Original Chinese Characters and the Korean representations in “A Korean Odyssey”:
Monkey King ~ Son Oh Gong
*The Monkey 🐵King’s Chinese name is Sun WuKong. Wu is the Chinese word for “5” while “Oh” is the Korean word for “5” So Son Oh Gong is just a rewrite of Sun WuKong. 😋
The Monk Xuanzang ~ Jin Seon-mi
The Bull Demon King ~ Woo Ma-Wang
Princess Iron Fan ~ Na Chal-nyeo
**Its her fan Woo Ma-Wang is getting in Episode 1 to put out the burning mountain 😍
Pigsy ~ P.K / Jeo Pal-gye
Sandy ~ Sa Oh-jeong (Son Oh Gong’s brother)
There is a place in time, where lions roam and dragon roar. A land in an age where the pathways between Earth and Heaven were highways for all sorts of creatures and heavenly beings. Deities, demons, fairies, and monsters roamed freely back and forth, hiding themselves amongst the humans in mortal or animal form. Spawning the legends and myths that have passed through the eons from grandmother to child as long as time has been ticking past.
But none of those tales is more wild, more dangerous, more exciting than that of the Monkey King and his great companions on their famed Journey to the West. You see the monkey king was both beloved and a great terror for the heavenly and demonic beings. Many called him friend, but his character was capricious. For such is the nature of these mischievous beings. Much like little children, not yet mature with the wisdom of age and time, monkeys can be reckless, careless, and have a very bad tendency to rush in with arrogance to places not even the bravest of kings would dare to go.
Such was the nature of the monkey king, Sun Wukong, and boy did he have a lot to learn before becoming the true king and hero that he always had the potential to be. You see the Monkey King was clever. Not particularly wise, but clever. He was born from a magic rock and was extremely strong as a stone monkey. He could leap from cloud to cloud, passing halfway around the world in only one jump. He had magic (he could make himself into 72 different forms like bugs or trees or other animals). He was even able to command the great staff he uses as a weapon — a tool that weighs more than 15,000 pounds! What a guy! In fact, his fellow monkeys, the great Jade Emperor of the Heavens, the Guānyīn (Goddess of Mercy), and the Buddha all saw the possibilities that existed in WuKong, but it was obvious from the beginning he was going to have to mature before his abilities could be use properly.
Even with all of that power and capability, the Monkey King was simply unreliable. He thought that all of his skills made him stronger than the other heavenly beings. Wiser than the smartest deities. And more deserving of the title Emperor than the Jade Emperor himself (the most powerful of all the deities). He was fickle and easily distracted. Selfish and demanding. After causing many problems for the heavens (like stealing the peaches of immortality and killing many heavenly beings during a big temper tantrum), he ended up actually going up against the Jade Emperor in a war. It was a terrible battle, for despite his personal character flaws, Sun WuKong was powerful. Eventually, the Jade Emperor went before the great Buddha to request help controlling the troublesome monkey.
The Buddha listened and agreed, the Monkey must be punished with time to reflect on his poor behavior. So he moved the giant Mountain of Five Fingers (Mount Wuzhi) to fall on top of Sun WuKong. There the monkey king was trapped for not one, not two, but FIVE hundred years!
Finally, after the centuries had passed, the great Goddess of Mercy, the Guānyīn, decided to show pity upon the poor Monkey King and interceded on his behalf. It was agreed that Buddha would release him from his prison on one condition — he must guide and protect the famous Buddhist Monk, Xuanzang on his Journey to the West searching for the holy Buddhist scriptures. Of course WuKong was not particularly thrilled to be going on this “adventure” and there was no way the Buddha or Guānyīn were going to trust him to accomplish his mission without a little more persuasion. So the Guānyīn puts a magic circlet on his head. Whenever Xuanzang repeats the chant she tells him, the circlet will constrict on the Monkey’s head, giving him a horrible headache.
With them on this long and treacherous journey went two other companions — Pigsy (a pig with a weakness for women, sleep, food, and wine — his arrogance matched that of the Monkey King and they fought constantly) and Sandy, a great general from Heaven who broke a vase in the middle of a temper tantrum and was sent to earth in punishment (sound familiar). So now, stuck with a Monk watching his behavior closely, and two companions who mirrored to him his own poor behaviors, the Monkey King set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
The Story of the Bull King and Princess Iron Fan
In a journey that would last 14 years and hundreds of thousands of miles, the Monkey King and his companions certainly met with many, many challenging situations. Especially since the Monk was a little naive and easily tricked by demons wearing human form. They were all interested in eating the monk to gain power, and it was up to the Monkey King to protect him. Each adventure passed, teaching its own lessons about life and virtue. But few were as frustrating for them as the problem of the Bull King and Princess Iron Fan.
