Monkey: A Folk Novel of China

Monkey: A Folk Novel of China Quotes and Analysis

“A team of horses cannot overtake a word that has left the mouth.”

Spoken by the Great King monster to his perch sister

Essentially, you cannot take back what you have already said. The Great King is cautioning his perch sister to be careful with her words, for fear they may come back to haunt her.

"Oh well," said the Patriarch, "I suppose if you came by easy stages, it's not altogether impossible. But tell me, what is your hsing?"

"I never show hsing," said Monkey. "If I am abused, I am not at all annoyed. If I am hit, I am not angry; but on the contrary, twice more polite than before. All my life I have never shown hsing."

Spoken by the Patriarch to Monkey at their initial meeting

A pun on the word hsing, which can be interpreted as your family's surname or your temperament, this quote illustrates the playful language and wordplay that Wu Ch'eng-en peppers throughout his tale.

"What you must do is lure the monster from its hiding place, but be certain it is a fight you can survive."

Spoken by Monkey

Do not pick a fight whose outcome you are unsure of. This advice is given by Monkey before facing yet another enemy.

“Nothing in this world is difficult, but thinking makes it seem so. Where there is true will, there is always a way.”

Spoken by Monkey to Tripitaka

This is the origin of the old maxim, "where there is a will, there is a way." This illustrates Monkey's indomitable spirit and bravery in the face of adverse circumstances. When even the holy priest and believer Tripitaka loses some hope in their quest, Monkey still remains certain and ready to continue.

"Master…each time we come to a hill before we have even begun to climb it, you are in a panic about ogres and demons. And you are always brooding about what a long way it is to India, and wondering if we shall ever get there."

Spoken by Monkey to Tripitaka

Monkey has begun to lose patience with Tripitaka's constant panicking over the success of their journey. He realizes that behind each corner lies a new journey, and is fearless in the face of this reality, while Tripitaka frets that they will never reach the scriptures.

"You can not live near cinnabar without becoming red, or near ink without becoming black."

Spoken in Heaven

Whatever you surround yourself with is what you will eventually become. The cinnabar is a reference to Lao Tzu's palace, which demonstrates how whatever religion one chooses to follow will inevitably influence one's life and practices.

"To save one life is better than to build a seven-story pagoda."

Spoken by Tripitaka

Human life is more important than material achievements. This quote ties into the theme that it is better to live frugally and be happy with what you have—in the act of striving for more material benefits, you may encounter your own downfall.

“The boatman then gently guided the raft across. They saw a dead body floating. At the sight of this, the Master was greatly frightened. But Monkey smiled and said, 'Master do not be alarmed! That corpse is none other than your own.' Pigsy said, 'It is you, it is you!' Sandy clapped his hands, and also said, 'It is you, it is you!' The boatman also remarked 'It was yours, I congratulate you.' The three pilgrims congratulated him, and they quietly crossed over in safety. The Master's shape was changed, and he jumped ashore on the other side with a very light body.”

Spoken by the pilgrims to Tripitaka

This excerpt depicts the achievement of enlightenment that all four pilgrims undergo when crossing the river to Heaven on the ferry. It is personified as the actual departure of their physical body as they all reach spiritual enlightenment and wisdom.

“Wife indeed! You haven't got a wife now. There are some sorts of Taoists that are family men; but who ever heard of a Buddhist priest calmly talking about his 'wife'?”

Spoken by Monkey

This quote from Monkey highlights the differences between two of the religions depicted in this tale. It is easy to forget that there are three distinct and conflicting religions, as they are presented as living in rather hierarchical harmony. Nevertheless, there are moments like this where the lines between Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism are more clearly drawn. Another example of this is in the conflict at the cliff where the Taoists enslaved 500 Buddhists, whom Monkey freed thereafter.

"Were he a true king seated on the throne,

then there would be a lucky gleam and fire-colored clouds.

But as it is, a false friend has seized the Dragon Seat, and coiling wreaths of black fume tarnish the Golden Gate."

Spoken by Monkey

Monkey says this as he hovers over the city that is ruled by the usurper king, as he waits to meet the young prince and inform him of his father's demise. It illustrates how Monkey confirms to himself that the city truly is being ruled by a false king, and demonstrates how strong the role of magical realism is in this story.