General Information: Journey to the West

In one Asian story, a monkey with an expanding staff and cloud that flies accompanies a human on a long quest. Must be Dragon Ball, right? It's actually a rough description of the Chinese classic Journey to the West written during the tang dynasty nearly one thousand plus years ago by Wu Cheng'en. This book is of great significance in Chinese culture. The main character, Monkey, is as well-known to Chinese children as Mickey Mouse is to American children. More importantly for us DB fans, it inspired a Japanese manga artist named Akira Toriyama to write the series that we all know and love. Being unfamiliar with J.t.t.W., it comes as a surprise to most fans that so much of DB was based on it.

Take the two protagonists, for example. Monkey, whose Buddhist name is Sun Wukong, provides the basis for much of Goku's characteristics. From Monkey, Toriyama got the idea of giving Goku a tail. Also, both characters have expanding staffs. Goku receives his from his adoptive grandfather, Son Gohan, while Monkey coerces a Dragon King into giving it to him. Monkey's staff, however, is made of iron and weights 13,500 pounds. Goku's is apparently made of wood and seems to be significantly lighter. Their transportation includes a flying cloud, though Monkey spends most of his journey walking, while Goku rides in a capsule car.

With respect to personality, their personalities diverge. Goku, a child, is naïve and innocent, good-hearted with a penchant to help others. Monkey is a different matter. Clever and sly, his greatest shortcoming is his tremendous hubris. With his immense strength, he has no problem rebelling against Heaven and declaring himself, "The Great Sage Equalling Heaven." Incidentally, this action is comparable to Satan's revolt against God in the Bible, though it must be noted that Monkey is not evil, but instead highly arrogant and self-assured. Like most literary characters whose fatal flaw is pride, Monkey is punished for his actions. After spending five hundred years trapped beneath a mountain with nothing to eat or drink, he has a chance to redeem himself by assisting the Buddhist Priest Sanzang on his journey to the west to fetch scriptures from Buddha. In an early brush-in with bandits, Monkey kills all of them without a thought. Over the course of the journey, however, he gradually begins to restrain himself and purges himself of his intial propensity towards evil. Goku too is revealed to have a dual good/evil personality when he transforms into a rampaging, mindless, giant ape by the moon's light. It wouldn't be surprising if Toriyama derived that idea from J.t.t.W.

The aforementioned Sanzang has a peer in DB -- Bulma. While the comparison may appear dubious, given that a bitchy girl and a pious monk appear to have little in common, upon closer examination, the similarities appear. First off, they're the lone human amidst their non-human followers. Secondly, they set off on their journey alone and recruit these non-human followers along the way. Remember that Bulma meets Goku because he has a Dragon Ball that she wants. Another trait that Bulma and Sanzang share is their helplessness. They depend on Goku and Monkey to save them every time they're in danger. A recurring sight in J.t.t.W. is Monkey having to rescue a sobbing Sanzang who's been stripped naked and tied by demons who want to gain immortality by eating his flesh. Pilaf, a villain from DB who wants the dragon balls to take over the world, is likely to have been based on the numerous power-hungry demons from J.t.t.W. Lastly, both Bulma and Sanzang are bossy and not always likable as characters. Bulma is prone to yelling, while Sanzang nags his disciples and exhorts them not to be so bad.

In both stories, a pig serves as a comic foil to the protagonist monkey. DB fans will recognize this to be Oolong. Complaining, cowardly, and lazy, he is modelled closely on Pig from J.t.t.W. Both are the butt of jokes, and both get their groups in trouble. To their credit, they do help out, but these occasions are few and far. Usually it's their ability to do transformations that allow them to be of use. Pig is mightier than Oolong. With his nine-pronged rake, he's strong enough to do battle with demons. Additionally, he's an excellent swimmer. When Sanzang and Monkey first encounter him, he's a monster terrorizing villagers. Oolong was doing the same when Bulma and Goku run into him. Cheng'en and Toriyama acknowledge the expression "chauvinist pig" by their portrayal of the lust of both Pig and Oolong. On several occasions, Pig is tempted by pleasures of the flesh, and he always succumbs, though it always turns out to work against him. Oolong too is boorish. Besides being a peeping tom, he has a panty fetish.

There are further examples of J.t.t.W. influencing DB. One case is an instance in DB where the path to a dragon ball is blocked by a blazing fire. Ox King is introduced at this point. The fire and Ox King are lifted straight out of J.t.t.W., except that the original character is called "Hermit Ox" who likewise has a horned helmet. To look at another example, take the DB character Puar, who like Oolong, is capable of transformations. In J.t.t.W., Monkey and Pig are both able to shapeshift. Then there's Enma-sama. In J.t.t.W. and Chinese mythology, he's one of the ten kings of hell who judge the deceased. In DB, he's the sole judge of the afterlife. It is important to realize that Toriyama did not copy Journey to the West. He was, however, noticeably influenced by it, and this influence is reflected in the characters and settings of DB.

Journey to the West is highly recommended. Note its length, though. Its 100 chapters comprise over 1800 pages. For those who don't have the time to read that much, there is an abridged version that offers 30 chapters. It's entitled Monkey and was translated by Arthur Waley. The retail price is $10.95. For the full version, there are two translations available. One is by Anthony Yu of the University of Chicago and is split into five separate volumes, each retailing at $19.95. The other translation is by W.J.F. Jenner for the Foreign Languages Press of Beijing. The format is a three-volume boxed set which can be purchased for $39.95 from China Books. Dragon Ball fans are bound to become enamored of this world classic.

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