A book hailed as one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, Journey to the West was originally published by an unknown author in the 1590’s during the Ming Dynasty. Although mystery has surrounded the true identity of the author it is widely accepted that it is the work of scholar Wu Cheng’en.

A tale of Buddhism, adventure, culture and Chinese mythology, Journey To The West tells the fictional account of a pilgrimage undertaken by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, also known as Prince Tripitaka, to retrieve sacred scrolls from India.

On his journey Xuanzang is appointed three unruly disciples by Buddha in the form of the greedy pig beast Pigsy, the river monster Sandy and his most valuable disciple Monkey. Hatched from a stone egg when the Earth was still young and granted the secrets of heaven and earth, the mischievous and irrepressible Monkey rides on clouds, can turn invisible and transform into any other shape. Monkey’s special skills become invaluable when the traveling group is pitted against dragons, bandits, and evil magicians that threaten to put an end to their quest. Along his journey, Xuanzang rides a white horse that is a Dragon Prince who has promised to keep him going on his journey. All of Xuanzang’s disciples agree to help him on his journey to atone for past crimes; Pigsy for terrorizing a village, Sandy for eating unfortunate passers-by and Monkey for disrupting the business of the Gods and causing havoc in heaven.

Journey To The West has its roots in Chinese folk stories, Chinese mythology and the Buddhist value system. These value systems of Taoist immortals and Buddhist bodhisattvas are still present in Chinese culture today, proving the story’s timeless quality.

The novel is not only an entertaining and amusing story with slapstick elements, but an enlightening one too. Giving the reader a spiritual insight, the novel is about the journey an individual takes towards enlightenment and finding peace within himself.

Journey to the West begins by telling the tale of how Monkey came into existence and the mischief he caused that got him into so much trouble with the gods, which ultimately resulted in him being trapped under Five Element Mountain by Buddha. After this, the book then picks up with Xuanzang and his reluctant start on his journey towards enlightenment.

Wu Cheng’en paints an amazing and vivid image for the reader. His words create a beautiful world the reader cannot help but become submerged in. A combination of nonsense, comedy and spirituality, Journey to the West leaves the reader entertained, longing for more and a little closer to understanding Buddhism and spirituality.

Best bit: Where Monkey goes on a rampage through heaven after eating sacred fruits.

Talks are being held to adapt the book into a 3D trilogy…

Click here to buy Monkey (Penguin Classics) from Amazon


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