Final major assignment
Critique of “Journey to the West”
Journey to the West is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. It was written in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty. Its author is Wu ChengEn. In the western countries, the work is widely known as Monkey.
The novel is a fictionalized account of the legendary pilgrimage to India of the Buddhist monk Xuan Zang, and loosely based its source from the historic text Great Tang Records on the Western Regions and traditional folk tales. The monk travelled to the “Western Regions” during the Tang Dynasty, to obtain sacred texts. The Guanyin on instruction from the Buddha, gives this task to the monk and his three protectors in the form of disciples — namely Sun WuKong, Zhu BaJie and Sha WuJing — together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuan Zang’s steed, a white horse. These four characters have agreed to help Xuan Zang as an atonement for past sins.
Journey to the West has a strong background in Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and value systems, the pantheon of Taoist immortals and Buddhist bodhisattvas is still reflective of Chinese religious beliefs today. Enduringly popular, the tale is at once an adventure story, a spring of spiritual insight, and an extended allegory in which the group of pilgrims journeying toward India represents individuals journeying towards enlightenment.
All the typical characters have their typical personalities and each typical personality is a kind of cultural symbol. The personalities of Tang SanZang and his disciples in the Journey to the West could definitely serve as the typical example of Chinese culture.
Tang SanZang is the typical representative of gentleness, modesty, and courtesy in Chinese Confucianism. He is a kind and compassionate monk as well as a reincarnation of the Golden Cicada, a disciple of the Buddha. He is very obedient to the rules of Buddhism and as such, hates to kill anything. Its positive significance is being elegant and courtesy, tender and gentle, loyal and faithful, revealing a gentleman’s demeanor; while its negative effects is being fool and stubborn, being lacked risk and crisis consciousness, as well as the strain capacity.
Sun WuKong is originally a monkey born from a stone, endowed with the essence of the sun and the moon, he was born to be more like an intrepid minority in the North part of China than a traditional Chinese. He is capable of the 72 Transformations and fights with an 8100kg metal rod from the underwater kingdom of the dragons. He has achieved immortality and invincibility during his antics against Heaven and was in face punished by the Buddha who trapped him under a mountain for 500 years until Tang came along. His characters of shrewdness, bravery, aggressiveness, and abhorrence of evils are opposite to that of the Han people in the Central Plains. It is just the adding of these characters that guarantee the pilgrimage to the West with force. Moreover, as the infiltration of cultural elements, it also stoutens and strengthens the weak pulse of the Chinese nation.
Zhu BaJie is the typical representative of the secular characters of the Han people in the Central Plains. His name was given to him by Tang and means eight prohibitions referring to the basic eight prohibitions of Buddhism. Although he’s greedy, irritable, stupid, coward, lecherous and lazy, BaJie is easy to be managed. As long as he’s under proper control, BaJie is able to do large amounts of hard work, regardless of how dirty or arduous the work is.
Sha WuJing is a neutral figure, embodying the doctrine of the mean of Confucianism and serving as the adhesive among the party.
If Tang Xuan Zang and his disciples were viewed from a cultural perspective and the pilgrimage as the development and pursuit of culture, Xuan Zang would still be regarded as the dominant subject of the culture. So how could the party obtain the Buddhist Scriptures without him? Sun WuKong is the most useful supplement to Tang’s character, without whose aid the pilgrimage would be nothing but an empty talk.
Tang SanZang represents a kind of rational culture as well as a direction to move forward. Even though being gentle and weak, fool and stubborn, his belief is firm and his pursuit is invariable. Being realistic, Sun WuKong is a “holy warrior” lives in reality. He’s the judge of the good and evil with his effective yardstick given by his “fiery – eyes and golden – gaze”. Only with him did SanZang’s firm belief to the West be guarded with solid protection. If SanZang was the “spirit” then WuKong would be the “life”. Neither of them is indispensable and they need to be obtained at the same time. Even though there still should have a differentiation between the primary and secondary, among which the priority would be given to the “spirit” for the reason that it is the essence of the cultural implication of mankind.
