Monkey is first introduced in Chapter 1 as he springs to life from an egg birthed by a rock on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. The story follows his journey as he becomes the leader of the monkeys at the Cave of the Water Curtain, and subsequently searches for the key to immortality. Monkey is shown by turns to be a good leader, intrepid, and helpful -- yet he has much to learn, as is evidenced by his quick expulsion from the Patriarch's circle and mischievousness in Heaven. He is a quick study in magic and his weapon of choice (often transformed into the size of an embroidery needle) is a magic iron, which he obtained from the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea. In his time with the Patriarch, Monkey learned quite a bit of magic, including 72 transformations and the cloud trapeze spell, which allows him to travel quickly on clouds. He also has immense strength, gains immortality by eating peaches from Heaven and some of Lao Tzu's elixir. These skills make him arguably the most valuable disciple that Tripitaka takes on in his journey.
After causing a lot of trouble in Heaven, Buddha places Monkey beneath the Mountain of Five Elements, and places a seal on top which only one person can undo (Tripitaka). Thus, Monkey is absent for Chapters 8-12, only to be released by Tripitaka soon after. At this point, Monkey is around 800 years old and has fiery golden eyes as a result of being placed in Lao Tzu's oven for days before escaping and running into Buddha. Monkey is undoubtedly fearless and enjoys playing pranks on another disciple, Pigsy. Monkey is one of the most popular characters in Chinese folk tales, and there have been countless adaptations of his story. His popularity perhaps stems from his characterization as courageous, loyal, brilliant, and easy-going.
Also known as: Stone Monkey; Handsome Monkey King; Monkey King; Aware-of-Vacuity; Buddha Victorious in Strife
A human adult monk possessing no magical abilities, Tripitaka's origin story is told in Chapters 8-12, after which he begins his pilgrimage. Hsuan Tsang is born to Ch'en, the new governor of Ch'ang-an, and his wife. Unfortunately, Ch'en is killed by two treacherous ferrymen shortly before his son's birth, and is impersonated by one of the ferrymen, Liu. Wen ch'iao, his wife, fears for her newborn son's life and sends him down the river, where he is luckily found and taken in by Buddhist priests.
He is chosen by the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin as the pilgrim to make the journey to retrieve the Holy Scriptures, and also receives a Golden Fillet, with which he can cause a headache for Monkey when he is being disobedient. Tripitaka's only other skills are meditating for 2-3 years and an expansive knowledge of Buddhist teachings and scriptures. He is shown to be very kind and compassionate, which his enemies take advantage of several times throughout his pilgrimage. Luckily, a few disciples -- Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy – accompany and protect Tripitaka.
It isn't until the end of the story that the reader learns of Tripitaka's past incarnation as a disobedient disciple of Buddha and the reasons for his banishment. However, through his journey, he has completely redeemed himself through his dedication and exemplary behavior.
Also known as: Hsuan Tsang; Buddha of Precocious Merit
Originally a marshal of the Heavenly armies, Pigsy was sent by Buddha to wait for Tripitaka and his disciples, and disguised himself as the wife of Blue Orchid. Rather unintelligent, upon his reincarnation, Pigsy accidentally took the wrong road and entered the womb of a sow, giving him his distinctive appearance. His weapon of choice is a nine-toothed rake; in addition, Pigsy can ride clouds, perform 36 transformations, and has a voracious appetite. He is also relentlessly teased by Monkey and seeks to revenge himself on these small offenses – but all of his plans backfire in some way.
In the end, Pigsy is also promoted to the status of Cleaner of Altars, which will give him the opportunity to eat all the offerings left by worshippers but not eaten by deities -- the perfect job for him. He is seen as accepting and optimistic, but rather pig-like in his lust, gluttony, and laziness.
Also known as: Cleanser of Altars
Sandy is the last disciple to join Tripitaka. We first meet him at the River of Flowing Sands, where he has been banished from Heaven after breaking a crystal dish at the peach banquet and converted by Kuan-yin to the Buddhist cause. Prior to this, Sandy had devolved into a man-eating ogre, and one of his first helpful acts is to create a holy ship (out of the nine skulls of the people he killed) for the pilgrims to sail on across the river. Sandy is relatively weak (except in water), able to transform a little, and rides clouds rather slowly; it is often mentioned that he carries the luggage.
Also called Father Buddha, Buddha plays a trick on Monkey by asking him to jump off the palm of his hand, knowing full well that Monkey will not be able to do this. He is the ultimate spiritual leader, whose scriptures the travelers aim to retrieve from India.
White Dragon Horse
The oft-forgotten fifth member of the pilgrimage, White Dragon was transformed into a horse after eating the first horse.
Lao Tzu is the leader of Taoism, the followers of which are shown during the pilgrimage to have little power.
A female Bodhisattva with immense power, Kuan-yin is the impetus for Tripitaka's pilgrimage. She converts and recruits multiple people and spirits to aid Tripitaka and his disciples along their journey, and sometimes she even intervenes herself. She is first introduced during the story of Monkey.
She frequently pleads to the Jade Emperor on the behalf of those who have misbehaved.
First shown battling Monkey after his brother Natha failed, Moksha is the second-born son of Vaisravana and a devoted disciple of Kuan-yin. After his conversion, he takes the religious name “Hui-yen.”
Yama, King of Death
A minor yet omnipresent character, Yama is the harbinger of death, whom Monkey is trying to avoid at all costs. The only beings who are exempt from Yama's power are Buddhas, Immortals, and Sages.
The Jade Emperor
The celestial ruler of Heaven, the Jade Emperor is often a bit irrational, or at least unusual, in his punishments -- for example, banishing someone for breaking a crystal dish. He sits at the head of Heaven, and is central to Wu Ch'eng-en's criticism and satire of government.
An Immortal who teaches his craft to several pupils, including Monkey. He is shown to be a wise but demanding and strict teacher, expelling Monkey for his first infraction.
Demon of Havoc
The creature who wreaks havoc on the subjects of Monkey while he is away learning from the Patriarch. He is well armored and rather arrogant.
Monkey: A Folk Novel of China Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Monkey: A Folk Novel of China is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
"Patrica Webb put some of the black blood droplets into flasks of monkey cells, and pretty soon the cells got sick and began to die-they burst. The unknown agent could infect monkey cells and pop them."