Anonymous asked: “I'm reading Journey to the West right now - can you tell me about Chinese history during the time it was written, and about Indian history and the countries in between as well?”


This is one of those questions whose answer could be the subject of multiple books — and probably is(!), as the turn of the Tang/Song Dynasties and the Silk Road’s history from India, Central Asia, and China. Here’s a few of my suggestions (that I have not read, and cannot vouch for in terms of quality):

  • Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book - Joyce Morgan 
  • Silk Road - Valerie Hansen 
  • Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present - Christopher Beckwith
  • In the Footsteps of the Buddha: An Iconic Journey from India to China - Catalogue 
  • Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400 - Tensen Sen 
  • Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim On The Silk Road - Sally Wriggins 
  • When Asia Was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors, and Monks Who Created the “Riches of the “East” - Stewart Gordon 

AsianHistory has posted really useful and cool books! Just thought I’d share my post about what really happened during the actual Journey To The West in the Tang.

Part One, Two, and Three. Ming dynasty writer Wu Cheng En was so fascinated wit’ this journey that he created the Monkey King and all the other characters to accompany the monk on the epic journey.

3 months ago · 116 notes · Reblogged from asianhistory

Historical Origins: Journey to the West Part II

So, after escaping a would-be murderer, Monk Sanzang would totally be safe, right? Um, wrong. Things actually sucked much worse after that. See, since he passed by Gaozhou illegally, people wanted to arrest him. He spilled his water and got lost, so this was pretty much a recipe for like, death.

He then travelled like, 80 li, or like, 40 kilometres before he came to this military fortress. He was like, really freakin’ scared so he hid in the shade durin’ the day, and went there at night. When he went up to the fortress, someone shot an arrow at him and… missed

“Don’t kill me! I’m a monk from Chang’an!” he said.

“You’re a monk? Cool! Hang on, lemme get the subcommander.”

Yeah, the Tang monk was pretty lucky because the subcommander of the fortress was Buddhist, gave him some water and bread, and even escorted him a little bit to the next fortress. The dude at the next fortress was also Buddhist and treated the Tang monk well, too, But the dudes at this fortress told him not to go to the next one ‘cause the dude was cranky and shiz, so he should totally go to Wild Horse Springs, which was like, 800 li or 400 kilometres away.

The Tang monk journeyed again, and he dropped his flask. He totally wanted to turn back, but he’d made this vow to not turn back, no matter what, so he was kind of stuck in the desert for five days without water. He fainted.

When he came to, he realized that he was near a pond, so he drank all the water and took a rest, stuff like that. Two days later, left the desert and reached Yuwu, and then Gaochang, which is like modern day Turfan/Turpan in Xinjiang.

Qu Wentai met him in Xinjiang. He was also a Buddhist, and he was like, “OMG, you’re totally that monk from the Tang empire! You totally have to stay and we have to give lectures to errbody, man.”

But Monk Sanzang couldn’t stay, and so Qu Wentai gave him like, 25 men, 30 horses, and wrote letters to all the kingdoms that the monk might stop by so that he might as for safe passage, which was like, so totally cool.

The next part of the journey really sucked ‘cause now they ventured into the snow, walked past mountains and experienced avalanches. But they made it to Suiye, which is Tokmok in Northern Kyrgyzstan today. This made things a li’l easier for the monk, but there were still obstacles to overcome before he came to India.

1 year ago · 15 notes

Historical Origins: Journey to the West Part I

Errbody sort of knows, or has at least heard of the Chinese epic, Journey to the West. 西游记 (Xī Yóu Jì). It’s also known as Monkey in English translations, and I’ve already blogged about the (Handsome) Monkey King, Pigsy and Sha Wujing, so it’s about time that I do a proper post about Tripitaka, or Tang Xuanzang, ‘cause he actually existed.

Like, whoa. I know, right?


(This is Wu Cheng En, the author of Journey to the West. He kinda drew inspiration from the journey that actually happened.)

Anyway, this is what we know about the dude. His real name is Chen Hui, and he was from Goushi, Henan province. When he was 13, he became a monk, and he got the name, Monk Sanzang, or sānzàng fa shi (三蔵法師) after he got all the scriptures, ‘cause sanzang, or “Tripitaka” is the name of the Buddhist scriptures, and didn’t actually refer to the dude himself until… well… some mythologization from Wu Cheng En. He was also related to some royal officials from various dynasties. Even though he grew up in a family wit’ Confucian values, he told his parents that he wanted to grow up to be a monk, and so he did.

