Often times, there is a distinct line between fact and fiction between history and mythology, and even religion. However, in many of China's classic novels this line is blurred to the point of non-existence. A perfect example of this is Wu Cheng'en's The Journey to the West. Wu Cheng'en combined elements of Chinese history and mythology with aspects of the three traditional Chinese religions (Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism) to create a story based on the historical figure Hsüan-tsang and the mythological figure Sun Wu'kung (also known simply as Monkey.)
key words- Hsüan-tsang, Buddhist demonology, Jade Emperor, Chinese Buddhism and Siddh?rtha Gautama
[...] In fact, although the story begins with a simple Buddhist theme, it gradually becomes a “complex and profound allegory of the process of spiritual cultivation” (Miller, 283) that incorporates all three of the major Chinese religions of the time: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Much of the religious context of The Journey to the West is very straightforward and easy to understand. For example, on more than one occasion Sun Wu'kung actually enters heaven, where he meets various religious figures. Many of these were mentioned as mythological figures, such as the Jade Emperor. [...]
[...] Characters in the story showing that religion affects their day- to-day lives, like this, is evidence that religion is an omnipresent theme in The Journey to the West, The different elements of religion, history and mythology, on their own, can not possibly comprise a book as well-received and celebrated as The Journey to the West. However, the way they have been so superbly combined to create a masterpiece is remarkable. For example, the epic battles sprinkled liberally throughout the story certainly would not be possible without mythological presence. [...]
[...] The fact that such a character plays the role of a main protagonist in The Journey to the West would suggest that mythology plays a large role in the novel; and it does. In addition to Sun Wu'kung, there are various other mythological figures that appear in the book. One example is the Dragon King, Ao Guang, whom serves as an antagonist to Sun Wu'kung in chapter 10. A passage from the novel that illustrates the scale on which mythological figures are present is found in the fifth chapter, as the Jade Emperor he himself an important religious and mythological figure orders troops to the Mountain of Flowers to capture the Monkey King: Jade Emperor was furiously angry, and he ordered the Four Great Heavenly Kings along with Heavenly King Li and Prince Nezha to mobilize the Twenty-eight Constellations, the Nine Bright Shiners, the Twelve Gods of the Twelve Branches, the Revealers of the Truth of the Five Regions, the Four Duty Gods, the Constellations of the East and West, the Gods of the North and South, the Deities of the Five Mountains and the Four Rivers, the star ministers of all Heaven, and a total of a hundred thousand heavenly soldiers” (69). [...]
[...] Two of the characters that are present in The Journey to the West also had actual historical existence. One of the mentioned figures is, of course, the monk Hsüan-tsang. The other is the Tang Emperor Purifymind). All of the other characters, however, are fictitious. One may argue an exception can be made for Siddhārtha Gautama, though he appears only as a deity in the story not as a living person. After considering the historical context of The Journey to the West, one must examine the supernatural aspects of the novel. [...]
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