Monkey and The Wizard of Oz
Monkey and The Wizard of Oz
Some of the world’s oldest stories are myths and legends that centered on journeys and quests (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu). It has often been said that people used the fictitious storylines of the aformentioned literary forms to boldly criticize everything that was wrong in their respective societies (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu). The element of travel was injected to symbolize the desire for change (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu). Two of the world’s most popular quest stories are Monkey (1584) and The Wizard of Oz (1900) (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu).
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Wu Chen-en’s Monkey (originally known as Journey to the West) was considered as “one of the four great classic novels written during the Ming Dynasty.” (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu) It was derived from the true story of Xuan Zang (602-664), a Chinese monk well-known for his pilgrimage to India in the 7th century to obtain sutras (Buddhist scriptures) that he will bring back to China (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu). Tripitaka, the main character in Monkey, was also a monk who travelled to the West in search of Buddhist scriptures to bring back to his native land. To ensure the success of Tripitaka’s undertaking, Buddha sent him three disciples: Monkey King (a powerful and intelligent, but cunning, monkey), Pigsy (a greedy half-human, half-pig) and Sandy (a patient and reliable sea monster). After encountering 81 dangers and calamities, the four managed to reach the Western Paradise, where Budhha finally gave them the sutras that they have to bring back to China (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu). He also rewarded them with immortal life and happiness for their loyalty and hard work.
Monkey was claimed to be Wu Chen-en’s criticm of the political, social and religious institutions of the Middle Ming Dynasty (1500-1582) (http://www.einaudi.cornell.edu). Hence, the storyline of Monkey was “the cultivation process of a cultivator” – the process of change (http://www.pureinsight.org). Meanwhile, each of the events and characters in the novel was a “metaphor that represents an idea in cultivation.” (http://www.pureinsight.org)
l Tripitaka – His character represented the “main body of cultivation or the cultivator.” (http://www.pureinsight.org) In Monkey, Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty named Xuan Zang as Tripitaka or Tan San Zang as “an honorary title to match the sacredness of the scripture-seeking journey.” (http://www.pureinsight.org) Emperor Taizong regarded Xuan Zang as his younger brother; thus, the surname Tang. (http://www.pureinsight.org) The name Tripitaka meant “Three Baskets” or “Priest of Tang.” (http://www.pureinsight.org) Meanwhile, “San” meant “three” in Chinese (http://www.pureinsight.org). The “Three Baskets of Scripture” that was featured in the novel contained “the Law describing Heaven, the Discourses describing Earth, and the Scriptures that save the Dead.” (http://www.pureinsight.org)
l Pigsy (also known as Zhu Wu Neng or Zhu Ba Jie) – Pigsy symbolized attachment to vices such as wealth, lust, gluttony and jealousy (http://www.pureinsight.org). The name Ba Jie or “Eight Commandments” pertained to the daily tasks a cultivator must do to eliminate these vices (http://www.pureinsight.org).
l Monkey King (also known as Sun Wu Kong) – The name Wu Kong meant “enlightened to nothingness,” referring to a person who thinks he already knows everything and therefore renders himself superior over others. (http://www.pureinsight.org) Meanwhile, the surname Sun is the Chinese term for “monkey.” (http://www.pureinsight.org) Indeed, although Monkey King was the most competent among Tripitaka’s followers, he was also the epitome of self-centered values such as competition, zealotry, arrogance and conceit. (http://www.pureinsight.org)
l Sandy (also known as Sha Wu Jing) – Sandy was the most hardworking and reliable among Tripitaka’s disciples. However, he was one whose idea of wisdom was restricted to the mechanical performance of everyday tasks, even if he doesn’t know the significance of what he was doing (http://www.pureinsight.org). Hence, Sandy was described as someone who represented “cultivators lost in secular illusions.” (http://www.pureinsight.org)
Critics argued that Monkey was actually the basis for L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wizard of Oz (originally known as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) (http://www.sexualfables.com). The two novels share the same storyline, except that Monkey was written in the contexts of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, while The Wizard of Oz assumed a Christian perspective (http://www.sexualfables.com). Furthermore, the events in The Wizard of Oz closely resembled the major events in China at the end of the 19th century – the period in which the novel was written (http://www.sexualfables.com). Hence, if Monkey was a criticism of the irregularities that hounded the Middle Ming Dynasty, The Wizard of Oz was a satire about Western imperialism and the Christian missionaries in China. (http://www.sexualfables.com).