So in 622 AD (or 627 or 629 okay, seriously, no one agrees on this) He set off for Chang ‘an to seek the truth. It was basically somethin’ he felt he should do - he wanted to study Buddhism in its entirety, fo’ realz, He felt that he had to go to the place where Buddhism originated (India) in order to fully understand it, which is what he did.

This actually had been done before, by this dude called Faxian, and Xuanzang read what had happened to him by sea and was all, “Dudes, Imma travel by land, OK? I kinda want water to drink, and I don’t want my shipmates to threaten to eat me ‘cause there’s no food on board.” That was pretty much what happened to Faxian, and Xuanzang was not down wit’ that.

Not that travelling by land was any easier, though. There were Turks in the north and Sassanids in the south-west, and they weren’t really welcoming to peeps from Chang An. I mean, Tang Taizong was tryna play off the Turks against each other so he could conquer them, so you could see how dangerous it was for Xuanzang to go. 

Anyway, he got to Gaozhou, well, slipped by is more like it, with this really old horse and this guide called Shi Pantuo, who was of Hu ethnicity. Anyway, his old horse died along the way, and they finally made it to the Yumen pass, or the Jade Gate Pass. Then, you know, after a night’s rest, Shi Pantuo decided to kill the Tang monk, who was all, “No way, bro.” Eventually, (I don’t know how, both sources didn’t say) the Tang monk and the would-be murderer went their separate ways. 

Next: Historical Origins: Journey to the West Part II

1 year ago · 27 notes

Journey to the Ten Courts and Eighteen Levels of Hell (II)

There’s this thing we Chinese peeps do - syncretism, which means putting together two different religions, like Taoism and Buddhism. It’s like, the version of hell has both religions because there are the Black and White Guard of Impermanence who has Taoist, and Cowhead and Horseface, who are Buddhist.

The Chinese version of hell is also based on this thang called karma, a concept we imported from India. Remember, there was this Buddhist monk called Xuanzang who went to collect the Buddhist scriptures in India to clear up all the confusion, so this probably influenced how the Chinese peeps thought about hell. (We also got a kick-ass book about it, too. It’s called Journey to the West.)

Anyway, before you read any further, you should know that this post is gonna be as graphic as fuck. And when I don’t censor the f word, you know this is serious business, so brace yourself. Before we go on further, I must also warn you of this:  

Read More

2 years ago · 101 notes

Journey to the Ten Courts and Eighteen Levels of Hell (I)

Warning: This post is not for the faint-hearted, fo’ shiz. I mean, like seriously. It’s got ghosts and demons and humans being tortured, so you really don’t wanna see this if you’re like, eating breakfast on the other side of the globe. 

But if you’re sure you won’t like, puke or whatever, Imma introduce the Chinese version of Hell to you, woo! 

I guess most of you would be like, more familiar with the Western versions of the afterlife, but the Chinese version of hell is a lot more awful. It makes Dante’s Inferno look like cakewalk, because seriously? Nine circles aren’t enough. The Chinese people believe that there are eighteen levels of hell, and ten government offices in it, too.

Here’s what hell looks like:

This is the ninth level of hell, where all them demons boil sex offenders like rapists and molesters. But obviously I am getting ahead of myself, because I have to introduce hell properly.

Of course this Chinese writer, Wu Cheng En, was wayyy ahead of me by like, five hundred years, and this is part of the story, Journey to the West (yes, the one with the bad-ass monkey King in it,) so spoiler alert!

Anyway, the story starts here, with the Dragon King of the Jing River being pissed, and ends with the two soldiers protecting Emperor Taizong, but the story was so obviously not finished. The Emperor still couldn’t sleep even though the Dragon King didn’t show up anymore, and he was like, being haunted by ghosts.

So like, one morning, the Emperor was still lying in his bed, feelin’ sick, when one of his advisers came in. He was all, “Hey Emperor! I know how to get you out of your funk!”

"What?" the Emperor croacked.

"Give this letter to Judge Cui Jue of Fengdu." the adviser handed him a letter.

"Who the hell is Judge Cui Jue?"

"Um, Emperor, Judge Cui Jue IS the Judge of the Underworld."


Sidenote: Fengdu is a real place! It’s along the upper part of the Yangtze River in China’s Sichuan province.

