Journey to the West, Book 1

Journey to the West, Book 1

Adapted by Tsai Chih Chung , translated by Alan Chong (Foreign Languages Press?)
ISBN: 7-80028-904-4

Here’s another irreverent and sassy adaptation of Chinese Literature from cartoonist and film-maker Tsai Chih Chung, whose newspaper strip boasts more than 40 million readers worldwide.

Journey To The West is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature. It is attributed to Wu Cheng-en and was most successfully abridged and translated as Adventures of the Monkey God, A Folk Novel of China and The Adventures of Monkey by Arthur Waley. (The others, if you’re interested are Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh – also called The Water Margin, and either Dream of the Red Chamber – better known as The Story of the Stone – or The Plum in the Golden Vase/Golden Lotus depending on whether you’re a literary critic or an historian).

Buddhist monk Xuanzang goes on a long pilgrimage to India to secure religious texts, accompanied by Monkey, Piggsy, Sandy and a Demon Prince who atones for his past sins by becoming the Monk’s horse. The story has remained popular for centuries due to its brilliant combination of comedy, action, adventure, allegory, philosophy and satire. It’s a tale that can be read on many levels.

In this first volume we see the birth of the irrepressible Sun Wukong, called Monkey, from a magic boulder atop Flower-Fruit Mountain, and how after becoming king of all the simians who live there he goes to Heaven to become an Immortal. After learning their ways and aggravating almost all of the Gods and Demons in creation he is chastised by the Buddha and eventually sent as a monk’s bodyguard to retrieve Sacred Scrolls from the fabled Land in the West (believed by most scholars to be India.).

There are more respectful graphic adaptations than this ebullient and jolly interpretation, but even so the gag-a-day format still informs and elucidates as well as amuses. In a style very similar to Sergio Aragones, Tsai Chih Chung repackages the action and wisdom of China’s mythical and imperial past in funny, exuberant and contemporary instalments, his greatest weapons puns and a manic use of creative anachronism.

One word of warning: Although the cartoons are translated into English (with Chinese subtitles) and copiously footnoted to explain points of detail, literary style, and even some of the more obscure puns – and there are so many – the English captions have a few spelling and grammatical mistakes. If you’re particularly picky about punctuation this might drive you mad, but do try and go with the flow because this is a fun look into a world classic cultural landmark.

Who knows, it might even entice you to read the original book or a recognized translation?

© 2006 – Tsai Chih Chung – presumably – my computer can’t reproduce the Mandarin symbols, I’m sure they know who they are. If anyone can tell us we’ll happy correct this oversight. All Rights Reserved, I suspect.
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