Legend of the Monkey King: World’s First Superhero
Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is one of the most famous Chinese legendary mythical figures and is the main character in the 16th-century Chinese novel 'Journey to the West.' He is also referred to as ‘Great Sage, Heaven's Equal’ and is probably the world’s first and most popular superhero.
Monkey King Movies
This is also one of the most popular Chinese stories for kids, and over forty Monkey King movies, thirty television series, seven stage plays, and several comic and animated versions were made, and more are in the planning stages.
This Chinese Monkey King gained immortality and superpower from years of spiritual study as well as fights with deities and demons. Unfortunately, he was short-tempered, impatient, extremely arrogant, and believed that nothing could beat him, which got him into lots of trouble.
He was a villain and planned to take over the world, but his fate led him to a Buddhist monk named Tang Sanzang who changed Sun Wukong into a good, cultural superhero.
Birth and Early Life
The Sun Wukong story is epic, and it's too long and complex for this children’s story. So, I will primarily focus from his birth and early life, up to the time when he was rescued by the Buddhist monk.
Sun Wukong's Powers and Weapons
We will also review all his weapons and abilities that turn him into an invincible villain, and later, with the same weapons and superpower abilities, make him a righteous and good superhero.
So, let’s find out who Sun Wukong is and why he is the Monkey King.
Sun Wukong Story
Sun Wukong, unlike any other immortals, had a unique abnormal birth. He was born from an immortal stone egg that was found on top of Mount Huaguo, the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits. It was an enormous stone measuring more than 36 feet in height and 24 feet in circumference.
There were no trees to shade and protect the stone but were nourished for a long time by seeds from Heaven and Earth. The sun, moon, and stars also provided essence to feed this immortal stone, which later became pregnant with a supernormal embryo.
Birth of Sun Wukong
After thousands of years of this divine nurturing, the egg finally splits open giving birth to a stone egg. It was a small stone about the size of a football and after exposure to the wind, it slowly turned into a stone monkey. It was only an ordinary monkey with no superpower, not just yet. He was skinny and about four feet tall. This is Sun Wukong, who will later be known as the Monkey King.
Immortal Stone Egg
Sun Wukong, being born from an immortal stone egg, has no father, mother, brother, or sister. So he roamed the soundless and eerie mountain area looking for companions. One day he saw a group of wandering monkeys and quietly followed them. Unsure of their reactions and also afraid in case the group might attack him, he was extremely careful but alas, he was spotted. Fortunately for him, they liked him and took him into their care.
King of Monkeys
Happy at last to find companions to play, eat and sleep with, he decided to live with them. One day, as they were fooling around at a waterfall, one of the older monkeys suggested a game where whoever can jump through the waterfall and find its source will be declared the King of Monkeys.
Of course, Sun Wukong with his still inert immortal instinct took the challenge. He swiftly jumped ahead of the other monkeys who were screeching and struggling with the waterfall's wet and slimy rocky surfaces. He moved upstream swinging along the tree branches and dodging the hissing snarl of poisonous snakes within the rocks.
He finally found the stream source and gave a loud howl and declared himself King of Monkeys.
Natural Born Trickster
He spent his days feasting, playing, and fooling around with his fellow monkey buddies. Like any monkey, Sun Wukong was mischievous and a natural-born trickster with a wicked sense of humor. He can also be selfish, cynical, and cruel because he knows that he is Monkey King. He was not interested in the opinion of others and did things for his own gratification.
Looking for Immortality
In one of their foolish squabbles, one of the monkeys tripped and died. This left a great scar on Sun Wukong as he suddenly felt the risk and the possibility of death. Despite all the fun and luxury, one day he, too, will die. He was depressed and decided to give up everything and was determined to find immortality and superpowers. So, he left his monkey friends to go on this unknown journey alone.
Wukong wandered aimlessly for a long time until one day he arrived at a human village. Afraid of his monkey-human look, the people ran away. Since no one was around, he stole some food and clothes and continued his search for immortality.
After several days of travel, he arrived at a forest where he heard someone singing a melodious tune. Intrigued, he asked about the song and was told an immortal living deep in the forest had taught him the tune.
With luck, he finally found the place which seemed like an entrance to a temple. He peered in but was refused entry by the magical immortal Puti Zhushi. Sun Wukong persisted and waited for several months.
Moved by the Monkey King’s perseverance, Puti Zhushi finally let him in and accepted Wukong’s request to be his student, to learn the way to Immortality. But it was on the condition that Wukong would not show off his skills and reveal the source of his newfound knowledge. Of course, Sun Wukong had to agree and the moment he said yes, he suddenly woke up and found himself back in the forest.