Confusing the relationship between them is the very intractable cultural handicap of the Chinese culture, in which the “life” would often be restricted by the “spirit” or even stifled stupidly. Just like Xuan Zang’s frequent chanting the Ring Tightening Mantra to punish WuKong and sometimes he would even drive WuKong away when he made severe mistakes. Such practices do not merely dampen WuKong’s enthusiasm of defeating the evils and protecting his master during the pilgrimage, it also threatens the relation between the “spirit” and the “life”. There is no doubt that such self-defeating practices would result in the failure of retrieving Buddhist sutras, attaining Buddhahood, and might even give Tang’s flesh to demons and animal spirits submissively.
Xuan Zang and WuKong have been in a mentoring relationship from beginning to end, and there does have differentiation between the priority of the “spirit” and the “life”. Seeing from the process of the pilgrimage, the journey would be smoother when the relationship between the master and his disciples were harmonious; whereas every conflict would result in dangerous consequences. Wu ChengEn might also be doing a cultural analysis while telling us the story.
A character that stood out personally for me was Sha WuJing. Although he doesn't stand out very much in the series, in fact, it could be said that his purpose is just carrying the luggage, he was the easiest character for me to connect to. Sha WuJing is still a supernatural being but because he is a companion to powerhouses like Sun Wu Kong and Zhu BaJie, he is greatly overshadowed. Thus, any solo part of his allowed me to really focus on his qualities.
Sha WuJing is a character that doesn't emphasize on showiness and flashiness which makes it easier to understand the concept that all that glitters is not gold. The misfit monk group would've probably fallen apart not even halfway if it weren't for the presence of Sha WuJing. He acts as the peacemaker between the frequent quarrels of Sun Wu Kong between Tang Seng and Zhu BaJie and he is probably the most dedicated out of the disciples, which can be seen that he genuinely loves and cares for his companions.
Still, while you read, it could be said that he is nothing special. As an avid reader, I like to imagine how I would react in a situation in which fictional characters are in and sometimes, I am exasperated by how the characters respond. However, in a magical setting that "Journey to the West" takes place in, I probably could not do any better. By seeing a character like Sha WuJing, it is comforting to me that simple, everyday traits such as patience, dedication, and common sense could play such a crucial, albeit subtle, role in any circumstance. While these traits may not always be recognized, their importance is ultimately undeniable.
What I have learned after reading this series is that China's culture revolves around hard work. As I have mentioned earlier, Sun Wu Kong can make the entire journey in just a single somersault. However, that meant nothing until he traveled by foot the entire distance with Tang Seng and the rest. I believe that this demonstrates while shortcuts may exist in life, it is often not worthwhile to take these shortcuts and the proper reward of experience only comes by doing the task properly and thoroughly.
This series also demonstrates the importance of persistence in Chinese culture. Having grown up in a Chinese culture, I can promise that giving up halfway is usually never an option. If it hadn't been for persistence, Tang Seng and the others would've never completed the journey to the west. It can also be shown that even if you doggedly go at something, if it is half-hearted, then it is essentially useless. Throughout the course of this cartoon show, Zhu BaJie had committed to accompanying Tang Seng but he often lazed around which always resulted in punishment or being captured. This is true to Chinese culture which ultimately boils down to anything you undertake should be done to the best of your ability. While there may not always be a consequence, honor and integrity is absolute and must be defended.
I am Chinese and is raised with Chinese customs and culture in mind so most of the is pretty similar to what I have been taught. However, these aspects emphasized are from traditional Chinese culture and while similar, they differ slightly to modern values. Although honor and integrity is still a big thing, perhaps even bigger due to globalization, persistence and commitment have become slightly modified. More freedom of choice is being allowed so that it is believed that one should commit, especially in the case of extracurricular activities, to something that one is actually interested in. Only in that way can the task be completed with wholeheartedness and to the best of a person's ability as it should be.
Final major assignment