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Last Updated on July 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 187

Tang Sanzang

The protagonist of Journey to the West is Tang Sanzang, an enlightened monk who renounced his familial ties in youth to follow a spiritual journey. Ostensibly, he journeys into the West (India) in search of sacred Buddhist texts to return to China in order to restore the spiritual...

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Tang Sanzang

The protagonist of Journey to the West is Tang Sanzang, an enlightened monk who renounced his familial ties in youth to follow a spiritual journey. Ostensibly, he journeys into the West (India) in search of sacred Buddhist texts to return to China in order to restore the spiritual faith of its people. His journey is perilous, as the demons and monsters of the mythical Asian wilderness believe they will reach enlightenment by eating him. Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, finds Tang Sanzang protectors along the way.

Monkey King

Tang Sanzang's main protector is the Monkey King, a sentient monkey who hatches out of a stone egg borne by the wind. While Tang Sanzang searches for the enlightened texts, the Monkey King searches for immortality. Possessing great magical powers and even greater arrogance, he believes he is destined to become the ruler of heaven. The Buddha imprisons him under a mountain for 500 years; when he is revived, he is forced to accompany and protect Tang Sanzang in search of the scriptures. After doing his job, he is finally accepted into heaven, earning the immortality he once ignorantly sought.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 879


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. Chased out of Heaven for courting a Fairy maiden, he lives on earth as a demon with the face of a pig. Addicted to base pleasures of the flesh, he is given a chance to recover his former place in Heaven by the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin, who converts him and sends him to India with Tripitaka. In the end, he receives the Illumination and is admitted to Heaven as Cleanser of the Altar.


Sandy, formerly the Marshal of the Hosts of Heaven. Banished to the River of Flowing Sands for breaking a crystal cup at a celestial banquet, he lives on the flesh of human beings. He obtains his redemption by accompanying Tripitaka on his pilgrimage to India. His conduct enables him to regain a place in Heaven with the title of Golden-Bodied Arhat.

The Horse

The Horse, the son of the Dragon King of the Western Ocean, condemned to death for misconduct in his father’s palace. He was saved by Kuan-yin on condition that he carry Tripitaka to India. The young dragon swallows the priest’s horse as the latter is trying to cross a river. Learning his mistake, he allows himself to be changed into the horse’s identical image. He faithfully serves the priest and is rewarded by being made one of the eight Senior Heavenly Dragons.

T’ai Tsung

T’ai Tsung, the emperor of T’ang, who died because he failed to keep his promise to save a Dragon King from execution. Brought back to life through the mediation of his minister, he is celebrating his resurrection when Kuan-yin appears and orders him to send someone to India to get the Scriptures of the Big Vehicle, then unknown in China. The emperor entrusts Hsuan Tsang with the mission. He must wait fourteen years for the priest’s return.


Kuan-yin, the merciful Bodhisattva. She organizes and supervises Hsuan Tsang’s pilgrimage.


Buddha, the Enlightened One. Upset by the greed, lust, and many other defects of the Chinese people, he sends Kuan-yin to China to look for a man holy enough to bring the true Scriptures from Paradise and thus set the Chinese on the way to moral reformation.

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu, an alchemist and father of the Tao. He defeats Monkey but is unable to destroy him. Lao Tzu appears as a gruff old scholar whose lack of a sense of humor is his worst enemy.


Erh-lang, a magician, nephew of the Jade Emperor. With the help of Lao Tzu, he defeats Monkey in battle.

The Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor, the tyrant of Heaven.

The King of Crow-cock

The King of Crow-cock, who is killed by a magician who then assumes the king’s appearance and usurps his throne. After three years, the king appears to Tripitaka in a dream and asks for help. His body is rescued by Monkey and Pigsy, then brought back to life with a “pill” borrowed from Lao Tzu.


Vaisravana, who, with the help of his son Natha, fights unsuccessfully against Monkey on behalf of the Jade Emperor.


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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 138

The Journey to the West is a sixteenth-century text generally considered to be one of the four great novels of classical Chinese literature.

Tang Sanzang is the story's protagonist and principal character. He is a Buddhist monk on a quest to recover several Buddhist scriptures and return them to China. During his journey, he is joined by several protectors assigned by the goddess Guanyin.

Monkey King is one of Tang's guardians. Born from a stone egg atop Flower Fruit Mountain, he holds a minor position among the gods and, unlike Tang, is seeking immortality.

Monk Pig is another major character in the story. Like Monkey King, he has a legendary past, and at one point was transformed into a half-man/half-pig monster.

Tang's fourth protector is Friar Sand. By the end of the story, Friar Sand achieves enlightenment.

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