Anyway, the adviser was all, “Maybe if you meet the King of Hell, your mind would be at ease,” and the Emperor was all like, “K,” and drifted off to sleep.

The next thing Emperor Taizong saw was the sign to the Ghost City, Fengdu. Then,  he walked through Hell’s gate and a demon was all, “How dare you enter!” Stuff like this.

He was all, “Um, I’m the Emperor?”

"Yeah, sure," the demon said. "Where’s your identification, huh? Anyway, get lost."

"Oh, STFU," a voice said. It was Judge Cui Jue, and he was all, "Hi, you have a letter for me?"

And the Emperor was all, “Um, yeah.”

"Cool. Oh yeah. You don’t have to worry. You’ll be able to go back to Earth and rule, no prob."

Then, the Emperor noticed all the courts that surrounded them and he was all, “Wassat?”

So Judge Cui Jue started showing him around. 

There was the first court, the Department of Births and Deaths, which King Qingguang was in charge of. He decides who gets to be born again, literally, and who gets tortured forever.

The second court’s got King Chujiang, who’s like, totally in charge of sentencing souls to the Chamber of Wind, Thunder and Ice.

The third court’s got King Songdi and he’s totally in charge of sending peeps to be skinned and have their eyes plucked out.

The fourth court’s where people see King Wuguan, and if you’re found guilty, you have to climb a mountain of knives.

The fifth court’s where King Yama tells the demons to take the souls away to have their hearts dug out.

The sixth court is the place where people get sentenced to have their tongues ripped out, and is run by King Biancheng.

The seventh court is ruled by King Taishan and he decides if people get boiled by oil or dismboweled.

It gets worse as we go, huh?

In the eighth court, King Dushi decides whether your bodies get torn apart or crushed.

In the ninth court, King Pingdeng decides if you get tortured by fire poles.

And lastly, in the tenth court, King Zhuanlun decides if you get reincarnated.

Anyway, after all that, the Emperor talked to Judge Cui Jue and asked, “Hey, uh… so, the whole Dragon King thing - no hard feelings, right? I mean, I did everythin’ I could.”

Judge Cui Jue was like, “Dude, it’s pre-destined, and by the way, you’re not gonna die really soon - you’ll like, rule the Kingdom for like, 10 more years or somethin’.”

So the Emperor prepared to leave, but he sees errything in hell, like Cowhead and Horseface, the Black and White Guard of Impermanence, and of course, the 18 levels of hell, which we’ll so look at next time.

Edit: I changed the picture to the correct one! Sorry guys, I was writing another post and that pic came in, my bad.

2 years ago · 55 notes

Sudhana as Red Boy (红孩儿) makes a cameo in Journey to the West

So we’ve talked about the religious version of Sudhana, but in the literary version, he’s known as Red Boy, or Hong Hai Er (红孩儿) in Chinese. He appears in none other than Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng En, and being a spirit of mischief, he abducts Sun Wu Kong’s Master, Tripitaka.

Oh yeah, and Pigsy, too.

There was this real epic battle, and Sun Wu Kong went up against Red Boy. while their weapons clashed, SUn Wu Kong was all, “Hey! Give me back my master or I’ll tell your Dad!”

"Go ahead!"

"You and my Dad are sworn brothers, y’know."

"Yeah Right."

Red Boy was able to control this really powerful thang, called Samadhi fire, and this fire was indestructible. So, to kill Sun Wu Kong, he filled five carts with Samadhi fire, and made them all go after the Monkey King. The fire was so great, it could cover up heaven, but Sun Wu Kong was real smart and he cast a fire resistance spell. But by this time, the Red Boy was back at his cave, thinkin’ that he was oh-so clever, that he’d defeated the Monkey King.

Sun Wu Kong knew he couldn’t put out the fire with ordinary water, so he went to the Dragon King of the East Sea, askin’ him to make some rain to put out the fire.

The Dragon King was all, “Sorry, bro. Red Boy’s fire is really special, even I can’t do anything about it. My rain will make the fire burn more furiously.” Sun Wu Kong didn’t wanna be burned by the flames, and so he decided to go to his old pal, Guan Yin, who helped him many times in his journey, and will help him a lot more.

Guan Yin was all, “All right, I’ll help.”

