MONKEY MAGIC -another way of seeing the monkey king

Originally uploaded by George London

i use to hate! hate! hate! this show with a vengeance when i was in primary school…they use to show it on abc when i came home from school…maybe i was too young and ditsy to understand the philosophical anecdotes they were trying to condition us kids with as well as the annoying english dubs they had but when i watched another doco about this chinese contemporary photographer and how he incorporates the monkey theme into his work, i suddenly realised how applicable the notion of the monkey king was to me…especially battling between the dualities of life -real vs false, modern vs tradition,east vs west…as well the artist’s fusioned interpretation 2 fit in both worlds, as well his artwork being auto-biographical, capturing the crossroads in his life…

knowing how china is quite tight on its censoship, freedom of speech, i think chi peng is quite a pioneer in that he knows how to use the elements that are common to the chinese culture and weave his “controversial’-for china” opinions/ideas/defy taboos/conventions through it all…just brilliant!

Chi Peng: Photographer of the Monkey King – Modern China is experiencing an incomparable economic and cultural upheaval. Nowhere else are the blessings and banes of globalisation reflected more impressively than within the work of the Chinese avant-garde artists. This episode introduces a young photographic artist, Chi Peng. (China’s Art Avant-Garde: Future Is Now)

Chi Peng: The Monkey King


BERLIN • Alexander Ochs Galleries • Ongoing

Chi Peng, barely in his mid-twenties and already an internationally recognised artist, is considered to be one of the most innovative exponents of contemporary Chinese art avant-garde. This is due particularly to his superior handling of digital photography and image-editing. He skilfully fuses actuality and fiction to an artistically generated pseudo-substantiality.

According to Anke Mueller, Chi Peng is a classical first-person narrator. Already in his early works he repeatedly became a figure and part within his own artistic creation. Digitally animated and frequently multiplied, his own ‘alter ego’ becomes a recurring projection-screen in a partly painful reflection on the urban realities of today’s China – on new dreams and old taboos, on the still stigmatised issue of homosexuality.

Chi Peng’s The Monkey King describes the fantastic journey of the monk Xuan Zang to India, with the aim to bring Buddhist sutras back to China. The actual hero of the narration, however, is the smart and rebellious monkey king Sun Wukong who is endued with magical skills. Among other things he is able to transform himself into 72 different shapes and creatures


if anyone wants to know what i’m talking about, here’s the lowdown:

Monkey King, or known to the Chinese old and young as Xi You Ji (Journey to the West), is one of the renowned classical Chinese novels dated back some four hundred years ago, the other three being Shui Hu (The Water Margins), Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Mansion), and San Guo (Romance of Three Kingdoms).

Monkey King is based on a true story of a famous monk, Xuan Zang of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (602-664). After a decade of trials and tribulations, he arrived on foot to what is today India, the birthplace of Buddhism. He was there for the true Buddhist holy books. When he returned, Xuan Zang translated the Sutras into Chinese, thus making a great contribution to the development of Buddhism in China.

Monkey King is an allegorical rendition of the journey, mingled with Chinese fables, fairy tales, legends, superstitions, popular beliefs, monster stories, and whatever the author could find in the Taoist, Buddhist, and Chinese popular religions. While average readers are fascinated with the prowess and wisdom of the Monkey King, many reviewers agree that the protagonist embodies what the author tried to convey to his readers: a rebellious spirit against the then untouchable feudal rulers.

The monkey is indeed rebellious. He was, according to the story, born out of a rock, fertilized by the grace of Heaven and Earth. Being extremely intelligent, he has learned all the magic tricks and gongfu from an immortal Taoist master. Now he can transform himself into seventy-two different images such as a tree, a bird, a beast of prey, or an insect that can sneak into an enemy’s body to fight him or her inside out. Using clouds as a vehicle, he can travel 108,000 miles at a single somersault.

He claims to be The King in defiance of the only authority over the heaven, the seas, the earth and the subterranean world — Yù Huáng Dà Dì, or “The Great Emperor of Jade.” That act of high treason, coupled with complaints from the masters of the four seas and the Hell, incurs the relentless scourge of the heavenly army. In fact, the monkey has fought into the ocean and seized the Dragon King’s crown treasure: a huge gold-banded iron rod used as a ballast of the waters. Able to expand or shrink at his command, the iron rod becomes the monkey’s favorite weapon in his later feats. The first test of its power came when the monkey stormed into hell and threatened the Hadean king into sparing his and his followers mortal life so that they all could enjoy eternity.

After many showdowns with the fearless Monkey King, the heavenly army have suffered numerous humiliating defeats. The celestial monarch has but to give the dove faction a chance to try their appeasement strategy—to offer the monkey an official title in heaven with little authority. When he has learned the truth that he is nothing but an object of ridicule, the enraged monkey revolts, fighting all his way back to earth to resume his original claim as The King.

Eventually, the heavenly army, enlisting the help of all the god warriors with diverse tricks, manages to capture the barely invincible monkey. He is sentenced to capital punishment. However, all methods of execution fail. Having a bronze head and iron shoulders, the monkey dulls many a sword inflicted upon him. As the last resort, the emperor commands that he be incinerated in the furnace where his Taoist minister Tai Shang Lao Jun refines his pills of immortality. Instead of killing the monkey, the fire and smoke therein sharpened his eyes so that he now can see through things that others can not. He fights his way back to earth again.

At his wit’s end, the celestial emperor asks Buddha for help. Buddha imprisons the monkey under a great mountain known as Wu Zhi Shan (The Mount of Five Fingers). The tenacious monkey survives the enormous weight and pressure. Five hundred years later, there comes to his rescue the Tang Monk, Xuan Zang, whom we mentioned at the beginning of the story.

To make surethat the monk can make for the West to get the Sutras, Buddha has arranged for Monkey King to become the monk’s escort in the capacity of his disciple. soon on their way to the west, two more disciples, also at the will of the Buddha, join their company. One is the humorous and not uncourageous pig transgressed from an inebrious celestial general for his assault against a fairy; the other a sea monster who also used to be a celestial general now in exile for a misdemeanor.

The party of four was further reenforced by a horse, an incarnation of a dragon’s son, start their stormy journey to the West — a journey packed with actions and adventures that brought into full play the puissance of the monks’ disciples, Monkey King in particular.

©1994-2004 Haiwang Yuan

Last updated: March 20, 2004



~ by nursheikha on August 1, 2009.

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