This traditional Chinese Opera character of the Monkey King, Wu Kong 悟空, in full regalia is familiar to many people these days. I first learned about him as a child going to Chinese opera with my folks in old China. Sometimes we were in huge opera houses, sometimes the local theater troops will come to the village and perform on open air make shift stages. But always, when the music started and the Monkey King made his appearance on stage, the audience would be hushed in awe of his martial ability, his naughtiness and his vitality. He was the rebellious hero in the novel "Journey to the West" by 1500 Ming Dynasty author Wu Cheng-en 吳承恩. The Monkey King was an immortal in the court of the Jade Emperor as legend goes; but got in trouble by stealing a sacred peach from the banquet table in the palace. His lack of humility and his wild nature caused him to be banished from the heavenly palace to isolation under the Five Fingers Mountain by Buddha, who wanted to teach him a lesson. When the Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk, Xuan Zhang 玄裝 embarked on his quest to seek the scriptures, the Monkey King was called to accompany him on the long and dangerous journey with a new name to encourage him: "Wu Kong", meaning to contemplate and understand "emptiness".
Thus the "Journey" began for the Monk, the Monkey, and other creatures like the Pig who must struggle with greed and lust, and evil creatures who tried to throw temptation at the Monk and challenge them along the way. Eventually, they arrived at the journey's end to realize their individual transformation and found redemption.
I remember as children back home in China, we would sit on wooden benches of the street comic book vendors and devour these adventures of the Monkey King. He was our only hero and we would imitate his every move from the Chinese opera and imagine ourselves saving the Monk and the rest of the world.
In this year 2016 when the 12 year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac comes around again, the way for us these days are not much different from what the Monkey King had experienced. We still must struggle with so many challenges along our own journey to find the qualities that will redeem us: "Humility, Patience, Endurance, Courage, Fidelity, Discipline, and ultimately, to keep FAITH in the intrinsic human goodness. Let us embark, then, onto this Year of the Fire Monkey and pursue the light and joy of our own transformation.
Pearl Weng Liang Huang, Founder of
Ru Yi Studio of Multicultural Arts