The most famous source of monkey king lore is Journey to the West, in which China’s favorite furry hero is born from rock and has the power to flip over the sky.
But the language of Journey to the West leaves the book in the clearly dated domain of the Ming Dynasty. Many modern authors have tried to reboot the monkey king in ways to shed new light on his character.
The Tale of Monkey King by Jin Hezai might be the most famous. First published in 2001, the book recieves rave reviews even 14 years later.
Born in 1977, Jin graduated from Xiamen University in 1999 and got a job developing stories for a computer game company.
Jin released The Tale of Monkey King when he was writing for Jinyong Kezhan, an online community for amateur writers. He published the work in 2001 and it catapulted him into the limelight.
Jin’s monkey king is no longer a cold, ethereal deity but a rebellious, non-conventional, courageous being that tries to lead humans and other species in a fight against the supernatural.
Jin augments the source material with a new background story. Five hundred years ago, the monkey king and his friends fought against the gods but he ended up captured. Unwilling to surrender, his memory was erased and he was brainwashed into believing the only way to redeem himself would be to help Tang Seng fight “demons.”
Jin said Journey to the West only contains two types of demons: creatures who used to be the monkey king’s friends and any beings that annoy the cruel and spiteful gods.
Critics say the plot structure can be a bit confusing, but that doesn’t stop the author from conveying his philosophical message. Jin uses dialogue between the four main characters as a vehicle to discuss problems that people experienced in life.
In Journey to the West, the philosophical meaning is conveyed very subtlety. In Jin’s book everything is straightforward.
“Everyone has his own journey to the west. We are all walking towards some destination. But along the journey there will be times that you are given no choice. The only thing you could do is to raise your head up and try to make your journey pretty,” Jin said.
Some readers said the book advocates nihilism, but Jin’s attitude towards destiny is in fact very positive.
“The most valuable moment in one’s life is not when they become successful and famous, but when they are uncertain and feel anxious about their future,” Jin wrote.
lt is unfair to say the book advocates nihilism and teaches people to believe everything is designed by a higher power. Even if he believes some things are destined, Jin does not encourage people to give up the fight.
“When you start to chase after your dream you might realize that you won’t succeed. The question is, are you still willing to follow your heart?” Jin wrote.