(Chinese: "The Westwards Journey" or "Journey to the West")
Title of a novel, the first Chinese novel which can be ascribed to an identifiable author: Wu Cheng'en (1506-1582) from Jiangsu province.
The first printed edition of Xiyou Ji, in 100 chapters, was published in 1592, written in the contemporarily popular "spoken word style", baihua.
The book builds on legendary material about the monk Xuanzang, called Tripitaka in the novel, who made a hazardous pilgrimage to India in the years 629 to 645, to bring the holy scriptures of Buddhism to China. Collections of legends about Xuanzang, dating from the 13th century on, have been preserved, as well as plays and a narrative poem which closely parallels the events in Xiyou Ji.
The book is structured around a series of allegorical episodes occurring at the beginning of Xuanzang/Tripitaka's pilgrimage, and revolving around the assembly of the entourage of pilgrims and their journey through a wild and trackless region.
Xuanzang plays a secondary rôle in the tale, the actual protagonist being Sun Wukong, a mythical figure - half-man, half-monkey. By virtue of cunning, humour, and personal bravery, Sun Wukong (generally called "Monkey" or the "Monkey King") becomes the actual leader of the expedition. The other travelling companions are similarly anthropomorphic animal figures, symbolic of human frailties and passions.
The philosophical object of the story is the uncovering of hypocrisy and the search for moral integrity and lasting values, set in the form of a somewhat burlesque satire. The enduring appeal of the tale has led to its becoming a staple of the Peking opera.
The story has also caught the imagination of Western audiences, most notably via the 1942 translation into English (Monkey, by Arthur Waley), and a TV series (Saiyuki, Japan 1979).