Journey to the West reviewed

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    Journey to the West is one of the most iconic novels in world literature. So, read this review to determine if the book should be your next read.

    Journey to the West is a notable piece of Chinese literature written anonymously in the 16th century, during the Ming dynasty. The novel is accredited to Wu Cheng’en, a famous scholar of that time. However, there’s no substantial evidence to prove its authorship.

    Certainly, Journey to the West stands tall as a Chinese odyssey and one of the four greatest classical novels in Chinese literature. However, it could not have reached this height of success without the outstanding contribution of Arthur Waley.

    Waley was a renowned English orientalist who lived between 1889 and 1960. He translated this classic Chinese novel into English and is widely celebrated for translating various Japanese and Chinese texts.

    A Journey to the West English translation made the novel more accessible, allowing the western world to enjoy the richness of this Chinese literary heritage. So, keep reading to determine if this novel is worth adding to your reading list.

    What is Journey to the West about?

    Journey to the West explores the story of a Buddhist monk who travels from China to India to search for Buddhist sutras. The monk is called Tang Sanzang, also referred to as Tripitaka. The Buddha assigns Tang Sanzang three talented but unruly disciples to help him navigate the journey.

    These disciples include a mischievous Monkey King, a greedy pig called Pigsy, and Sandy, the river monster. Their respective Chinese names are Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing.

    The three disciples agree to escort Tripitaka on his journey as a way to make up for their past mistakes. For instance, Monkey King causes havoc in heaven by disrupting the gods’ work and getting attention from the Jade Emperor. On the other hand, Pigsy terrorized innocent villagers while Pigsy is responsible for feasting on ill-fated travelers.

    The Monkey King is the most irreplaceable and talented of the three disciples. He was conceived from a well-nourished stone egg when the Earth was still very young and given magic powers and the secrets of heaven and earth. He can travel through clouds, identify disguised demons and transform into 72 different forms and shapes.

    To prevent Sun Wukong from misusing his supernatural powers, the Bodhisattva Guanyin gives Tripikata a headband that tightens whenever he wants to use his magic powers.

    The Monkey King is a monumental character because he protects Tripitaka and helps him navigate the dangerous road.

    Journey to the West draws its mythological inspiration from a real-life Chinese folktale surrounding Xuanzang, a devout Buddhist monk who lived during the Tang Dynasty. It is a fictionalized version of monk Xuanzang’s journey to India through the Silk Road. Similar to its fictional retelling, the journey aimed to retrieve Buddhist scriptures.

    The whole novel is deeply rooted in Chinese mythology, Confucianism, traditional Chinese value systems, the Chinese folk religion, Taoist theology, and Buddhism.

    Notable adaptations

    Journey to the West has been told in different ways through movies, films, and books. Here are some of the notable book adaptations of this enticing novel.

    American Born Chinese

    American Born Chinese is a graphic novel written by Jene Luen Yang. It was the finalist for the National Book Awards in 2006. It has also won other awards, including Michael L. Printz Award and Eisner Award in 2007.

    American Born Chinese features three different narratives. One of these narratives features Monkey King, the famous character from the Journey to the West. In the novel, the Monkey King is dissatisfied with his original form, and the story takes the reader through his journey to self-acceptance and enlightenment.

    Girl Giant and the Monkey King

    This novel is a creation of Van Hoang and borrows heavily from Journey to the West. The novel follows the story of Thom Ngho, an 11-year-old girl with superpowers. From frustration with her abilities, she decides to get help from the Monkey King, the famous trickster from Journey to the West. In this novel, the Monkey is also known as the Great Sage of Heaven.

    Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

    Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is a comedic cinematographic retelling of the original, created by the Chinese filmmaker Stephen Chow. The film borrows heavily from the source material but creates a spin on it through Chow’s overly exaggerated comedic style. It also takes a slightly different angle on common Taoism themes present in the original. It is well-received by critics and even has a sequel.

    About the author

    As mentioned, the authorship of Journey to the West is disputed, but one man is commonly believed to have created or at least penned the oral work.

    Wu Cheng’en is a renowned novelist and poet who lived between 1500 and 1582. He was particularly interested in popular stories, classical literature, and anecdotes. Cheng’en received a traditional education but was well-known for his abilities and talent.

    In 1544, a prestigious university in Nanjing appointed him as a resident scholar. In 1546, Wu Cheng’en relocated to Beijing, where his literary prowess continued to blossom. While in Beijing, Cheng’en joined a small literary group where he further solidified his craft in classical-style stories.

    After extensive travels, Wu Cheng’en ultimately settled in Huai’an in 1570. Throughout his life, he demonstrated a deep fascination for both written and oral folktales, which culminated in the creation of his celebrated work, Xiyouji.

    Certainly, Cheng’en was a man with boundless imagination and an insatiable appetite for the unconventional. While people don’t know much about him, they acknowledge him for his classic Chinese folktale novel.

    Listen to notable historical works with Speechify Audiobooks

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    FAQ

    Why is Journey to the West still so popular?

    Journey to the West is still popular because of its timeless satire and thrilling adventures. 

    What is the moral lesson of the journey to the West?

    The main moral lessons in the Journey to the West are human perseverance, determination, ambition, and, most importantly, the importance of enlightenment of the human spirit.

    What are the main themes in the Journey to the West?

    Some main themes in the Journey to the West include religion, self-righteousness, and human redemption.

    Which English translation of the Journey to the West is most accurate?

    There are many English translations of the Journey to the West by various translators, including Anthony C. Yu, W.J.F. Jenner, and Arthur Waley. However, many readers consider Anthony C. Yu’s version published in the University of Chicago Press more accurate.

    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.

    Dyslexia & Accessibility Advocate, CEO/Founder of Speechify Dyslexia & Accessibility Advocate, CEO/Founder of Speechify

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