The Monkey King
Real Name: Sun Wukong (Chinese name)
Identity/Class: Supernatural being, deity
Occupation: (formerly) King of the Monkeys; (current) bodyguard to Tripitaka
Affiliations: Tripitaka, Sandy, Pigsy
Known Relatives: All monkeys
Aliases: Great Sage Equal of Heaven, King Monkey, King of the Apes, The immortal egg.
Base of Operations: China
First Appearance: Journey to the West (c.1500), although the original legend may date back to c 600 A.D.
Powers/Abilities: The Monkey King was born out of rock, and hence is extremely strong and durable - in fact he is totally invulnerable. He is immortal, having gorged himself on the life-giving peaches of the Jade Emperor's sacred garden. He is also extremely smart - he learned all the magic tricks in the world from a master Taoist, so that he is now able to transform himself into seventy-two different images such as a tree, a bird, a beast of prey or a bug as small as a mosquito so as to sneak into an enemy's belly to fight him inside or out. He can employ clouds as vehicles allowing him to travel 180,000 miles in a single somersault. He uses a Wishing Staff he got from the Dragon Kings of the Oceans as his favorite weapon - it can expand or shrink at its owner's command (he normally stores it in his earlobe). He can turns clumps of his hair into any object he desires. His fiery eyes can see through most illusions. Being made of stone, he is uncomfortable underwater.
History: "The Nature of Monkey was Irrepressible!!" Monkey was hatched from a magical egg on a mountain top, which had been weathered and fertilised by the elements over many centuries. Made of stone and virtually indestructible (although he still feels pain), he was crowned the Monkey King after he proved to be the only monkey on the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers to dare go through the Water Curtain and set up a kingdom on Earth. Upon realising that he was destined to die like everyone else, he made it his new goal to become immortal. He located a Taoist who taught him magic and alchemy (and how to fly on clouds).
After this he began a reign of unbelievable mischief. He bullied the Dragon Kings of the Oceans into giving him a Magic Wishing Staff, and the clothes to match it. He crossed off his name and the names of all his monkey subjects from the "Monkey File" in the Register of the Quick and the Dead, thus rendering all his original subjects immortal as well. When Heaven sent down people to punish him for these escapades he beat them up and sent them back. Emboldened by this success, he then went to Heaven himself and demanded the title "Great Sage - Equal of Heaven" - which he got (but with no salary to go with it) as it was decided the easiest way to contain his mischief was to trick him into staying in Heaven.
But even there he created chaos with his restless irreverence and irrepressible curiosity. Things came to a peak when he ate the peaches from the Jade Emperor's Sacred Peach Garden, making himself even more truly immortal. The Peaches were intended for the Peach Banquet, which he then totally disrupted by making a mess of the arrangements, drinking all the wine, eating up all the finger-food, and gobbling down the Elixir concocted by Lao Tsu for the Cinnabar Banquet. Following this debacle, he fled from Heaven, pursued by the hundred thousand soldiers of same. When they caught up with him, but he beat them up too. It was not until Lao Tsu threw down his Diamond Snare, hitting Monkey on the head, that the recalcitrant captured.
He was sentenced to be cut up into small pieces, but the soldier trying to carry out the punishment found they couldn't injure him. So the spirits of the Fire Stars were sent in to burn him, but he didn't burn. The thunder spirits had even less success in trying to hurl thunderbolts at him. The combination of Monkey's Taoist skills, the Peaches of Immortality, the Wine of Heaven, the food and the five bowls full of the Elixir of Long Life he consumed, had made him truly indestructible. Even when Lao Tsu put him into his Crucible of the Eight Trigrams and heated him with alchemic fire for 49 days, the only effect it had was to make Monkey's eyes permanently red. Monkey escaped and then proceeded to run amok in Heaven in a rage, smashing everything and beating up everyone he encountered.
At this point the Buddha intervened. The Buddha made a wager with Monkey, betting him that he could not jump out of Buddha's hand. Should Monkey win, he demanded the Jade Emperor's job; should he lose, then he would be banished to Earth for centuries to learn some humility.
Monkey cloud-flew to the end of the universe, where he saw five pink pillars, which he took to be the end of the world. On the middle pillar he wrote "The Great Sage Equal of Heaven reached this place", to prove beyond any doubt he had reached this spot. Figuring it was a long trip back, and being the irrepressible individual he was, he also urinated at the base of the first pillar. Then he returned to face the Buddha. To his shock, the Buddha informed him he had never left Buddha's hand - and to prove it, showed Monkey the writing on his middle finger and the distinctive smell at the bottom of his smallest digit. Monkey tried to renege on the bet, but before he could escape, Buddha pushed him out of the Gate of Heaven, then Buddha changed his five fingers into the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth). They became the five-peaked mountain under which Monkey was trapped, leaving only his head and hands exposed.
After 500 years he was granted a chance to redeem himself by accompanying holy man Tripitaka on a journey to the West as his companion and guard. In order to keep him under control, a band of metal was put on his head that Tripitaka could cause to tighten by muttering a chant - while this couldn't hurt the indestructible imp, it would cause him extreme pain.
Comments: The story of the Monkey King was recorded in the epic tale "Journey to the West" by Wu Ch'eng-en (1500?-1582), a scholar-official. It is one of the best known classical Chinese novels, replete with Chinese fables, fairy tables, legends, superstitions, popular beliefs and monster stories. It was based on a true story of a famous Chinese monk, Xuan Zang (602-664). Over the space of many years he made his way on foot to what is today India, birthplace of Buddhism, where he sought the Sutra, the Buddhist holy book. On his return to China, known at that time as the Great Tang, he began to translate the sutras into Chinese, making a significant contribution to the development of Buddhism in China.
In the popular TV series based on the story Monkey was played by Masaaki Sakai. Another version of him was played by Russell Wong (above, right) in the US TV movie "The Lost Empire", and by Dicky Cheung in the Hong Kong movie "Chai tin dai sing suen ng hung" (Monkey King: Quest for the Sutra). Stephen Chow, best known in the West for Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, played the Monkey King in both parts of the movie series "A Chinese Odyssey" (Part One: Pandora's Box, Part Two: Cinderella - thanks to Carlos Cruz for this last). Jet Li played the part in The Forbidden Kingdom.
Jerry Helliker informs me that "they made a cartoon-movie about him 1965 with the name "Uproar in Heaven" (Da Nao Tian Gong) which is one of the best cartoons ever made. They also made a tv-series in China about him round 1985 with Liu Xiao Lingtong in the role as Sun Wukong" (the Chinese version of his name).
Carlos Cruz informs me that the 1965 cartoon was an anime film made by Toei animation studios, and that it's English title was Alacazam the Great. Carlos adds "There are also several videogames on the Monkey King, and in Capcom vs Marvel, there is a female character with a red staff that extends on her command. She comes on the stage on a cloud and her father the monkey king is flying the cloud. The character's name is Son Son. There was an intergalactic anime I saw as a kid of a princes trying to get to the center of the universe to find her father. The man she hired has two sticks that come together and becomes a staff and he can extended to his desired size, it is also indestructible. Because of his bad temper and mischief, she gave him a crown that shrinks on his head causing him great pain when he misbehaves or just to control him. And there is an anime cartoon called Shinzo, which is another Monkey King storyline."
Kane Turley informs me that the Anime Dragonball Z is based on the legend of the Monkey King. Thanks to Terry Hooper for the topmost image, taken from the 1976 comic written and drawn by Tsui Yu-on.
CLARIFICATIONS: Not to be confused with
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