Sun Wukong then realized that those years of teaching and learning happened in a time-compressed trance and were like a dream.
With his newfound immortality and new allies formed with other powerful demons, Wukong fought the Dragon King and other sea demons and won. He went on to win more battles, which earned him new powerful weapons and gained more superpowers.
Sun Wukong Powers
His superpower and weapons were so terrifying that other immortals and demons will shiver with fear when they hear his name. For Sun Wukong can be morphed into 72 different looks, and because he is immortal, he cannot die. He has cloud-walking boots that can take him over thousands of miles using clouds as his vehicle. A single somersault will land him 33,554 miles / 54,000 km away. He is also very strong and even with the weight of two huge mountains on his back, he can still run.
Ruyi Jingu Bang
But his favorite weapon was ‘ruyi jingu bang’, a gold-banded iron rod that can change size as small as a hairpin and enlarged so huge that it touched heaven and hell. It can also fly and attack enemies, all at his command. This rod weighs over eight tons but Su Wukong can lift it effortlessly.
Sadly, even after finding immortality and supernatural powers, he was never satisfied. He was still hungry and greedy for more and will use the newfound superpower to get better honorific titles and reputations. This insatiable appetite kept growing. He was also short-tempered, impatient, full of anger, and he wreaked havoc on Heaven. These eventually got Sun Wukong into trouble.
Dragged to Hell
So, Yan Wang, the King of Hell, was sent to get Wukong. After several fights, he was eventually dragged to Hell.
Erased From Book of Life and Death
Sun Wukong was no ordinary villain and with his sly trickster instinct, he hoodwinked Yan Wang into sending him back to earth. Before leaving Hell, the scheming Wukong took revenge and erased his name and all of his other forest monkey friend’s names from the Book of Life and Death. By doing so, he made his monkey friends and himself immortal as the fetchers of death had no access to their names.
Note: Sun Wukong gained immortality initially as a disciple to Puti Zhushi, then by having his name erased from the Book of Life and Death. Although not covered in this version of the children's story (too long and complex) he also gained immortality by eating the three Peaches of Immortality, drinking the Heavenly Wine, and taking the Pills of Longevity,
Imprisoned Under a Mountain
Tampering the 'Book of Life and Death' was a big mistake that further enraged the Gods who had difficulty capturing the Monkey King. It was only through Buddha's intervention that he was finally defeated and imprisoned by pinning him underneath the Five Elements Mountain for five hundred years, to teach him humility and tolerance.
So, for five centuries he was buried in darkness and dampness, and the only thing he could do was to reflect on his violent past.
Tang Sanzang, the Buddhist Monk
Eventually, a traveling Buddhist monk, Tang Sanzang, stumbled on the mountain where Sun Wukong was trapped under. Happy to be found, Wukong pleaded for help and asked to be released. The monk agreed, but only if the Monkey King repent and be his disciple. It was not easy for Wukong to accept the conditions, but he finally said yes.
With guidance from Tang Sanzang, Sun Wukong finally found humility and patience and became a righteous, much loved, and cherished superhero that lasted for generations.
Sun Wukong's Abilities
Now that you learn how a villain can finally repent, let’s take a peek at Sun Wukong’s powers and abilities that make him a villain, and later, using the same abilities, to be a good Chinese superhero.
- 72 Transformations: Can change to 72 different forms but he cannot transform his tail.
- Fire Avoidance Charm (Bi Huo Jue): With this charm, he can survive the fire.
- His Hairs Have Magical Properties: When he bites his hair, he can create copies of himself or be transformed into animals or other objects.
- Body Freezing Spell: With this spell, he can freeze and immobilize his enemies.
- Water Avoidance Charm (Bi Shui Jue): He can breathe and survive even in deep water but he cannot fight using the powers that he has while using this ability.
- Somersault Cloud (Jīndǒuyún): The skill to cover 33,554 miles / 54,000 km in a single somersault/leap.
- Fiery Eyes & Golden Gaze (Huǒyǎn-jīnjīng): Ability to pick out evil even if it is disguised. But when Su Kong uses this power, it stings his eyes.
- Lock-Breaking Spell (Jie Suo Fa): He can unlock any lock by just pointing his finger or his gold-banded iron rod.
- Body Outside of Body (Shen Wai Shen Fa): Can clone and create many copies of himself.