Riding the great heavens and roaming the lovely earth was a great demon king known as Bull Demon King (牛魔王) who had married a beautiful woman Princess Iron Fan (铁扇公主). Early during the Monkey King’s adventure, he and the Bull Demon King had become, well, friends for lack of a better word, though “pact brothers” is perhaps more appropriate. This was very lucky for the travelers because the Bull Demon King was very powerful (the highest ranked of all demon kings, and of a position higher than even that of the Monkey King). Together, he and Princess Iron Fan had a son Boy Sage King (聖嬰大王) or Red Boy.
Now Red Boy had been assigned to protect one of their dominions known as the Fiery Mountains, because he was so skilled at controlling fire (he could send fire out of his month and eyes that could not be put out by any water!). But he was also a very wicked boy. He disguised himself as a little boy, bound naked to a tree and begged Xuanzang to help him. Xuanzang was easily fooled and ended up instead being captured by Red Boy who hoped to eat him for his power.
Although the Monkey King warned Red Boy that the Bull Demon King and he were now allies, Red Boy refused to listen and even tried killing the Monkey King! After trying many different methods, the Monkey King was forced to look for help from his patron, the Goddess of Mercy.
Now Red Boy, being rather foolish, stumbled upon the Goddess of Mercy’s temple while fighting the Monkey King and stupidly decided to test out her throne for himself. Naturally, that did not end particularly well for him. He was stabbed by many swords and eventually got caught. He struggled even more, but finally was defeated and left bound in position with his hands folded in prayer.
Fast forward many, many years later to another leg of the companion’s journey. They have been traveling a long time, but discover that each step keeps getting hotter and hotter. Everything around them is red . . . the buildings, the windows, the lanterns All reflecting the fiery red colors of the nearby Flaming Mountain (Huo Yan Shan) of Xinjiang Province.
Again you have to go back in time a bit. 500 years ago (before the great mountain imprisoned him), the Monkey King had been causing all sorts of trouble up in Heaven. In the process, he tipped over the great heavenly furnace and the holy flames fell out to earth. Setting the whole mountain range on fire and inextinguishable by normal methods. (So really, the whole situation was the Monkey King’s fault to being with!) At first, the Monkey King bounded off to see if they could bypass the mountain, for the flames were far too hot to pass through. But the fires stretch on and on and on. There was no way to go around, so they were stuck finding a way through the flames.
Finally, a kind old man they met in the nearby village told them about the Demon Bull King’s wife and her magic fan. The fan could not only blow out the fire in one way, a second wave of the fan would make a large wind and the third wave caused it to rain. This was very good for the villagers since that was the only time they could plant and harvest their crops. After the harvest, the fire would return until the Princess deigned to wave her fan in a blessing once again.
At first, Sun WuKong decided to just go ask the Princess for her fan. BAD choice. Remember, Red Boy and all his troubles? Well, Princess Iron Fan felt that the Monkey was to blame for most of those events — which was not really fair to the poor Monkey King to be honest. If Red Boy wasn’t so greedy and arrogant, he wouldn’t have gotten on the wrong side of the Goddess of Mercy in the first place. But, like all loving mothers, Princess Iron Fan was only saddened that she could no longer see her son. Naturally, she refused WuKong’s request! Her only response was to come at him with a sword! Fierce mama!
Illustration by Ma De
After a lot of fighting and bickering, the Monkey get tired of fighting with the Princess. So he turns himself into a bug and hides in the drinking water. When the poor Princess Iron fan goes to get a drink she swallows him! 😱 He immediately starts punching and kicking the insides of her stomach, giving her horrible pains and cramps. Finally, she surrenders and promises to give him the fan if he will just leave her alone!
But Princess Iron Fan wasn’t stupid. No. . . she was almost as stubborn as WuKong himself! She sneakily gives him a fan that looks precisely like her own, except it has one rather noticeable flaw. When the Monkey King waves it to put out the fire, it only makes the flames even worse!! Still, the Monkey King was determined NOT to give up.
