Few figures in Chinese mythology seem better suited to being adapted to cartoons than the Monkey King, Sun Wukong 孙悟空:
Source: James Khoo Fuk-lung’s (邱福龍) The Sage King，Issue 1, 2002.
Certainly, Nezha 哪吒 has found some success through his own films and cartoons, such as the classic 1979 Cultural Revolution parable, Nezha Conquers the Dragon King 哪吒闹海. And arguably Guangyu 關羽 , Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮, and Liu Bei 劉備 etc of popular video games such as Dynasty Warriors 真‧三國無双 and manhua series such as Lee Chi Ching’s 李志清 Record of the Three Kingdoms 三國志 share more in common with their mythological counterparts of Chinese folk religion than they do with the real-life historical figures whose names they borrow.
Even so, Sun Wukong surpasses them all. Reading his exploits in the Ming vernacular novel Journey to West 西游記 brings to mind a Looney Toon or Silly Symphony, some 500 years before Bugs Bunny ever delivered his first wisecrack. Consider the following passage:
“Since hearing the Way,” Sun Wukong said, “I have mastered the seventy−two earthly transformations. My somersault cloud has outstanding magical powers. I know how to conceal myself and vanish. I can make spells and end them. I can reach the sky and find my way into the earth. I can travel under the sun or moon without leaving a shadow or go through metal or stone freely. I can’t be drowned by water or burned by fire. There’s nowhere I cannot go.”1
In another, even more graphic passage, Monkey brags:
Cut off my head and I’ll still go on talking,
Lop off my arms and I’ll sock you another.
Chop off my legs and I’ll carry on walking,
Carve up my guts and I’ll put them together.
“When anyone makes a meat dumpling
I take it and down it in one.
To bath in hot oil is really quite nice,
A warm tub that makes all the dirt gone.2
Indestructibility is of course, is perhaps the defining characteristics of a cartoon, brought to it’s logical conclusion by The Simpsons’ classic cartoon-within-a-cartoon, The Itchy and Scratchy Show:
Like Itchy and Scratchy, Sun Wukong makes the ultra-violence of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange look tame by comparison. To give just one of innumerable examples, consider the following scene in Chapter 44 of Journey to the West when Sun Wukong is gets fed up with asking two Taosist priests to let a group of 500 captured Buddhist monks go:
“We couldn’t possibly let them go,” the priests said.
“You couldn’t?” said Monkey.
“No,” the priests replied. By the time he had asked this and been given the same answer three times he was in
a terrible rage. He produced his iron cudgel from his ear, created a spell with his hands, made it as thick as a
rice bowl, swung it, and brought it down on the Taoists’ faces. The poor Taoists
Fell to the ground with their blood gushing out and their heads split open,
Wounds that were gaping wide, brains scattered everywhere, both necks broken.3