Inspired by the tragedy of missing Eileen Chow’s presentation on Monkey King cartoons, here is the full text of my talk on pop culture adaptations of Journey to the West for everyone who wasn’t able to make it to our panel at AAS 2016 in Seattle this past weekend, The Construction of Xiyouji in the Sinographic Cosmopolis and Beyond. Some of these will already be familiar to readers of this blog, but others will (hopefully) be new:
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.
[…] To bath in hot oil is really quite nice,
A warm tub that makes all the dirt gone.
–Journey to the West, Chapter 46 (translated by W.J.F. Jenner, Foreign Language Press)
So speaks Sun Wukong, better known in English as the Monkey King, after Monkey, British sinophile Arthur Waley’s enduring early 20th century translation of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West 西游记. Thanks to Waley’s judicious to abridgement of the massive Ming dynasty novel into a much shorter and (arguably) more readable novel, for a time at least The Great Sage was able to enjoy an equal measure of fame both at home and abroad. Although the novel is less well known today, nearly a century later, Monkey has many ways found an even greater success—as a cartoon character.
1st Edition Hardcover of Arthur Waley’s translation of Monkey (George Allen & Unwin, 1942) designed by Duncan Grant [back]
To my knowledge, no systematic study of Monkey King comics, cartoons, animations, plays, live action TV dramas, movies, etc. has ever been attempted. Perhaps the task is too daunting, or perhaps it seems redundant, given the very ubiquity of Monkey King merchandise and media already flooding the Chinese marketplace–especially in year of monk-orological significance, Anno Simian. At times I even suspect that stronger emotions may be at play: as one friend (Chinese American, but also an American living in China) put it when I mentioned that I was writing a paper on the topic, “Oh god, which of the eight million versions are you going to do?”