Wu Cheng'en and Julia Lovell (translator)
Monkey King or Journey to the West is one of the classics of Chinese literature, written at the end of the 16th century. The story is based on a real historical figure, Tripitaka, who in the late 620s travelled to India, bringing back Buddhist manuscripts to China. The 16th century, fantastical version of the story, attributed to Wu Cheng’en, may not correspond with historical reality, but offers a wonderful snapshot of imperial China and its very distinctive worldview.
This is a new, abridged translation by Julia Lovell, one of the West’s leading Sinologists. As well as ensuring the book is very funny in modern English, she also gives us a very neat introduction to the book and what it tells us about Ming-era China. “Belying the old cliché of imperial China as self-sufficient, isolationist and xenophobic, Journey to the West—an odyssey out of China, to attain the wisdom of Indian Buddhist civilization—tells a different story: one of Chinese fascination with foreign exotica.”
Editor’s note: the Penguin clothbound edition of this book is beautiful.