Unfortunately for the poor Princess Iron Fan, the Demon Bull King was not particularly the faithful kind of husband one might desire. Two years earlier he had run off with a Fox-Princess (Princess Jade, the hussy, had promised him her lands if he would come live with her), and he had now abandoned his wife. Hoping that his love for Princess Iron Fan had faded and counting on their old “brotherhood” relationship, WuKong bounded off to their home. The thought was the Demon Bull King might be able to persuade his wife to give up her fan.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the Monkey King again rushed into a situation without caution. Upon stumbling across Princess Jade, WuKong believed her to be some servant or something. He decided to pretend to be the Bull Demon King’s relative and claim to be inviting him to a banquet with. . . you guessed it – Princess Iron Fan. Well that sent Princess Jade into quite the temper and she went off. She yelled at him, he lost his temper and yelled at her. Some very harsh words were exchanged — words we should not mention here. She then fled sobbing and complaining straight into the arms of her lover — the Demon King. Of course, with a woman like that, it took him a very long time to appease her temper and it put him in a horribly foul mood. (It didn’t help that he also blamed WuKong for the fall of Red Boy and that he knows the only reason the Princess Iron Fan would refuse to help is if the Monkey King had been pestering her).
After several fights with the Bull Demon King, WuKong realized that this plan was probably not going to work. Of course, Monkey King might have many, many, many flaws . . . but surrendering without a fight wasn’t one of them. Then there was the fact that he was tricky and clever. Playing jokes on someone and causing trouble was almost second nature for him! So what does he do? He changes into the shape of the Bull Demon King and goes to visit Princess Iron Fan! (sounds like something Zeus would have pulled in the Greco-myths).
What would any poor woman do when her much loved husband returns after two years away professing to love and adore you? She fell under the Monkey’s spell and threw open her doors to let him in. She flirted (showed off her chest!), offered him a meal, and finally got drunk with him — all the while believing her beloved had returned. Troublesome monkey! Lost in a haze of wine, her tongue loosened up and she ended up not only giving the Monkey King the fan, but telling him how to wield it!
Surely, the Monkey King then slipped out secretly with Princess Iron Fan none the wiser. But no! He had to boast of what he had done — showing off his skills and talents. Shredding the Demon Bull King’s form, he laughed at Princess Iron Fan for falling into his trap. Leaving with his treasure, he found that the precious holy fan was 12 feet long and a hefty dog to boot. But still he set off on his way to put out the flames.
Meanwhile, the Demon Bull King realized something was up and decided to go check on his wife (at last!). Arriving he found her in a much angrier state as she came at him for letting WuKong return to trick her. To appease her rage (and to get revenge on WuKong), Demon Bull King promised to bring her back that annoying Monkey’s heart after his bones were ground to dust. Oh dear!
The Demon Bull King was not an enemy to be trifled with. There was a reason his rank and power were so great, for he was awfully clever and tricky himself. Changing himself into the form of Pigsy, he went down and met WuKong as he journeyed back to his companions. After listening to WuKong’s boast about how he had managed to get the fan, the Demon Bull King praised his efforts and catered to his ego. Finally, in passing, the Demon Bull King mentioned that WuKong must be very tired after so much effort. Why didn’t the Monkey King let him hold the fan for a while? This was almost the same trick WuKong had tried to pull on Princess Iron Fan! Surely he saw through this and hurried away! But No! WuKong fell straight into the trap and handed off the fan to the Bull King 😭
Suffice to saw what followed was a very long battle between the Monkey King and the Demon Bull King. It was the match of the era. A Monkey King with powers even heaven found it difficult to battle and the strongest of all the Demon King’s. Back and forth they went, on and on. Indeed, their powers were very well matched. At last, unhappy that the Princess Iron Fan and the Demon Bull King had used such petty reasons to interfere in Xuanzang’s tasked mission and realizing that he was too much for the Monkey King to defeat, the Buddha and the Jade Emperor send down the heavenly warriors to assist WuKong.
Once defeated, the Demon Bull King and his wife promised to stop behaving so badly and follow the Buddhist life in the future. Sun WuKong at last was handed the holy Fan and he set out to quash the flames and bring forth the winds and rain. The companions were able to move on and so the adventure continued.
Moral of the Story
The Journey of the West was largely a moral tale, designed to introduce to children the proper ways of behaving and the beginning of wisdom. As this story shows, the Monkey King is not actually a bad sort — just childish and self-centered. He has so much potential, but not the maturity to rise into it. He and his companions must all learn to avoid the vices of greed, selfishness, quick-tempered behavior, and recklessness. It shows that past actions can influence future events, and that how you handle a trouble today may either help or hinder you later. Most important . . . no matter how strong you might be or how confident you are, there is always someone out there who is just as strong and confident themselves. Pride goes before a fall!
- Wikipedia. “Princess Iron Fan.”
- Journey to the West (English Translation)
- Seymour Center
- Chinese Aesop
- When You Wish Upon A Star blog
- Ancient Origins
- Inner Journey to the West