) in a single leap.
- Protective Circle: Allows him to erect an impassible barrier by drawing a circle on the ground with his staff.
- Shen Wai Shen Fa/”Body Outside of Body”: Specifically refers to his ability to transform his hairs into fighting clones of himself.
- Summoning: Allows him to summon local deities.
- Wind: Allows him to summon strong winds and storms.
Names and Titles
Sūn Wùkōng is also known as:
- Cambodian: Sun Wukong
- Cantonese: Suen Ng Hung (孫悟空/孙悟空)
- English: Monkey King or Monkey
- Indonesian: Sun Go Kong
- Japanese: Son Gokū (そん ごくう)
- Korean: Son Oh Gong (손오공)
- Thai: Heng Chia (เห้งเจีย) or Sun Ngo Khong (ซุนหงอคง)
- Vietnamese: Tôn Ngộ Không
- Dòu-zhànshèng-fó (鬥戰勝佛)/”Victorious Fighting Buddha”: His name once he achieves enlightenment and becomes a Buddha.
- Měi Hóuwáng (美猴王)/”Handsome Monkey King”: This is not so much praise of his appearance as it is a jab at his large ego.
- Shí Hóu (石猴)/”Stone Monkey”: His first name, which refers to the fact that he was supernaturally created from a stone.
- Sūn Wùkōng (孫悟空)/”Monkey Awakened to Emptiness”: His Buddhist name given to him by the Patriarch.
- Xíngzhě (行者)/”Ascetic”: This name refers to a wandering monk, a priest’s servant, or anyone leading an ascetic lifestyle. The monk Xuánzàng addresses Wùkōng as this after Wùkōng joins him on his quest for the sutras.
- Bìmǎwēn (弼馬溫): The title of the Keeper of the Heavenly Horses, a lofty-sounding position that is actually one of the lowest in the Jade Emperor’s court. Wùkōng originally takes this position thinking that it is a much higher rank; when he discovers the truth, he smashes the stables, frees the horses, and quits.
- Qítiān Dàshèng (齊天大聖)/”Great Sage Equal of Heaven”: He gives himself this title, which would be high-ranking had it existed. He is so persistent about deserving this title that the Jade Emperor eventually gives in, making the Qítiān Dàshèng the guardian of Xī Wáng Mǔ’s heavenly peach garden.
- The Sūn Wùkōng festival takes place on the sixteenth day of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
- The Buddhist temple in Xiùmàopíng, Hong Kong, has a shrine to Sūn Wùkōng.
- Sūn Wùkōng has been depicted in many films, television series, and video games; both directly and indirectly related to Journey to the West. Most recently, he has been played by Jet Li in Forbidden Kingdom.
- Wu Ch'eng-en, Arthur Waley, Monkey.