In the original version of The Wizard of Oz, Baum included a chapter entitled “The Dainty China Country.” (http://www.sexualfables.com) In this chapter, Dorothy and her companions came across China Country, an area that was surrounded by a structure called the Great Wall. They managed to climb over the Great Wall, earning the resentment of China Country’s inhabitants over foreigners intruding in their region. Violence ensued as a result, forcing Dorothy’s group to leave. This chapter bore an uncanny resemblance to the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901, where peasants from Northern China (backed by the Empress Dowager Cixi) massacred Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians in a effort to rid China of all foreign influence (regarded as “a threat to Chinese culture”) (http://history1900s.about.com).
There were many more parallelisms between The Wizard of Oz and the state of China in the last years of the 19th century. The poppy fields that Dorothy and her friends encountered on their way to the Emerald City pertained to the Opium Wars of 1839-1842 and 1856-1860 (http://www.sexualfables.com). In the early 19th century, the British smuggled opium to China to compensate for the huge amounts they spent on importing tea from the latter (http://www.infoplease.com). China implemented its ban on opium importation in 1839 by destroying at Guangzhou (Canton) huge amounts of opium seized from British traders (http://www.infoplease.com). The British retaliated by sending warships to destroy China’s coastal cities (http://www.infoplease.com).
In September 1900, the Boston Beacon wrote, “the Scarecrow wears a Russian blouse, the fierce Tin Woodman bears a striking resemblance to Emperor Wilhelm of Germany, the Cowardly Lion with its scarlet beard and tail tip at once suggest Great Britain and the Flying Monkeys wear a military cap in Spanish colors.” (http://www.sexualfables.com) These were the imperialist countries that had strong political and economic interests in China in the waning years of the 19th century. The Emerald City was actually the Forbidden City, where the Guangxu Emperor (symbolized by the Wizard of Oz in the novel) was kept under house arrest after the Empress seized power from him through a coup d’etat in 1898 (http://www.sexualfables.com). It must be noted that in the novel, the Wicked Witch of the West got into power by establishing a reign of terror in Winkie Country.
The Wicked Witch of the West bore disturbing resemblances to the Empress (http://www.sexualfables.com). The illustrations of the witch in the original novel (done by Frank Denslow) showed her in “Manchu pigtails, her imperial regalia and her Golden Cap” – the traditional court attire of the Empress (http://www.sexualfables.com). In addition, the Wicked Witch of the West’s weakness was floods – an allegory to the Yellow River flood of 1899, which submerged large areas of northeastern China (http://www.sexualfables.com). Dorothy was able to defat the witch by throwing a bucket of water at the latter. Even Denslow’s drawings of the Munchkins (the inhabitants of Munchkinland) – “long beards and shaven heads with little topknots of hair” – closely adhered to American caricatures of the Chinese in the late 19th century (http://www.sexualfables.com).
Indeed, the quest story has been one of the oldest and the most popular weapons against an oppressive status quo. But the fictional nature of the quest story makes it prone to manipulation and misinterpretation, particularly by factions who want to preserve their hedgemony over society. Hence, readers should be critical – how this literary form is analyzed can spell the difference between an enlightened populance and a victimized one.
Subbaraman, Ramnath. “Beyond the Question of the Monkey Imposter: Indian Influence on the Chinese Novel, The Journey to the West.” March 2002. Sino-Platonic Papers.
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