Journey to the West was thought to have been written and published anonymously by Wu Cheng'en in the 16th century. Hu Shih, literary scholar and then Ambassador to the United States, wrote that the people of Wu's hometown attributed it early on to Wu, and kept records to that effect as early as 1625; thus, claimed Ambassador Hu, Journey to the West was one of the earliest Chinese novels for which the authorship is officially documented. Recent scholarship casts doubts on this attribution. Brown University Chinese literature scholar David Lattimore states: "The Ambassador's confidence was quite unjustified. What the gazetteer says is that Wu wrote something called The Journey to the West. It mentions nothing about a novel. The work in question could have been any version of our story, or something else entirely."
Translator W.J.F. Jenner points out that although Wu had knowledge of Chinese bureaucracy and politics, the novel itself does not include any political details that "a fairly well-read commoner could not have known." Anthony C. Yu states that the identity of the author, as with so many other major works of Chinese fiction, "remains unclear" but that Wu remains "the most likely" author. Yu bases his skepticism on the detailed studies made by Glen Dudbridge. The question of authorship is further complicated by the preexistence of much of the novel's material in the form of folk tales.
Regardless of the origins and authorship, Journey to the West has become the authoritative version of these folk stories, and Wu's name has become inextricably linked with the book.