#46 – “Egg”

High atop Mount Huaguo in China, a curious stone once stood. From that stone came forth an egg, and out of that egg was born a monkey. Faster than a meteor, strong enough to lift a mountain, wielder of magical staff Ruyi Jingu Bang. The Monkey King – Sun Wukong.


In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned. Heaven sought order, but the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown. The four worlds formed again and yet again as endless aeons wheeled and passed. Time and the pure essences of Heaven, the moisture of the Earth, the powers of the sun and the moon all worked upon a certain rock, old as creation, and it became magically fertile. That first egg was named “Thought“. Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said, “With our thoughts, we make the world.” Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch. From it then came a stone monkey. The nature of Monkey was irrepressible

So proclaimed the narrator at the beginning of the first season of the English-dubbed Action Fantasy TV series Monkey (known to many as Monkey Magic, thanks to its ridiculously catchy theme tune of the same name). Monkey was made in Japan, where it was called Saiyūki (“Account of the Journey to the West“) and was first screened on Nippon TV between 1978 and 1979. 

The novel Xī Yóu Jì (“Journey to the West“) on which the TV series Monkey was based, was first published anonymously in China around 1592 and is widely regarded as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Journey to the West draws upon ancient themes and sources, including Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology, and Confucianist, Taoist, and Buddhist philosophy. Legends of the Monkey King pre-date the novel by many hundreds (possibly even a couple of thousand) years. 

Da Tang Sanzang Qujing Shihua (“The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures“) is the title of a seventeen-chapter novelette, written in the late 13th Century CE (some three centuries before Journey to the West), which is thought to have been created to serve as a prompt for oral storytelling. In the text, our simian hero is given the name Hou Xingzhe (“Monkey Pilgrim”), but his origins and adventures are easily recognisable as those of the Monkey King. [1]

Hanuman, the Indian Monkey God, has roots which stretch back at least four thousand years; mentioned as the “divine monkey” in the Vedic Rigveda, written between 1500 and 1200 BCE. It is believed by many that stories and images of Hanuman travelled East from India to China along with Buddist pilgrims and that tales of Monkey King drew upon these influences. 

In the Chu kingdom (700 – 223 B.C.E.), which encompassed the central Yangtze River Basin, the people revered gibbon monkeys, especially white ones. Robert van Gulik explains that the Chu kingdom was an ancient center of mystical beliefs and witchcraft out of which Taoism evolved. Chu folk culture considered the animal world on a par with human society and believed that some animals were rich in qi, or the mystical power of the cosmos. Taoism raised the status and power of the gibbon, which was regarded as one of the animals with the expert knowledge in inhaling qi, thereby acquiring occult powers. Among the many magical abilities credited to these monkeys is the ability to assume human shape and prolong their life several hundred years. [2] 

The above quote is taken from a 1998 work by Hera S. Walker entitled Indigenous or Foreign? A Look at the Origins of the Monkey Hero Sun Wukong, demonstrating that mystical, magical monkeys have been around in Chinese myth for a long, long time. 


[1] https://journeytothewestresearch.com/2016/10/16/the-literary-precursor-of-journey-to-the-west/ 

[2] http://sino-platonic.org/complete/spp081_monkey_sun_wukong.pdf