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File:Sun Wukong.jpg
Sun Wukong depicted in Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 1889.

Sūn Wùkōng, also known as the Monkey King, is a main character in the classical Chinese epic novel Journey to the West (西遊記, Pinyin: Xīyóujì). In the novel, he is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India.


Sun Wukong possesses an immense amount of strength; he is able to lift his 13,500 jīn (8,100 kg or 17,881 lbs) staff with ease. He is also superbly fast, able to travel 108,000 li (54,000 kilometers or 33,554 mi) in one somersault.

Sun knows 72 transformations, which allows him to transform into various animals and objects; he has trouble, however, transforming into other people, because he is unable to complete the transformation of his tail. He is a skilled fighter, capable of holding his own against the best generals of heaven.

Each of his hairs possesses magical properties, and is capable of transforming either into a clone of the Monkey King himself, or various weapons, animals, and other objects.

Sun Wukong also knows spells that can command wind, part water, conjure protective circles against demons, and freeze humans, demons, and gods alike.


Sun Wukong is born on Flower Fruit Mountain from a stone egg that forms from an ancient rock created by the coupling of heaven and earth. He first distinguishes himself by bravely entering the Cave of Water Curtains on the mountain; for this feat, his monkey tribe gives him the title of "Handsome Monkey-King". After angering several gods and coming to the attention of the Jade Emperor, he is given a minor position in heaven as the Protector of Horses (弼马温) so they can keep an eye on him.

When Sun Wukong realizes that he is not considered a full-fledged god, he becomes very angry. Upon returning to his mountain, he puts up a flag and declares himself the "Great Sage Equaling Heaven." Then the Jade emperor dispatches celestial soldiers to arrest Sun Wukong, but no one succeeds. The Jade emperor has no choice but to appoint him to be the patrolman of the heavenly peach garden. The peaches in the garden bear fruit every 3,000-years, eating its flesh will bestow immortality, so Wukong eats one and becomes more powerful and matchless.

Later, Sun Wukong starts making trouble in Heaven and defeats an army of 100,000 celestial soldiers, led by the Four Heavenly Kings, Erlang Shen, and Nezha. Eventually, the Jade Emperor appeals to Buddha, who detains Wukong under a mountain called Five Elements Mountain (五行山). He is later set free when Xuanzang comes upon him during his pilgrimage and accepts him as a disciple.

Sun Wukong's primary weapon is the "will-following golden-banded staff," which he can shrink down to the size of a needle and keep behind his ear, as well as expand it to gigantic proportions (hence the "will-following" part of the name). The staff, originally a pillar supporting the undersea palace of the Dragon King of the East Sea, weighs 18,000 pounds, which he pulls out of its support and swings with ease.

The Dragon King, unwilling to see a monkey making troubles in his favorite place, also gives him a suit of golden armor. These gifts, combined with his devouring of the peaches of immortality, three jars of immortality pills, and his time being tempered in Laozi's eight-trigram furnace (which gives him a steel-hard body and fiery golden eyes), makes Sun the strongest member by far of the pilgrimage.

Besides these abilities, Sun Wukonge can also pluck hairs from his body and blow on them to convert them into whatever he wishes (usually clones of himself to gain a numerical advantage in battle). Although he is a master of the 72 methods of transformation (七十二变),[4] such as birds, which would give him the ability to fly, he can also do a "cloud somersault," enabling him to travel vast distances in a single leap. The monkey, nimble and quick-witted, uses these skills to defeats all but the most powerful of demons on the journey.

Sun's behavior is checked by a band placed around his head by Guan Yin Bodhisattva, which cannot be removed by Sun himself until the journey's end. Xuanzang can tighten this band by chanting the "Tightening-Crown spell" (taught to him by Guan Yin) whenever he needs to chastise him. The spell is referred to by Xuanzang's disciples as the "Headache Sutra", which is the Buddhist mantra "oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ." Xuanzang speaks this mantra quickly in repetition.

Sun's child-like playfulness is a huge contrast to his cunning mind. This, coupled with his great power, makes him a Trickster hero. His antics present a lighter side in what proposes to be a long and dangerous trip into the unknown.

In Xiyoubu (西遊補 - Supplement to the Journey to the West, 1640) - A Ming Dynasty addendum to the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West, which takes place between the end of chapter 61 and the beginning of 62. In the novel, The Monkey King faces a representation of his own carnal desires and is trapped inside of a tower full of mirrors, each with its own powers. One mirror causes him to travel forward in time from the Tang to the Song Dynasty. There, some junior devils appear and tell him that the ruler of the underworld King Yama has recently died of an illness and so Monkey must take his place until a suitable replacement can be found.

Monkey ends up judging the fate of the recently deceased Prime Minster Qin Hui. He tortures Qin into confessing his sins. These tortures include having millions of embroidery needles shoved into his flesh, being ground into paste, thrown onto a mountain of swords and spears, hacked into bits, forced to drink human puss, and his rib cage ripped apart to give him the appearance of a dragon fly. A demon is charged with using his magic breath to "blow" Qin back into his proper form. Monkey finally sends a demon to heaven to retrieve a powerful magic gourd that sucks anyone who speaks before it inside and melts them down into a bloody stew. He uses this gourd for Qin's final punishment.

Meanwhile, Monkey invites the ghost of Yue Fei to the underworld and takes him as his third master. (He claims this completes his lessons on the three religions since: 1) the immortal Subhodhi taught him Taoist magic 2) the Tang Monk taught him Buddhist restraint and 3) Yue Fei taught him Confucian ideals.) He entertains Yue Fei until Qin has been reduced to liquid and offers the general a cup of Qin's "blood wine." Yue, however, refuses on the grounds that drinking it would sully his soul. Monkey then does an experiment where he makes a junior devil drink of the wine.

Sometime later, the devil, apparently under the evil influence of the blood wine, murders his personal religious teacher and escapes into the "gate of ghosts," presumably being reborn into another existence. Yue Fei then takes his leave to return to his heavenly abode. Monkey sends him off with a huge display of respect by making all of the millions of denizens of the underworld kowtow before him.

See also