Journey to the West

Journey to the West (西游记 in Chinese, pronounced Xi You Ji) is a household legend and myth throughout East Asia, especially China, and among Chinese throughout the world. It is based on the real life monk Xuan Zang’s (also known as Tripitaka or Tang San Zang) pilgrimage to India, to fetch back some Buddhist scriptures. Nonetheless, this fictional retelling focuses on San Zang’s first disciple, the monkey king, Sun Wu Kong, who captured readers’ hearts and imagination with his bold, daring, and mischievous personality. He was also very rebellious. As a matter of fact, Wu Cheng En wrote Journey to the West to criticize China’s political system and society.

At its heart, however, Journey to the West is about Tang San Zang’s journey to the west (duh) and the difficulties he and his disciples face in between. It is overflowing with magic, demons, gods, immortals, and scrumptious action and adventure! It has lots of humor and some angst as well. Monkey King Wu Kong and the other disciples, a pig demon Zhu Ba Jie and the river demon Sha Wu Jing, have to battle hordes of demons, who all want their master because his flesh will give immortality to anyone who eats it.

This epic story is a captivating read, with the pilgrims getting into trouble in the most unexpected places, fighting through not only outright confrontation and abduction but also lies and disguises while using trickery of their own. Sun Wu Kong the Monkey King is especially good at this, having mastered the way of transforming himself into anything he likes, including a fly, tree, or a beautiful girl. Xi You Ji spans over a huge area, taking readers for a wild ride to the Heavens, volcanoes, seas, wide rivers, mountain peaks, demon-filled caves, right down to the pits of Hell. The plot is imaginative and full of conflict, either with external enemies or between the pilgrims themselves. The characters are well developed, with distinct, three-dimensional personalities. Well, most of them, at least. There are also underlying spiritual and religious themes. This masterpiece is frequently underestimated as it also portrays a realistic view of the political and social scenarios during the Ming Dynasty. In short, Xi You Ji is definitely worth your time. Grab the chance to experience one of the greatest classics of ancient China!

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