Frequently Asked Questions about Sun Wukong in Chinese Mythology

Sun Wukong is figure in Chinese mythology that often behaves unpredictably and breaks the rules, bringing chaos but also change and innovation.

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What is he best known for?

The Monkey King is known for his strength, speed, agility, and ability to transform into various animals and objects.

He is seen as a disruptive force that challenges the status quo. By so doing, he brings about change and innovation.

How did Sun Wukong acquire his powers?

Sun Wukong was born from a stone on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, and after demonstrating his intelligence and power, he became the king of the monkeys on this mountain. Later, he learned Taoist magic and martial arts from a sage and gained various supernatural abilities including immortality, shape-shifting, and the ability to fly.

Sun Wukong is known for his rebellion against the celestial order, even going as far as proclaiming himself the “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven”.

How did he come to be called the Monkey King?

From birth, he showed incredible strength and intelligence, earning the respect and admiration of the other monkeys on the mountain. After demonstrating his bravery by jumping through a waterfall to discover the Water Curtain Cave, he was named the Monkey King by his peers.

Why did the Monkey King challenge the gods in the celestial heavens?

With his newfound powers, Sun Wukong was not content to just be the king of the monkeys. He made himself known to the Celestial Heavens and challenged the gods. The Jade Emperor, the ruler of Heaven, tried to pacify Sun Wukong by giving him a title, but this only led to more rebellion when Sun Wukong realized he was given a lowly position.

What punishment did he receive for challenging the Jade Emperor?

His defiance of the Jade Emperor led to a great war between Heaven and Sun Wukong. Despite his strength and magic, he was finally captured when the Buddha intervened. As a punishment, the Buddha imprisoned him under a mountain where he remained trapped for 500 years.

Sun Wukong's punishment

What is the significance of Sun Wukong’s staff?

The staff that Sun Wukong uses, Ruyi Jingu Bang, was acquired from the Dragon King Ao Guang of the East Sea. It was used by the dragon to measure the depth of the sea before the trickster god stole it.

The fact that Sun Wukong was able to effortlessly wield it signifies his immense strength and power.

According to the myths, Sun Wukong’s magical staff could change its size, multiply itself, and fight according to the will of its master.

Ruyi Jingu Bang

Ruyi Jingu Bang is no ordinary staff. It has the magical ability to change its size according to Sun Wukong’s will, from being as small as a sewing needle to as large as a pillar supporting the heavens.

How did he get the spells of 72 transformations?

Seeking to attain immortality and greater knowledge, Sun Wukong traveled to find a master who could teach him. He became a disciple of the Taoist sage Subhuti, who taught him in the ways of Taoist magic. From Subhuti, Sun Wukong learned spells of 72 transformations, ability to fly, clone himself, and the secret to immortality.

Who are the main adversaries of the Monkey King?

In addition to the Jade Emperor and deities of the Celestial Heavens, Sun Wukong was infamous for picking up fights with quite a number of people, including entities that were downright evil.

Once again, his shape-shifting abilities and tricks come very handy those numerous confrontations.

Throughout his journey to the West with the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang, the Monkey King confronts numerous demons, monsters, and evil spirits. These adversaries often aim to capture Xuanzang, as it’s believed consuming the flesh of Xuanzang would grant them immortality.

Perhaps Sun Wukong’s greatest adversary is himself, or rather his uncontrollable nature. His impulsiveness, pride, and rebelliousness often lead him into trouble, and part of his character development throughout the story is learning to control these traits.

Sun Wukong in Chinese mythology

The Monkey King fighting a wind demon

How does the Monkey King compare to other trickster deities?

In mythology and literature worldwide, the trickster is a common archetype—a character who disrupts the status quo, using their wits to challenge the established order and provoke change.

We see this in several wisdom and trickster deities, especially Anansi (the spider in Akan mythology), Daucina (in Fijian mythology), Amaguq (in Inuit mythology), Ekwensu (in Igbo mythology), Veles (in Slavic mythology), Prometheus (in Greek mythology), Loki (in Norse mythology), and Māui (in Polynesian mythology).

Sun Wukong, with his cleverness and playful mischief, certainly can be compared to those aforementioned deities.

Is Sun Wukong a deity?

While not necessarily a god in the traditional sense, Sun Wukongnis a highly powerful figure in Chinese mythology. He possesses immense strength, the ability to transform into various forms, and wields a staff capable of changing size according to his will.

Read More: 10 Most Popular Chinese Deities and their Roles in the Pantheon

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