February 17, 2006


Another recent book (re)purchase was one I read when I was a sailor, just a kid not even twenty. I found "Journey to the East" in a bookstore in Hong Kong and devoured it.

It is as vivid as I remember it so long ago. Here, clips from the introduction:

This story was written by Wu Ch'?ng-?n, of Huani-an in Kiangsu. His exact dates are not known, but he seems to have lived between A.D.1505 and 1580. He had some reputation as a poet, and a few of his rather commonplace verses survive in an anthology of Ming poetry and in a local gazateer.

Triptaka, whose pilgramage to India is the subject of the story is a real person, better known to history as Hs?an Tsang. He lived in the seventh century A.D., and there are full contemporary accounts of his journey. Already by the tenth century and probably earlier, Tripitaka's pilgrimage had become the subject of a whole cycle of fantastic legends. From the thirteenth century onwards these legends have been represented on the Chinese stage...

Monkey is unique in its combination of beauty with abbsurdity, of prfundity with nonsense. Folk-lore, allegory, religion, history, anti-bureaucratic satire, and pure poetry - such are the singularly diverse elements out of which the book is compounded....

As regards the allegory, it is clear that Tripitaka stands for the ordinary man, blundering anxiously through the diffficulties of life, while Monkey stands for the restless instability of genius. Pigsy, again, obviously symblizes the physical appetites, brute strength and a kind of cumbrous patience. Sandy is more mysterious. The commentators say that he represents ch'?ng, which is usually translated 'sincerity', but means something more like 'whole-heartedness'. He was not an afterthought, for he appears in some of the earliest versions of the story, he remains throughout singularly ill deffined and colourless.

And now, the first two pages of the book:

There was a rock that since the creation of the world had been worked upon by the pure essences of Heaven and the fine savors of Earth, the vigor of sunshine and the grace of monlight, till at last it became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a playing ball. Fructified by the wind it developed into a stone monkey, complete with every organ and limb. At once this monkey learned to climb and run; but its first act was to make a bow twards each of the four quarters. As it did so, a steely light darted from this monkey's eyes and flashed as far as the Palace of the Pole Star. this shaft of light astonished the jade Emperor as he sat in the Cloud Palace of the Golden Gates, in the treasure Hall of the Holy Mists, surrounded by his fairy Ministers. Seeing this strange light flashing, he ordered Thousand-League Eyes and Down-th-Wind Ears t open the gate of the Southern Heaven and look out. At his bidding these two captains went out to the gate and looked so sharply and listened so well that presently they were able to report, 'This steeley light comes from the borders of the smal country of Ao-lai, that lies to the east of the Holy Continent, form the Montain of Flowers and Fruit. On this mountain is a magic rock, which gave birth ot a stone monkey, and when he made his bow to the four quarters a steely light flashed from his eyes with a beam that reached teh Palace of the Pole Star. But now he is taking a drink, and the light is growing dim.'

The Jade Emperor condescended to take an indulgent view. 'These creatures in the world below,' he said, 'were compounded of the essence of heaven and earth, and nothing that goes on there should surprise us.'

That monkey walked, rand, lept, and bounded over the hills, feeding on grasses and shrubs, drinking from streams and springs, gathering the mountain flowers, looking for fruits. Wold, panther, and tiger were his companions, the deer and civet were his friends, gibbons nd baboons his kindred. At night, he lodged under the cliffs of rock, by day he wandered among the peaks and caves. One very hot morning, after playing in the shade of some pine-trees, he and the other monkeys wernt to bath in a mountain stream. See how those waters bounce and tumble like rolling melons!

There was an old saying, 'Birds have their bird language, beasts have their beast talk.' The monkeys said "We none of us knows where this stream comes from. As we have noting to do this morning, wouldn't it be fun to follow it up to its source?' With a whoop of joy, dragging their sons and carrying their daughters, caling out to younger brother and to elder brother, the whole troupe rushed along the streamside and scrambled up the steep places, till they reached the source of the stream. They found themselves standign before the curtain of a great waterfall.

All of the monkeys clapped their hands and cried aloud, 'Lovely water, lovely water! To think that it starts far off in some cavern belwo the base of the mountain, and flows all the way to the Great Sea! If any of us were bold enough to peirce that curtain, get to where the water comes from and return unharmed, we would make him our king!' Three times the call went out, when suddenly one of them leaped from among the throng and answered the challenge in a loud voice. It was the Stone Monkey.

'I will go,' he cried, 'I will go!'
Posted by Dennis at February 17, 2006 9:15 AM

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