- Protective Circle: Can create a protective barrier by just drawing a circle on the ground with his gold-banded iron rod.
- Summoning Power: This ability gives him the power to summon the local deities (god/goddess/immortal).
- Wind Power: The skill to create strong winds and storms.
Sun Wukong’s Powerful Weapons
All mythical heroes have their own powerful weapons. Sun Wukong had several magical and powerful weapons that he used during his bad villain days and during his newfound good superhero days.
- Phoenix Feather Cap (Fèngchìzǐjinguān): This was taken from the Dragon Kings of the Oceans, Biting the feather makes Sun Wukong looks more aggressive. It will also make good people do good deeds and bad people do bad deeds.
- Golden Chain Mail: This is also one of Dragon Kings’ treasures and is a magical armor made up of small metal rings linked together for protection and to make Wukong invulnerable.
- Cloud-Walking Boots: This was also taken from the Dragon Kings. With these boots, he can use clouds as his vehicle and travel over thousands of miles.
- Gold-Banded Iron Rod (Ruyi Jingu Bang): You guessed it right, this was also one of Dragon Kings’ treasures. This weapon weighs 8.1 tons, but Sun Wukong had no problem lifting it. The rod can be changed to any size and was used to crush his enemies.
Vocabulary Words for Kids
In this Sun Wukong, the Monkey King story, there are words that may be new to your kids. I list some of the words below together with their meanings (as per the storyline) as a guide and reference. This might be a great way to increase and add a variety of words to their already expanding vocabulary.
- Legendary: Famous, well-known, and admired.
- Mythical: Existing only in stories, and not real.
- Sage: A wise and distinguished person with years of experience.
- Immortal: Can live forever, cannot die.
- Arrogant: Someone who thinks he is more important than others, superior.
- Villain: A bad person.
- Cultural: Relating to customs, ideas, and social behavior of the people.
- Complex: Difficult.
- Buddhist: Religion based on Buddha's teachings.
- Monk: A person who practices religious severe self-discipline.
- Abnormal: Unusual, uncommon.
- Unique: Special.
- Circumference: Boundary, border.
- Nourish: Feed with healthy food.
- Essence: Soul, spirit, life.
- Embryo: Unborn baby.
- Divine: Godly, angelic.
- Nurturing: Take care, look after.
- Exposure: When it is in contact with something
- Eerie: Ghostly, sinister
- Companion: Friends
- Wandering: Travel aimlessly
- Roam: Move about aimlessly
- Instinct: A way of behaving with a unique ability
- Swiftly: Fast.
- Poisonous: Something that is deadly.
- Dodging: Sidestep, duck, bolt.
- Feasting: A large meal, eat a large quantity of food.
- Trickster: A cheat, someone who tricks.
- Gratification: Satisfaction, relief.
- Cynical: Distrustful of human sincerity.
- Opinion: A belief, judgment, what someone thinks about.
- Squabble: Fight, quarrel.
- Depressed: Sad, unhappy.
- Melodious: Tuneful, pleasant sounds.
- Intrigued: Curious, fascinated.
- Peered: To peek, to look carefully.
- Compressed: Squeezed.
- Trance: Daze, haze.
- Allies: Friends who are on your side.
- Demon: Devil, monster.
- Somersault: Turns head over heels in the air.
- Rod: A stick, bar.
- Effortlessly: Easily, without difficulty.
- Monkey King, Wikipedia: History, background, and his early life.
- The Story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King: Research works by Jim R. McClanahan on the novel 'The Journey to the West.'
- Sun Wukong, the Monkey King - Mythopedia: Online mythology resources on Sun Wukong, the Monkey King as compiled by Mythopedia.
- The Many Faces of the Monkey King: How the legend of Sun Wukong lives on in the current media with the loosely adapted version of the 'The Journey to the West.'
- Monkey King - Chinese Tale: History, background, and the adventures of the Monkey King.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Mazlan A
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 27, 2021:
greastuff, you're welcome.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on September 27, 2021:
Hi Miebakagh, you are right. Religion plays a vital role in changing lives and even more so for Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. Unfortunately, now people mixed religion with cultural and political beliefs and things get messed up!
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 27, 2021:
Spell bound and interesting story indeed. The moral is that religion plays a vital role in changing lives.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on September 26, 2021:
Hi MG, thanks for dropping by and commenting. In the Journey to the West, the Monkey King traveled to India to help find the Buddhist sacred texts, sutras.
MG Singh from UAE on September 26, 2021:
very interesting story. Thanks for sharing