Biography of Wu Ch'eng-en

Around the year 1500, Wu Ch'eng-en was born in Huai-an, Kiangsu. She would go on to become a well-respected poet, novelist, and scholar of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Trained in the traditional Confucian manner, Wu Ch'eng-en traveled extensively in his later years and was part of the upper echelons of literary society, which strived for a classical revival in literature.

While it was widely accepted and believed among the people of his birthplace that Wu Cheng’en was the author of A Journey to the West, for three hundred years, credit in broader circles was misattributed to a Taoist named Chiu Ch’u-ki. This work, A Journey to the West, is written in the vernacular, not classical, Chinese, as was customary during the revival. This departure from tradition is perhaps why Wu Cheng’en chose not to declare his authorship of the work -- and is perhaps why he did not write his magnum opus until well into his old age.

A Journey to the West has since been translated and abridged into the English version Monkey, by Arhtur Waley, which cuts several episodes while striving to maintain the integrity and satirical humor of the original. It has become one of the most popular folktales in China. The style of language throughout the book is simple and concise. Some phrases or situations are repeated throughout the work -- for instance, each chapter ends with the suggestion that, if the reader wants to know more, she should read the next chapter. In addition, a pattern emerges after Chapter 12, in which Tripitaka and his disciples must always fight off a monster before continuing on their way.

Wu Ch'eng-en died in 1580, leaving behind no children and only two volumes of his other works.

Study Guides on Works by Wu Ch'eng-en