Places: The Journey to the West

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Hsi-yu chi, 1592 (abridged English translation, Monkey, 1943; English translation, 1977-1983)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Seventh century

Places DiscussedMonkey’s cave

Monkey’s Journey to the West, Thecave. Home of Monkey at an unidentified location in China. Born from an egg transformed from a rock, Monkey reigns over the race of monkeys. Situated in mountains with trees and lakes, Monkey’s habitat is more or less an everywhere place for this everyman character of myth. The monkeys come to think of their cave and the surrounding area as paradise, and they wantonly occupy their time by wandering through the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit.

Jambudvipa

Jambudvipa. City in which Monkey spends ten years studying and learning the ways of men. After leaving his cave and his fellow monkeys when he realizes his own mortality, he crosses the ocean to the east and goes to Jambudvipa. He then crosses what is called the Western Ocean to arrive at Cave of the Slanting Moon and Three Stars, where a Taoist patriarch (who has monklike qualities) first informs him that he can become immortal. While in his stay, he learns how to transform himself into innumerable physical objects, foremost of which is the pine tree.

Heaven

Heaven. After an act of mischief in one of his transformations, Monkey is sent to Heaven itself where the Jade Emperor can both watch and train him. Here, in the Treasure Hall of Divine Mists in the Cloud Palace of the Golden Arches, Monkey continues his adventures with numerous other mythical characters, most of whom are from the Buddhist tradition. Heaven, here, is given to readers as a physical place, but one in which supernatural settings and characters larger than life can both thrive and clash. After one particular misadventure, Monkey is placed under a five-peaked mountain to serve penance and further perfect his spiritual existence; this mountain, so it turns out, had originally been Buddha’s fingers.

Chiang-chou

Chiang-chou. Province of China. In something of a flashback of the work, the story returns to this region to relate the story of Hsuan Tsang (also called Tripitaka) and his murdered father, the governor. In this setting are villages, farms, and large towns, as well as a temple–all reveal the sinful nature of China at the time this conspiracy is related. Hsuan Tsang, after learning the details of his father’s murder, makes a journey to the West, where he, too, comes to the Cloud Palace of the Golden Arches and meets the Jade Emperor. The trip occurs after Emperor T’ai Tsung of T’ang experiences a kind of Buddhist hell in a place called the World of Darkness.

Chinese countryside

Chinese countryside. In this epic trip, Tripitaka (accompanied by Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy) experiences more-than-typical occurrences on their spiritual pilgrimage on some very physical roads. Bandits accost them, for example, but, similarly, the journey comprises places from the supernatural: a dragon appears to give battle, and Monkey rides it. They come to the Cloud Ladder Cave near the River of Flowing Sands, on the banks of which are monsters to provide even more adventures. They also pass through two kingdoms: Crow-cock and Cart-slow.

Flaming Mountain

Flaming Mountain. Hellish place where flames consume everything over hundreds of square miles in which a significant part of the story is set. Because the mountain’s flames are inextinguishable, the only way to get beyond them–and thus to Buddhist heaven to find enlightenment and achieve immortality–is to fly over them by means of using an iron fan. Of all the geographic impossibilities in the work, this one is far more formidable than any of the others. Tripitaka and Monkey are eventually able to put out the flames permanently, and thus they transform the landscape into a set of mountains, which are yet impassable.

Blessed Region of Buddha

Blessed Region of Buddha. Surprisingly few details are given about Buddha’s actual habitat. It is a place in the spiritual world that has physical dimensions. Buddha lives in a most holy monastery where there is a Great Altar and the Great Hero Treasure Hall. It is a place of treasure chests and great feasts; the scrolls are kept in chests with precious jewels on the outside. Entrusted with these great religious scrolls, Monkey and the others are sent back to the Western Paradise; that is, they are sent back to China, where the people can now (because they have the scrolls) receive spiritual guidance and thereby remove themselves from their sinful ways of life.

BibliographyBantly, Francisca-Cho. “Buddhist Allegory in the Journey to the West.” Journal of Asian Studies 48, no. 3 (1989): 512-524. Analyzes and explains Buddhist allegorical elements interwoven into this novel.Ch’en, Shou-yi. Chinese Literature: A Historical Introduction. New York: Ronald Press, 1961. Discusses the structure of the work and traces the literary development of the presumed author.Christian Century. CI, March 7, 1984, p. 258.Hsia, C. T. The Classic Chinese Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968. Critical analysis of six major classical Chinese works includes Journey to the West. Gives historical background and traces similarities to and divergences from the epic pilgrimage of Hsüan Tsang to India, which provides its historical basis.Hsia, C. T., and T. A. Hsia. “New Perspectives on Two Ming Novels: Hsi Yu Chi and Hsi Yu Pu.” In Wen-lin: Studies in the Chinese Humanities, edited by Chow, Tse-tsung. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. Provides historical background in its comparison of The Journey to the West to another novel of the era.Liu, Wu-chi. An Introduction to Chinese Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966. Chapter 16 discusses Journey to the West as a supernatural novel that is as much a product of folk tradition as of the author’s creative imagination. Discusses the structure of the novel and concludes that it is a good-natured satire of human foibles and bureaucratic stupidity.The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, March 6, 1983, p. 7.Parabola. VIII, August, 1983, p. 122.So, Francis K. H. “Some Rhetorical Conventions of the Verse Sections of Hsi-yu-chi.” In China and the West: Comparative Literature Studies, edited by William Tay et al. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1980. Analyzes the verse sections, which use all the major genres of verse in Chinese literature, in Journey to the West.
Categories: Places