Journey into Desire: Monkey's Secular Experience in the 'Xiyoubu.'

By Chu, Madeline | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, October-December 1997 | Go to article overview

Journey into Desire: Monkey's Secular Experience in the 'Xiyoubu.'


Chu, Madeline, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


1. A DIFFERENT KIND OF JOURNEY

As its title indicates, the seventeenth-century short novel Xiyoubu or Supplement to the Westward Journey, draws its inspiration from the sixteenth-century masterpiece Xiyouji or Records of the Westward Journey.(1) The Supplement uses as its background the Records' westward pilgrimage in search of Buddhist scriptures and the adventure involving the "Tang Monk" and his three disciples (Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy). In terms of the story line, the Supplement may also be viewed as a ramification of the Records that may be inserted between chapters 61 and 62 of the "parent" novel.(2) Many studies conclude that it continues the Records' Buddhist perspectives on human vulnerability to temptation.(3) To some, it carries on the generic tradition of "fantasy travelogue" masterfully recorded by the Records;(4) to others it provides an additional episode to illustrate the eventful nature of the Buddhist pilgrimage.(5)

By focusing on the continuity between the two novels and by applying a Buddhist interpretation to them, however, critics in general overlook a fundamental difference that sets the two novels apart; thus they ignore the special significance of the Xiyoubu as an independent creation. What prevents them from acknowledging the true identity of the Xiyoubu? I believe that the following three factors are responsible: (1) the conventional status of a supplement; (2) the criticism of the human world, which Xiyoubu seemingly shares with the Xiyouji; and (3) the author Dong Yue's interest in Buddhism. All three of these factors, however, are superficial and misleading.

The title of the Xiyoubu confirms its status as a supplement to Xiyouji. The Xiyouji's long-established standing as a fascinating masterpiece further overshadows the creativity of an overtly "follow-up" act. Nevertheless, closer scrutiny reveals that the Supplement adds much more than an extra episode to the journey of the "parent" novel. It challenges the Buddhist denigration of human existence presented in the earlier novel and explores human conscience and intellect to a much greater extent. While the protagonist of the Xiyoubu scurries through some well-traveled domains of the Xiyouji in his journeys, his experiences are drastically different from those of the Buddhist pilgrims.

Another factor that keeps the Xiyoubu under the shadow of the Xiyouji is a feature the two novels seemingly share: a severe criticism of the human world. However, the extremely different nature of this criticism has been overlooked. The Xiyouji ridicules human desire for sensual enjoyment, human craving for fame and fortune, and even human self-consciousness.(6) In other words, it denies the value of what C. T. Hsia calls "the life-force itself."(7) On the other hand, the criticism found in the Xiyoubu focuses on the deterioration of humanity as represented in literati cultural values; the Xiyoubu substantiates the values of the idealistic wing of Confucianism as another way to solve the human dilemma. It criticizes a social structure that restrains and discourages the development of emotional sincerity and intellectual civility, of opportunities honestly to pursue a good name and good life, and of just reward and retribution for human behavior.

A final factor that obstructs the view of Xiyoubu as a novel independent from Xiyouji is the tendency to connect the two novels from a Buddhist perspective and attach a Buddhist interpretation to Xiyoubu owing to the author Dong Yue's life-long interest in Buddhism.(8) Xiyoubu, like Xiyouji, is a complex novel by a complex writer. Indeed, Dong Yue's (1620-86) philosophical and psychological engagement affected his literary creation. But, one must not lose sight of the fact that Dong Yue was a man of many interests.(9) Buddhism was only one source of inspiration in a broad spectrum of interests that also included the Chinese classics, political activism, literary history, dreams, astronomy, and etymology. …

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