The Journey to the West Characters

Wu Chengen

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Monkey, who was born of a stone egg fecundated by the wind. He was king of the Mountain of Flowers for several hundred years, after which he set out into the world in search of knowledge that would make him immortal. Under the name of “Aware-of-vacuity,” he studied with Patriarch Subodhi for several hundred more years. Because of the tremendous magic power he had acquired, as well as his natural arrogance, he named himself “Great Sage Equal of Heaven.” Permitted to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, the mischievous creature disturbed and outwitted all the divinities with his magic tricks until Buddha himself intervened and imprisoned him beneath a mountain. After five hundred years, Monkey was released through the intercession of the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin, on the condition that he become the disciple of the priest Hsuan Tsang, who was then on his way to India in quest of the Buddhist Scriptures for T’ai Tsung, the emperor of T’ang. Monkey’s role now is to assist the priest against the many calamities that befall him. Although he can never overcome completely the temptation to play tricks, Monkey earns his redemption and receives the Illumination that in the end, after a successful journey to India, allows him to be received into Heaven as a Buddha.

Hsuan Tsang

Hsuan Tsang, a priest. Abandoned by his mother when he was born, he was rescued and brought up by the abbot of a monastery. In his old age, he was selected for his sanctity by T’ai Tsung, the emperor of T’ang, to go to India and bring back to China the Tripitaka, the sacred Scriptures of the Big Vehicle. Hsuan Tsang then received the name of Tripitaka. Tripitaka was to encounter and overcome nine great calamities to transcend his mortal condition. In spite of great devotion, he could not have accomplished his mission without the help of his four disciples, who all possess some kind of magical power. He is easily discouraged and given to tears, but his purity is his saving asset, and he is finally received into Heaven as a Buddha.


Pigsy, a lesser divinity in the Kingdom of the Jade Emperor....

(The entire section is 879 words.)