- To begin the East Asian Literature component, please read the Columbia Encyclopedia introduction to Chinese literature (NOT the Wikipedia selection) before proceeding to Lesson One.
- Complete Lesson One: Tang Dynasty Poetry (all readings and questions)
- Complete EITHER Lesson Two: Vernacular Narrative (all readings and questions) OR Lesson Three: Twentieth-Century Short Fiction (all readings and questions).
During the Ming Dynasty, popular stories and oral histories were written and collected and began to challenge the classical tradition of lyric poetry established in the Tang Dynasty. One of the most popular and surely the most enduring is Journey to the West published circa 1592 by Wu-Chang’en (1500-1582), who compiled popular stories about the travels of a Buddhist monk named Xuanzang as episodes within a long (four volumes) narrative (translated into English as Monkey by Arthur Waley).
Buddhism first came to China from India in the first century CE with traders on the Silk Road. Centuries later, a Buddhist monk— Xuanzang—journeyed to India over 17 years (627-645) to bring back Buddhist sutras (scriptures). He returned as a hero with 650 volumes of scriptures and spent the rest of his life translating them. Xuanzang was a famous traveler in his own time, and the stories told about his quest became the basis of the popular 16th-century novel, Journey to the West.
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After completing the readings, please answer the following two questions.
Each answer should range from 250-500 words (about two double-spaced pages in 12 pt. font). Please send your answers to email@example.com in an email or as an email attachment in a Word document. Please use the title of the unit you are reading as your email subject header.
- Monkey learns special daoist (taoist) powers: a magic staff and the ability to summersault huge distances and to grown or shrink, for example. He even learns the supreme secret of Daoism: immortality. But Monkey also demonstrates some less exalted aspects of human personality and behavior, and he is thrown out of the Celestial Kingdom until he learns better behavior.
What has Monkey done wrong and what do those mischievous deeds show about his character? What does Monkey have to learn before he can reenter the Celestial Empire? What human traits does he demonstrate and which of these endear him to readers?
- The Celestial Kingdom is ruled by the Jade Emperor and inhabited by many gods, immortals, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. Who are the various exalted figures who team up in the Celestial Kingdom to throw the misbehaving Monkey out? What various spiritual belief systems of China does each of these exalted ones represent? How do each of these figures treat Monkey, and what do these actions suggest about each of these spiritual systems? How is it that all these different entities can coexist in the Celestial Kingdom and in the story itself?