Wu Kong challenged Red Boy to a showdown again, and they fought in a forest. Red Boy ran into the forest, and he found a lotus. It was Guan Yin’s lotus seat and pretty much sacred, but Red Boy didn’t give a shit and sat on it, copying how Guan Yin usually posed. Then, swords came out of the throne and poked Red Boy, and Red Boy yelped in pain. When he tried to get out of the Lotus seat, the swords became halberds, which made everything more painful. Finally, Red Boy yelled, “Have mercy, please!” and Guan Yin appeared.

"I guess I can release you," she said.

"Can you please please please do it now?"

"Nope. You have to become my disciple," she said.

"All right all right! Lemme go!" Red Boy agreed. But when she released Red Boy, he tried to attack her.

Guan Yin wasn’t fazed, and she tossed golden bands and they went round Red Boy’s head, wrists and legs. Then recited the same mantra used to activate Wu Kong’s band, “Om mani padme hum,” and Red Boy couldn’t attack her no more.

Sun Wu Kong was all, “Awesome! Red Boy, the li’l titch, is caught!” 

Red Boy got so pissed and tried to remove the bands around him, but Guan Yin chanted the mantra and Red Boy couldn’t do anything but put his two palms together and bow.

Wu Kong could now free his master, and be on his way, and Red Boy was named “Shancai,” and followed Guan Yin as her new disciple.

2 years ago · 2 notes

Guan Yin’s Assistant, Sudhana

Just so you know, we’re talking about the dude beside Guan Yin. While we’re talking about her, we might as well give him his due, don’t ya think?

If you’re familiar with Journey to the West, you’ll also know that he’s the Red Boy! (红孩儿 hong hai er) He’s also the supposed son of Princess Iron Fan and the Bull Demon King (more on them later.) In Chinese temples, he’s called 善财童子 (shan cai tong zi) because he’s good with money.

And you thought he couldn’t have enough names. 

'Cause of all those names, we have Sudhana first, and we'll first talk about the first myth in which he gets his name Sudhana or Shan Cai Tong Zi, k? Sooo, even though there's this Indian myth about Sudhana here, we’re gonna look at the Chinese versions. Remember, China imported Buddhism ‘cause of the Silk Road, and like Guan Yin, they made this god their own.

Anyway, this tale is set in the Tang Dynasty, and it goes somthin’ like this,

There was this minister called Chen Bao. He had a wife called Lady Han, and they were like, so desperate for children. Though Lady Han was all, “Hey, get a concubine!” Chen Bao was all, “Nuuuuuu,” so she said, “Hey! Let’s pray to Guan Yin!"  So Guan Yin was watchin’ them peeps in heaven and suddenly, got got a text message prayer from the couple, so she was all, “Oh what the hell. Why not?” and gave them a boy! The boy was called Chen Lian, but when he was 5, Lady Han died, and that was that.

Except, not really. Since Chen Lian was a child given to the minister from Guan Yin, he was so totally not down with learning how to fight wars or rule the state, which really pissed off his father. Chen Lian totally wanted to be religious, and his Dad didn’t want no monk to rule the state. When Chen Lian was 7, his Dad finally gave up and said, “Yeah, yeah, go do your religious thangs,” and let him learn from the Yellow Dragon Immortal. So Chen Lian was given the name Shan Cai and started learning the way of the Buddha. His Dad was all, “Why don’t you come home to visit?’ But Chen Lian was all, “It’s cool Dad. Kthx.”

So his father was all upset and this goes on for a li’l bit, till Shancai’s Dad says, “Hey, I’m turning 60, and you should like, totally visit me to celebrate.” Shancai was all, “Eh, all right,” since his Master wasn’t around, why not? So Shancai walked down the mountain, and that’s when shit happened. He heard a voice

See, he heard a voice crying loudly from a bottle. He was all, “WTF? Seriously?” So he went to take a look. The voice was all, “Um, hi. I’m a snake. And… life has sucked for me the past 18 years ‘cause I’m like, totally trapped here.” Shancai was taught by his teacher that all life is precious, and he decided to set it free.

Big mistake. Once out, the snake was all, “Sweet! Imma eat you. I forgot to tell you that I’m hungry.”

"What? No way."

"Way. Don’t you know, that every kind act is repaid by an unkind one? That’s how the world works."


"Don’t believe me? Let’s go ask three random gods. They’ll agree with me."

