Biography

Wu Ch'Eng-En is believed to have been born around 1506, and is traditionally attributed with the 100-chapter novel "Hsi-yu chi" (Japanese: Sai-yu Ki; English: Journey to the West), first published in 1592. In the West, it is best known in a highly abridged translation of only thirty chapters by Arthur Waley, which he called "Monkey". Little is known of Wu's life, though he is believed to be an artistic genius, who weaved his novel around a legend that had been popular in stories and plays for nearly a millenia. "Hsi-yu chi" and its predecessors were based on the account of a T'ang Buddhist monk named Hsüan Tsang (596-664), who was also known as Tripitaka, who travelled from China to India to search for Buddhist scriptures. Although such pilgrimages were common and unremarkable, his story was frequently retold with the companionship of a disciple, Sun Wu-kiung (Monkey Aware-of-Vacuity), who in many ways is the Hindu god Hanuman with a good many more human foibles, generally leading toward mischief. The anthropoid simian was introduced to the story around the thirteenth century and became the core of Wu's novel. Sun is accompanied by a lustful, gluttonous pig he must keep in check, and a dragon enchanted in the form of a flounder s punishment for breaking the Jade Emperor's cup. The story is truly a journey of enlightenment, mixed with a good bit of exuberance, humor, and fun. The story is about a journey to buddhahood, and only Tripitaka is destined for it, yet the fictional, anthropomorphic characters are the focus with Tripitaka the hollow, and though the story has been adapted in many forms since, including movies, plays, comic books, and adventure novel, they all bear more than a little resemblance to Wu's unifying vision for his disparate sources.