The Monkey King in Chinese

Talking about (wù enlightenment) reminds me of a character in a major Chinese novel written during the Ming Dynasty. This book is titled “西游记 (Xīyóujì), often translated as “Journey to the West”. The general plot of this fantasy novel is not unlike that of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, involving a journey on which the main character is aided by a number of other characters. However, “西游记 (Xīyóujì), 100 chapters long, features many more varied characters, mystical creatures, demons and seemingly endless episodes.

The principal character in “西游记 (Xīyóujì) is a monk, and the objective of his journey is to acquire sacred texts of Buddhism from 印度 (yìndù India). You can find a well written summary at this link.

Each of the main characters in the novel serves to illustrate a certain set of human characteristics. Let’s see if we can use some of the adjectives listed in Chapter 8 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” to describe the personalities of these characters.

The monk, 唐三藏 (Táng Sānzàng), is dedicated to his cause. He is idealistic and benevolent, but his defenselessness and impracticality are often taken advantage of by the team’s adversaries.

唐三藏心地善良, 但是无能.
Táng Sānzàng xīndì shànliáng, dànshì wúnéng.
Tang Sanzang is of a kindhearted nature, but incompetent.

The most capable and the most interesting of the monk’s three disciples is a mystical monkey born out of a rock. He becomes the Monkey King, 猴王 (hóu wáng), and receives training from a mentor, who gives him the name 悟空 (Wùkōng). As the word (sūn) also means monkeys, the author humorously assigned to this monkey the common Chinese surname (sūn grandson). At this link is a section of cartoon with helpful English subtitles that describes the early days in the life of the Monkey King. See if you can catch a few Chinese words here and there.

If you would like to see in animation how 孙悟空 (Sūn Wùkōng) meets up with the monk, you could watch the following two videos in English. (Video 1, Video 2) In these videos, Sun Wukong is referred to as Goku because this is how 悟空 (Wùkōng) is pronounced in Japanese

With a name like 悟空 (Wùkōng), which means being enlightened to the nothingness of life, Sun Wukong is, however, anything but. He has to get involved in any and everything, jumping at every opportunity to utilize his prowess to right the wrongs.

孙悟空聪明, 能干, 勇敢, 但是时常冲动.
Sūn Wùkōng cōngmíng, nénggàn, yǒnggǎn, dànshì shícháng chōngdòng.
Sun Wukong is clever, capable and brave, but often acts impulsively.

Tā shì xǔduō nánháir xīn zhòng de yīngxióng.
He is the hero in the heart of many young boys.

One cannot help but chuckle when thinking about the second disciple who takes on the form of a hog. This 猪八戒 (Zhū Bājiè) represents many human faults – avarice, laziness and sensualism, which are counterbalanced by his amicable personality, straightforwardness and extraordinary physical strength.

猪八戒懒惰, 好吃, 但是强壮, 热情.
Zhū Bājiè lǎnduò, hàochī, dànshì qiángzhuàng, rèqíng.
Zhu Bajie is lazy and gluttonous, but strong and affectionate.

沙和尚 (Shā Héshàng) is kind of an average guy. He obeys the rules, does his duty with an even temper and takes a down-to-earth approach to solving problems. Being thus not an exciting character, he only gets a small part in the novel.

沙和尚正直, 忠实, 任劳任怨.
Shā Héshàng zhèngzhí, zhōngshí, rènláorènyuàn.
Friar Sand is upright, loyal, works hard and puts up with chiding and criticism.

The idiom, 任劳任怨 (rènláorènyuàn), could be translated as “being willing to put one’s nose to the grindstone”.

In reality, each one of us probably has some of the above-mentioned personality traits. Hopefully our strengths will compensate for our weaknesses and help us eventually achieve our individual goals.

More Chinese expressions involving the hand

If you haven’t already found out, hand shadows are called 手影 (shǒu yǐng) in Chinese.
(yǐng) is a shadow, a reflection or an image. Nowadays, it is used in such words as 摄影 (shèyǐng photography) and 电影 (diànyǐng movies).

This may be a good time to take inventory of how many words, expressions or idioms you already know that contain the (shǒu) character. Here are a few more to add to your collection.

手背 (shǒubèi) is the back of the hand, while 手掌 (shǒuzhǎng) is the palm. The center of the palm is called 手心 (shǒuxīn) or 掌心 (zhǎngxīn).

We already know that 拍手 (pāishǒu) means to clap one’s hands. 鼓掌 (gǔzhǎng) has the same meaning but is a more formal word.

手下留情 (shǒuxiàliúqíng) means to show mercy or be lenient. In times past, when a Chinese house slave was about to be whipped, he might use this phrase to plead for mercy. Nowadays, this expression is used figuratively.

The expression 手下 (shǒuxià) also means under the leadership of someone.

Tā shǒuxià yǒu sān wèi nénggàn de jīnglǐ.
He has under him three capable managers.

经理 (jīnglǐ) are managers, while 助手 (zhùshǒu) are assistants.

歌手 (gēshǒu) are singers. They probably prefer to be referred to as 歌星 (gē xīng music stars, pop stars).

高手 (gāoshǒu) is an expert or champion. Therefore, 武林高手 (wǔ lín gāoshǒu) is a kung-fu master. 数学高手 (shùxué gāoshǒu) is someone who is great at mathematics. You can easily form other terms by inserting the subject of your choice.

手机 (shǒujī) are mobile phones, 手表 (shǒubiǎo) are wrist watches, and 手电筒 (shǒudiàntǒng) are flashlights.

手枪 (shǒuqiāng) are pistols, while 枪手 (qiāngshǒu) are gunners.

We have learned before that 运气 (yùnqi) means one’s fortune or luck. Well, 手气 (shǒuqì) is one’s luck in a game of cards or gambling.

Tā jīntiān shǒuqì bùhǎo.
He has poor hands today.

亲手 (qīnshǒu) means making something personally.

Zhè jiàn qúnzi shì wǒ mǔqin qīnshǒu zuò gěi wǒ de.
My mother made this skirt for me herself.

The Chinese don’t stick their noses in other people’s business. Nay. They go in with their hands. 插手 (chāshǒu) means to have a hand in someone else’s business.

Zhè jiàn shì nǐ zuìhào bùyào chāshǒu.
It would be best if you don’t get involved with this matter.

(huò) means merchandise or goods. What would 二手货 (èrshǒuhuò) mean?

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