Which is what they did. So they walked and came to a human being who looked kinda of like a bull. Or a buffalo. Or a cow. Whatever. So they asked him if the snake should totally eat Shancai, and he was all, “Um, yeah. The snake is right. Once, the peeps of earth were in trouble, and I told Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to help  ’em. He was like, “K, I’ll do it, but they need to pay me back. Y’know, burn offerings and stuff.” The people didn’t give a shit, and so I was kicked down to Earth ‘cause of that, and he said that my eyes would fall out and hit the ground. My teeth were gone, but I could still work, so I toiled for my master, and my master roasted me when I was too old to work. And guess what? While he was cooking, my eye fell out and became many snails that all the other buffalo stepped on.”

So they walked on, and they met Zhuangzi, who was like, “Yeah. It’s true. I made a dead man come to life and the first thing he did was drag me to the court to charge me for stealing his money. I mean, WTF man?”

Now Shancai was getting like worried, ‘cause if all three of these people said that this was true, the snake was gonna eat him and that was the end of that. They finally met the last person, and she appeared to be a young girl. So the snake told them the story, yada-yada, but the girl was all, “Well, I don’t believe you,” to the snake.

"What? Why?"

"You’re so big. There’s no way you fit in that bottle."

"Oh really? Allow me to demonstrate." The snake slithered in the bottle, and trapped itself again.

The girl transformed, and Shancai realized that she was Guan Yin.

The snake also realized what had happened and she was all, “Have mercy, please!” But Shancai and Guan Yin were so not falling for that again. Guan Yin was all, “Well, if you wanna be saved, you gotta cultivate yourself, just sayin’.”

Three years later after this whole thang happened, Guan Yin returned to the area, and she saw Shancai in the middle of the ocean.Shancai was all, “K, wtf?” Since he was on shore. But he was all, eh whatever man, and walked on the water to join her and be her disciple. After this, incident, it toally meant that he was serious as her disciple, and that his parents got to be reborn in heaven (Achievement unlocked, woo!)

The snake also cultivated herself, for like, seven years and then produced a beautiful pearl. The snake was then able to take human form, and transformed herself into Long Nu. She became Shancai’s homie and now both of them have been in the service of Guan Yin since. Woo!

For the next post, we’ll look at another myth on how Shancai gains enlightenment. Aww yeah.

2 years ago · 13 notes

Er Lang makes a cameo in Journey to the West

or… Er Lang vs Monkey King

Anyways, if you’re familiar with Chinese mythology and grew up watching television serials, you know this bad-ass ‘cause he fights Sun Wu Kong after Sun Wu Kong wreaked havoc in heaven. Basically, the Monkey King ruining the peach party for errbody was like, the last straw, and so many immortals, like the four heavenly kings, Nezha, were called to capture him. They failed. Since like, sooo many immortals couldn’t defeat him, Guan Yin was all, “Hmmm, your nephew Er Lang is like, totally strong, so let’s like, summon him to defeat the monkey,” which was what the Jade Emperor totally did.

So obviously it was like, this epic battle, with both of them like, totally givin’ it their all, but the thing is, they were like, so evenly matched that they totally had to find a way to see who won. So, the Monkey King changed into a sparrow, and Er Lang changed into a kite, (yes, you read right) to go after him. Both of them were shapeshifters, see. Then, The Monkey King changed into a comorant, and to follow, Er Lang changed into a crane. The Monkey King worked his magic once again and changed into a fish, and Er Lang caught him, but the Monkey King changed again! This time, he slithered away in the grass as a snake, and became the shittiest of all fish, the bustard. Er Lang didn’t wanna touch that, so he hit the fish with a stone. 

Finally, finally, finally! The Monkey King turned into a temple, and Er Lang was all, “For the love of my uncle, like, seriously? It’s so obvious ‘cause the flagpole is his tail, bro!” So he attacked the temple.

But! The Monkey King ran away again! He was real tricksy, too, ‘cause he went to Er Lang’s temple in Guanjiangkou, disguising himself as Er Lang! OMG! Er Lang totally had to go fight with him.

And after all this, the Jade Emperor was all, “What’s taking my nephew so long?”

Laozi was all, “K, Imma help you,” so he threw a golden circle. It hit the monkey, made him go all, “Wuhhh?” And that’s how he was totally captured.

2 years ago · 10 notes

2 years ago · 16 notes

1964 大闹天宫 Havoc in Heaven English Subtitled Part 09 

2 years ago · 3 notes