Pure Yields to Foul and Foul to Pure as Fate’s Wheel Turns – Journey to the West, Part 3

In this post I will cover volume 3 of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West in my edition, which includes chapters 34 through 50.  The story arc where we left off in volume 2 with Monkey stuck under a mountain continues in chapters 34 and 35 of this volume; it ultimately ends up becoming a scuffle between Monkey and some devils over the magical items he stole from them.  One fun moment in this when a magical gourd sucks Monkey in at the behest of one of the devils:

The Great Sage [Monkey] found it pitch-black inside the gourd.  When he tried to raise his head he could not move it at all, so tightly was he squeezed in it.  He now began to feel very anxious. “The two little devils I met on the mountain,” he thought, “told me that any one put in the gourd or the vase turns to pus in three and a half hours.  Perhaps that’s going to happen to me.”  Then he started on another line of thought: “No problem.  I won’t turn into pus.  When I made havoc in the Palace of Heaven five hundred years ago Lord Lao Zi put me in his Eight Trigram Furnace and fired me for forty-nine days, and this gave me a heart and liver of gold, lungs of silver, a brazen head, an iron back, eyes of fire and golden pupils.  I couldn’t possibly be turned to pus in three and a half hours.  I’ll let him take me inside and see what he does.” (p. 1133)

Using his magical hair, he disguises himself as a bug and flies out of the gourd when they look in the gourd to see his progress.  The hair he left behind fools them into thinking they still had his body dissolving into goo.  Meanwhile, Monkey turns into a dragon and waits in their path for them.  Drinking with them in disguise and switching out their treasures, Monkey escapes with the goods.  Monkey then goes to rescue Sanzang, leaving the devils to weep over his plundering.

When they move on to the next mountainous region in chapter 36, Sanzang is apprehensive about going through it.  Finally they come across a Buddhist monastery, The Imperially Founded Precious Wood Monastery, where they hope to spend the night.  When Sanzang seeks alms, he is soundly told to go away.  The head monk tells a subordinate that Sanzang looks poor and they only attend to the needs of the gentry.  Sanzang overhears and, hurt by this assumption, he tries to talk with the head monk personally.  The old monk finally gets angry and tells him how he was taken advantage of by a band of poor monks he helped who overstayed their welcome by 8 years.  Trying to hold back tears on the way back to his disciples, Sanzang’s reaction angers Monkey:

“Master, did the monks in there beat you up?” “No,” replied Sanzang.  “They must have done,” said Monkey, “or why else did I hear sobbing?  Did they tell you off?” “No,” said Sanzang.  “They did not tell  me off.”  “If they didn’t beat you or reproach you, why look so upset?” asked Monkey.  “Don’t tell me it’s because you’re homesick.”  “This is not a good place,” said the Tang Priest.  “They must be Taoists here,” said Monkey with a grin.  “You only get Taoists in a Taoist temple,” retorted Sanzang angrily.  “In a Buddhist monastery there are Buddhist monks.”  “You’re hopeless,” said Monkey.  “If they are Buddhist monks they’re like us.  As the saying goes, ‘All in the Buddhist community are friends.’ You sit here while I take a look around.” (p. 1187)

Monkey storms into the monastery, makes a threatening prayer to the sacred statue there which the lower-ranking monks overhear, scares the head monk into receiving them and asks the monks to leave their own monastery!  Sanzang is scandalized by his uncouth behavior.

Monkey laughed inside at this, then escorted them all out through the gates to kneel down.  The abbot kowtowed and called out, ’Your Grace of Tang, please take a seat in my lodgings.’ Seeing all this, Pig said, ‘Master, you’re completely useless.  When you went in you were all tears and pouting so much you could have hung a bottle from your lips.  How come that only Monkey knows how to make them welcome us with kowtows?”  “Ill-mannered idiot,” said Sanzang.  “As the saying goes, even a devil’s afraid of an ugly mug.” (p. 1193)

These exchanges emphasize the satirical nature of the novel and  the contrast between the unearthly, even wimpy Sanzang and his practical, demonic disciples.  But the story arc that starts at this monastery is quite intriguing.  After dining with the monks who live at the monastery, the three disciples head for bed while Sanzang stays up alone in the meditation hall to review and memorize the sutras.

Just when he was about to go to bed he heard a rushing noise and the whistling of a fiendish wind.  Fearing that it would blow out his lamp, the venerable elder shielded the lamp with his sleeve as quickly as he could.  To his consternation the lamp kept going on and off.  By now he was so tired that he pillowed his head on the reading desk and took a nap.  Although he had closed his eyes and was dozing, his mind stayed wide awake as he listened to the howling of the devil wind outside the window. (p. 1203)

After awhile, Sanzang is wakened by the apparition of a drowned man, whom Sanzang doesn’t hesitate to threaten with his heroic, demon-bashing disciples. The apparition protests, explaining he is from the state of Wuji where the Quanzhen Taoist wizard came to his palace and brought them torrential rain after a severe drought.  The wizard stayed and cultivated his connections in the palace, only to betray the king, kill him and take his place as a shapeshifter, effectively stealing the kingdom from him.

