Journey to the West, and especially the character of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is beloved by readers across China, East Asia, and beyond. The story and its characters have been written and rewritten in books, comics, graphic novels, movies, television shows, and video games. In many ways, Journey to the West and Son Wukong have become archetypes: stories and characters that people refer to and recognise, without ever looking at the original source material.
But for those interested in reading the original novel, we now have a new translation of Journey to the West (Penguin Classics: 2021) from Professor Julia Lovell. This new translation takes the original 1592 novel by Wu Cheng’en and presents its adventures, humor, satire and spiritual insights for a modern audience.
In this interview, Julia and I talk about Journey to the West: its story, its characters, and its history, before and after the publication of the 1592 novel. We talk about what motivated this new translation. Finally, we end by discussing how Journey to the West and the Monkey King have had an impact on popular culture far beyond China, through Japan, Southeast Asia and the West.
Julia Lovell is a Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research primarily focuses on the relationship between culture and modern Chinese nation-building, and on the wide-ranging impacts of modern China’s encounters with the world beyond its borders. She is the author of several well-received histories of China, including The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China (Pan Macmillan: 2011), and Maoism: A Global History (Bodley Head: 2019). She has also translated several works of Chinese literature, including The Real Story of Ah-Q and Lust, Caution.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.