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Journey to the West

Journey to the West (《西游记》 Xi You Ji) is a classic of Chinese literature. It was published anonymously in the 1590s, and no direct evidence of its authorship survives, but it is traditionally ascribed to the scholar Wu Cheng'en[?] (吴承恩 wu2 cheng2 en1). The novel tells a fictionalised and mythologised version of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang's pilgrimage to India.

In the novel, a fictional monk (also called Xuan Zang) is called by the bodhisattva Guan Yin to travel to India to obtain copies of certain important Buddhist texts that are not available in China. He is accompanied on his journey by three monsters — the monkey king Sun Wukong, the pig-monster Zhu Bajie, and the river monster Sha Wujing (沙悟淨) — who have agreed to help him along the way as an atonement for past sins.

One of the supernatural helpers, the monkey king Sun Wukong, has become one of the most famous and beloved characters in Chinese literature. His recognition factor and popularity in Asia have been compared to those of Mickey Mouse in Western countries (although, considering his characteristics, Bugs Bunny might be a better comparison).

Part of the novel's enduring popularity comes from the fact that it works on multiple levels: it is an adventure story, a dispenser of spiritual insight, and an extended metaphor in which the group of pilgrims journeying toward India stands for the individual journeying toward enlightenment, and it can be read on any of these levels.

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Notable English-language translations

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