After the civil and military officials had returned to their offices and the royal spouses and concubines gone back to their quarters we were strolling hand-in-hand with the wizard in the palace garden.  When we reached the eight-sided well with a glazed-tile top he threw something in the well – we don’t know what it was – that made it shine with golden light.  Luring us to the edge of the well to look at this treasure he had the murderous notion of pushing us in the well with a splash and placing a flagstone over the top of the well.  He piled earth over this then put a plantain on top of it.  So we have already been dead for three years, alas. (p. 1209)

The murdered king heard that the Tang Priest’s elder disciple was Monkey, whose reputation as the Great Sage Equalling Heaven has brought the king there to ask for Sanzang to allow his disciples to intervene and get rid of the Quanzhen wizard.  However, Sanzang is concerned they will be charged with high treason if the impersonation by the wizard is too perfect.  They come up with a scheme to get Sanzang to talk with the Crown Prince, whom the ghost determines should still be loyal to him, and show him the king’s scepter that the Quanzhen wizard had not been able to counterfeit, which the ghost gives to Sanzang.  Monkey comes up with his own crazy version of the plan, and this results in another one of his fun transformations:

As Brother Monkey looked down from mid-air he was delighted.  “It goes without saying that he must be the crown prince.  I think I’ll play a trick on him.” The splendid Great Sage brought his cloud down to land and charged straight through the soldiers till he was before the crown prince’s horse.  Then he shook himself and turned himself into a white hare that started to run around frantically in front of the prince’s horse, to the delight of the prince when he spotted it.  Fastening an arrow to his bow, he drew it and hit the hare with his first shot.

Now the Great Sage had deliberately made the prince hit him, and with the quickness of his hand and eye he caught the arrowhead, dropped its feathers on the ground beside him, and started to run.  Seeing his arrow hit the jade rabbit, the crown prince gave his horse its head and galloped ahead of the field in pursuit.  He did not notice that when his horse galloped fast Monkey went like the wind, and that when the horse slowed down Monkey slowed down too, keeping only a little distance ahead. Watch as he leads the prince for mile after mile until he has lured him to the entrance of the Precious Wood Monastery.  (pp. 1123-1225)

This story arc continues through chapter 40 with the Crown Prince retrieving the scepter from Sanzang at the monastery and going back to the palace to consult his mother who had been kept at a distance from him once the Quanzhen wizard took over.  However, nothing and no one is what it seems in this story arc, and there are some wild surprises as Monkey and Sanzang help the Crown Prince deal with the Quanzhen wizard.  Guanyin has a few tricks up her sleeve here, too.  Finally, monks from the Precious Wood Monastery arrive at the palace in Wuji with the king’s accoutrements and give them to him along with the scepter.  The king is now back on his throne, so Sanzang and his disciples move on.

The next story arc starts in chapter 41 and ends in chapter 43.  A month later, the companions approach a mountain range again, and Sanzang is feeling apprehensive about what they will encounter there.  It turns out an evil spirit in the form of a red cloud rises into the sky and forms a ball of fire.  The story shifts to the perspective of the evil spirit, who recalls the stories he has heard about the Tang Priest, including the magical benefits of eating his flesh!  The spirit sees Sanzang but is a little discouraged by the scary appearance of his companions.  Therefore, he turns himself into a helpless, bound little boy screaming for help to lure the party to him.  Soft-hearted Sanzang insists on rescuing the boy, but Monkey isn’t fooled.  Still, the evil spirit makes his move and whisks Sanzang off in a whirlwind with plans to cook and eat him back at his lair.  The others go in search of him and discover the monster is Red Boy who lives in Withered Pine Creek.  Monkey starts a fight with him, which gets wilder and wilder with more reinforcement and deception.  Finally, as has often been the case, Monkey must appeal to Guanyin to intervene to help them save Sanzang and resume their trip.

A short adventure occurs in chapter 43 when Sanzang gets carried off along with Pig by the Monster of Black River, but this is quickly resolved with the help of the Dragon King.

Chapter 44 begins a new, longer story arc.  The company comes across a walled city where crowds of Buddhist monks are building a monastery, but Monkey notices Taoists seem to be threatening them.  He disguises himself as a Taoist and goes to get the scoop.  The country is Tarrycart, and the king is a devoted Taoist due to three weather-controlling Taoist masters who saved the country, echoing the Quanzhen wizard in the earlier segment.  The king decides the Buddhists have no supernatural powers and begins to oppress them, destroying most of their monasteries.

