The book on the Buddhist monk Xuanzang journey to the West is simply called “Journey to the West” in English. Its real Chinese name is Xī Yóu Jì.
Written by Wu Cheng En, it is one of the great classics of Chinese literature. Along with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin and Jin Ping Mei or Dream of the Red Chamber, depending on the period, it is one of the “4 extraordinary books” that every young Chinese must read during his or her schooling.
The Journey to the West is a fantasy novel, just like Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, which I have already told you about here
Written in the 16th century, it retraces the journey of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, also known as Tripitaka (the three baskets). In the 7th century, Xuanzang left China for India to bring back the authentic texts of the “Consciousness Only” current. His actual journey is recorded in the “Report of the Journey to the West at the Time of the Great Tang”.
To appreciate and understand all its beauty, I recommend a commented edition.
In this article, you will find:
- A quick summary.
- What I liked.
- What I liked less.
- If I recommend it.
- Where you can find its traces in Chhattisgarh
Journey to the West – XI YOU JI.
Journey to the West is a fantasy novel set in China and India.
The monk Xuanzang travels through his country to India to bring back the sutras.
He meets many monsters who want to devour him to reach eternity. The deities and immortals protect him in his quest and Guan Yin sends him 4 companions: an immortal monkey, a White Dragon Horse, a pig and a sand monk.
What I liked.
- An exciting read.
- Endless twists and turns.
- The characters are very endearing.
- It is one of the 4 Chinese books that cannot be ignored.
- We discover China at the time of the Tangs and the Mings, as well as India.
- It takes up many Buddhist principles in a playful way.
- When we travel in China and India, we rediscover some of the places crossed by the monk.
- The “real” monk Xuanzang visited Sirpur in Chhattisgarh when it was a huge capital.
- The work is inspired by the monk’s real journey under the great Tangs and was written under the Mings. So elements of both eras can be seen in the story.
- The commentaries are of immense value.
What I liked less.
- I found it less easy to read than the Ramayana
Should you read Xuanzang Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.
It’s one of my favorite pieces. So I can only recommend it to you!
For lovers of Asia, India, China, Buddhism, mythology, ethnography, historical places.
Where to find the traces of Journey to the West in Chhattisgarh?
If you want to discover its traces in India, go to Sirpur, a few kilometers from the current capital of Chhattisgarh, Raipur.
At the time of Xuanzang’s visit, Sirpur was a large capital city, with a market, hospitals, thermal cures, numerous monasteries, convents and Buddhist temples etc.
Today, it is a peaceful tribal village isolated in the middle of nature. You can easily visit the many sites already excavated. There are still a lot of ruins to be found!
His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Sirpur a few years ago. In his own words, he felt “the essence of Buddhism” there. This is understandable since the historical report describes the former capital. Many monks used to come here to study.
Sirpur is located a few kilometers from the Barnawapara Wildlife Reserve, so take the opportunity to visit it if it is open, as well as the ashram of Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana.
Please contact the Chhattisgarh Tourist Office for more information. They will be able to greatly facilitate your visit by providing you with the archaeologist guide in charge of the excavations and make you sleep in the room His Holiness occupied. There is indeed a resort named Hiuen Tsiang… the Indian name of the monk Xuanzang!
Conclusion – Journey to the West.
The Journey to the West or Xi You Ji is a must read if you are interested in Asia!
Have you ever read this book? What did you think of it? Tell us what you think!
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