The Heroes’ Journey of Journey to the West – Jing Peng

While I was reading Huntchen’s 9 phases of the Hero’s Journey, it reminds me of my favorite Chinese work of literature Journey to the West. It is an epic tale of the journey of the monk Xuanzang and is one of the most influential works in Chinese literary history. Xuanzang, the incarnation of the Buddha, is sent by the Tang emperor to India to obtain direct copies of the original Buddhist sutras. On his journey he’s helped by four disciples: Sun Wukong, known as the Monkey King, Zhu Bajie, Sha Wujing or Sand. Xuanzang’s final companion is Yulong, a son of the Dragon King of the West Sea. Out of the four protagonists, the Monkey King is the main protagonist, he is powerful, stubborn, mischievous and yet kind-hearted. The Monkey King is immortal, capable of wreaking havoc in heaven, and fighting off its most powerful generals without breaking a sweat. I’m going to break down this novel by using Huntchen’s structures.

I. Call of the adventure
Growing up in a temple as an orphan, Xuanzang was chosen to complete the task to fetch the scriptures. Thus Xuanzang starts on his pilgrimage to the Western Heavens.

II. Refusing of the adventure
Both Monkey King and Zhu Bajie rejected the task appointed to them by the Goddess Guanyin, they had living a comfortable life and had their own territories. There was no reason for them to upend what they had to undertake such a perilous mission.

III. Meeting the mentor
After Monkey King rejected the task to accompany Xuanzang, the monk started the journey
alone. The Goddess Guanyin plotted to have Monkey King cross paths with Xuanzang while he was on his way. Xuanzang was given a magical hair clasp by Guanyin, if he could trick Monkey King to wear it, than Monkey had to become his disciple and go to the West with him. After a short encounter, Monkey King was fooled into wearing the hair clasp and became submissive to Xuanzang and agreed to the journey with Xuanzang.

IV. The Approach
Xuanzang was aware that this pilgrimage wouldn’t be easy, that’s why he was appointed four disciples to protect him along the way. They encountered a multitude of demons and temptations along the way, but despite these adversities, they were determined to get the holy sutras and continued.

V. The Ordeal
In this novel, there were 81 hurdles designed by the author, these acted as a test for Xuanzang and his disciples. The hurdles were a combination of physical, mental and emotional trials which consisted of temptations, their great nemesis and even their deepest vulnerabilities. The demon’s motivation was to eat Xuanzang because by doing so can gain immortality. Zhu Bajie’s biggest vulnerability is that he can’t resist beautiful women, the demons always try to take advantage of that and set up traps.

VI. The Reward
After they had been formed as a team for a while, the five of them finally developed rapport and trust with each other. They developed the ability to tell which demons were evil and which needed help instead. They became confident in each other’s skills and abilities and they knew that they would reach their destination within a short time.

VII. The Road Back
When they thought that there weren’t any more difficulties in front of them, the demon’s had one final trick up their sleeves. There was a seasoned and wily demon who tricked the monk, the demon transformed into an old woman and asked Xuanzang for help. Xuanzong thought she was really a human and wanted to help her. However, Monkey King recognized the old woman was a demon immediately and killed her in front of the monk. Xuanzong was furious and cast a spell on the Monkey King. Both physically and mentally hurt, Monkey King left them and returned home. The journey was in danger of falling apart without the Monkey King.

VIII. Resurrection
This group finally arrived in India after 81 hurdles and ordeals, when they asked for the sutras, they were asked to give something in return, they refused this trade. As a result, the scriptures they were handed were wordless. So they had to turn to the Buddha from Heaven for help. Monkey King returned to the fellowship and Buddha agreed to let them pass the test and told them the right thing to do in order to get the scriptures.

XI. Return with the Elixir
Once they had achieved their objective, the group was able to return home and took the sutras back to the Tang Emperor with honor.
This story telling structure is indeed remarkable. Journey to the West is one of the most beloved stories in China and has a huge impact in Asia and the world. Every year in China and Japan, there will be hundreds of movies, video games and apps derived from this mythic tale. Despite its age, the story and the structure has a timeless appeal to the mass audiences.