Monkey then goes to interview the Buddhist monks on the pretext he is looking for a relative among them.  He discovers Buddhist monks are being arrested throughout the country, even any man who looks like a Buddhist, and that many enslaved monks have died due to harsh conditions.  Monkey tries some tricks to have all of the monks released, but the Taoist overseers balk at the scheme, so he kills them, which alarms the Buddhists who are afraid it will get them in trouble.  Monkey then reveals his true identity and explains that he came to rescue them.

When Sanzang is reunited with Monkey and hears the story, he becomes upset.  The monks invite him to stay at the remaining Buddhist monastery, where they encounter the three Taoist masters performing a ritual.  Monkey decides to deceive the Taoists, and when the king is forced to turn to Monkey to provide rain through his prayers, this brings about a showdown with the Taoist masters, a rainmaking competition that Monkey ultimately wins through trickery.  The competition continues in different phases.  This story arc is probably one of the goriest stories in the book so far with some gross-out humor that I’m not going to detail.

When the Taoists are executed and revealed to be animals, a tiger, deer and antelope, the king dissolves into tears and reverses his decrees against the Buddhist monks.  The party moves on, and almost a year passes before they encounter another challenge.  The come across another river that they need to figure out how to cross.  Monkey goes to investigate.  When they can’t see the other side, they investigate a fisherman and religious feast further down the river bank.  They come to a house and decide to ask if they can spend the night there.  An old man and group of monks welcome them, though the disciples give them quite a scare.

They share a meal with their benefactor and hear about the situation in the village where they live, Chen Village still in Tarrycart.  Human sacrifices offered to the king regularly, which has the old men of the house sad since their young children will be offered for the king to eat.  I guess this is a different king than the Tarrycart king we have been introduced to so far.  When the old man they are staying with laments that he will have to sacrifice his only little boy to the king, Monkey suggests after a demonstration of his shapeshifting magic that he will impersonate the boy so the man’s son will be spared.  The man’s brother is also worried that his only daughter will be eaten, too, so there is some friction with Monkey as a result until Monkey suggests he could turn Pig into her double to save her, too.  Pig balks, but Sanzang also encourages him to do this good deed.

“There’s the girl,” said Monkey.  “Make yourself like her at once.  We’re off to the sacrifice.” “But she’s much too small and delicate for me to turn into, brother,” said Pig.  “Hurry up if you don’t want me to hit you,” said Monkey.  “Don’t hit me,” pleaded Pig in desperation.  “I’ll see if I can make the change.”

The idiot then said the words of a spell, shook his head several times, called “Change!” and really did make his head look like the little girl’s.  The only trouble was that his belly was still much too fat and disproportionately big.  “Change some more,” said Monkey with a laugh.  “Hit me then,” said Pig.  “I can’t change any more, and that’s that.” “But you can’t have a little girl’s head on a monk’s body,” said Monkey.  “You won’t do at all like that – you’re neither a man nor a girl.  Do the Dipper star-steps.”  Monkey then blew on him with magic breath and in fact did change his body to make it look like the little girl’s. (p.1565)

The old men prepare the children on serving dishes for the king to eat and wait.  A monster who has been pretending to be king comes to question and eat them instead!  A fight ensues, and Pig and Monkey change back into themselves.  Planning on smoking the monster out of his suspected lair in the river later, Pig and Monkey return to the monastery and the old men with the news.   Meanwhile, the monster allows one of the female river denizens to try to lure the Tang priest and his party into the river using an illusion of ice.

When the companions wake up, they see the riverbank covered with snow.  As people began to use the ice bridge crossing the river, the ruse created by the monster’s minions, Sanzang asks about it and is told the other bank is Womanland, which is a tradepost.  They decide it is safe to walk across, but when they do, the monster is waiting beneath it, and it begins to crack as planned.  Only Monkey and Sanzang had no history with water or swimming, so the other three are able to quickly cope with the situation.  Monkey jumps onto his cloud, but Sanzang is lost beneath the waves.  The disciples decide to return to the old men at the monastery and figure out what to do next.  Finally, they realize they have to turn to Guanyin, and Monkey finds her casually dressed while spring cleaning and peeling bamboo, which takes him aback.  It is through her intervention yet again that they are able to save the Tang priest.

The final chapter of this volume starts off with the party encountering another mountain in the depths of winter.  Monkey goes to look for a place where they can be fed and sheltered for the night and happens upon a farm.  He takes so long, however, that Sanzang and the others continue to a compound with high towers, and he sends Pig to look around.  Pig sees a bedroom with a bed piled high with skeletons and is moved to sorrow since it seems no living creature lives there.  Before returning to Sanzang, he takes some brocade clothing they can use to keep warm, but Sanzang rebukes him for stealing and demands he put them back where he found them.  Pig refuses, and their quarrel wakes a demon living there.  The compound was wholly the magical illusion created by this monster.  The monster captures them, and when Monkey returns, he must go on another search and rescue mission.  This story arc carries over into volume IV.

I didn’t have time to watch any of the anime version I have, so I’m not posting any screenshots at this time.

Part three of a six part series.


About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization since 2007 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
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