October 1, 2018
ANALYSIS OF CHINA’S MONSTERS
China, the oldest civilization in the world, has influenced many cultures with its unique views of the world. From its language to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, to its Confucius ideology spreading all across Asia. And with a nation so ancient and advanced, it’s folklore and mythical beasts also can play a part in the Chinese way of daily life. From the infamous Jiangshi, the Monkey King and his antics, the various dragons that roam around the Chinese mythology book, etc. These monsters most closely reflect the Confucianist, Daoist, and Buddhist ideology that revolves around Chinese culture. Although some are not so scary as others, all of these monsters’ stories teach a lesson that help Chinese people lead moral-based lives. These stories teach us that the values of familiar obedience, pride, that persistence is good, good deeds gives rewards, hard work, and trustworthiness. To further elaborate on this concept, American Born Chinese, a graphic novel, written by Gene Luen Yang has incorporated American elements into its book about Chinese philosophy will be compared with its original story counterparts. I will also be discussing how Chinese values differentiate from the typical American values.
Before we discuss the relevance and significance of Chinese mythology, we need to know the background stories behind these notorious monsters…
The Monkey King, otherwise known as Sun WuKong, is a character in one of the renowned classical Chinese novels: Xi You Ji, or Journey to the West. The BristishCouncil.org article on him summarizes his story perfectly, “Cloud-leaping, shape-shifting, demon-killing and magic staff-wielding…[The Monkey King] is the ultimate bad boy made good – he causes havoc in heaven, uproar under the sea, returns from the dead to continue his mischief, and even survives the fires of heaven. He is so powerful, only the Buddha can subdue him, but in the end, he finds redemption as the faithful servant and protector of the saintly monk Xuanzang, who is on a pilgrimage to collect scriptures.” His story tells about how he was condemned to damnation because of his rebellious acts and was eventually let out after he proved himself as a trustworthy and generous individual. He achieved this goal through helping the monk Xuanzang and ultimately helped him become one of the almighty gods of heaven.
While typical American television zombies are portrayed as brain-eating, emotionless monsters, in Chinese folklore, we have the Jiangshi, otherwise known as the Hopping Corpse. Basically a “hopping corpse is described as wearing burial clothes from the Qin Dynasty…eyes bulging out of its sockets and its tongue is lolling from its mouth. Its arms are outstretched, and it smells horrible…a hopping corpse hunts by its sense of smell, and when it finds someone, it goes right for the neck.” (Bane 75) As you can see a Jiangshi is both a vampire and a zombie! And in order for the Hopping Corpse to be “tamed”, a yellow Chinese talisman with a death blessing on it will be sufficient. I’ve watched multiple interpretations of the Jiangshi when I was young through films and books and the main story about the Jiangshi tells about how the Dragon King put a curse on corpse whereby if someone were to walk over its grave or not give ancestral rites, the corpse will have to rise from its grave and hop around to try to find a person to feed off of their blood and flesh. This cycle goes on and on until the Jiangshi is stopped by a talisman that is required to be made by a Buddhist monk.
Whenever you think of a dragon, does a green, scaly monster guarding a tall castle building come into your mind? Well, I’ve got news for you. There are a multitude of different types of dragons from different types of cultures. But today we will be focusing on those dragons most pertaining to Chinese culture. Lung, a Chinese rain dragon, is “a symbol of the emperor whose wisdom and divine power assured the well-being of his subjects…[and] necessary for the good of the people.” (www.mythicalrealm.com) This dragon is often related to the weather and is supposed to be the driving force for people to be good. We can often associate this dragon to the ancestor veneration rituals. It is believed that he is the spiritual guide for your deceased loved ones in order to go to heaven and that is why we must offer him food so that he does not get tired for his journey up.
Another dragon we will be talking about is Yinglong, the Winged Dragon. Yinglong was a powerful dragon servant to the yellow emperor, Huang Di, and became one of the strongest dragons in the mythical realm. A Fandom.com appreciation post on him say that “Yinglong was said to have lost his wings after killing the drought-causing demon Kua Fu. Even without the ability to fly, he still had the power to conjure rain by responding to the prayers of the people who gratefully named him the Responsive Dragon.” If you haven’t noticed, his power that he has is very similar to that of Lung, the rain dragon. The article also states that Yinglong is the chief of the four main Chinese dragons: Red Dragon, Green Dragon, White Dragon, and Black Dragon. This means that he is very powerful and has the utmost authority over the gods due to his loyalty to the Yellow Emperor.
The Chinese have a reason for creating these monsters and their stories: to teach a moral lesson. In the story of the Monkey King, it teaches the person to never be rebellious by showing the consequences that Son WuKong had to face up to because of his misconduct by peeing on the Five Pillars of Gold and beating up most of his elder gods. While in the story of the Jiangshi, it teaches you to be a well-rounded person in order to not become a zombie and roam around the face of the Earth for the rest of your life. The tales of Yinglong tells about how he became a god-like dragon after serving for his emperor master with loyalty. This story can be applied to the family setting where Yinglong is the child and the parents and elders are the emperor. This analogy provides the idea that the children must obey and coincide with their parents’ commands and outlook on life in order to “bloom” into a successful and great human being.
To emphasize my point on the major influence that Chinese folklore has on Chinese culture, imagine that you are a typical Chinese kid and based on your knowledge about world culture, you may know that China is known for its strict way of parenting. Your parents would make you go to study sessions afterschool, finish all of your food, no dating until you finish college, and not to mention their constant pestering about your grades. Now, think about how this strict parenting is common among almost every household in China. Do you see it? This does not just happen out of nowhere. Although the Confucius ideology of behaving yourself comes into play a major part of this, the story of Yinglong, the Winged Dragon, does so as well. And again, like Yinglong who served as a loyal servant to his emperor and was rewarded the gift of becoming an immortal dragon in return for his service, Chinese children are expected to be loyal and behave properly to their parents in order to get the reward like Yinglong, in this case a future of wealth and prosperity. The strict nature of Chinese culture first came during the Han Dynasty with its presence in every Chinese relationship. This was also the time when the Xi You Ji novel was written and published. The Monkey King, a prominent character in the story, is commonly characterized as ruthless, silly, narcissistic, rebellious, and immature. These are the characteristics that would are polar opposites of how a child should behave like at that time. Wu Cheng’en, the writer of the story, wanted to stray away from the strict nature of Chinese society and this most closely relates to Cohen’s Thesis 7: “The literature enforces the idea that monsters are creations and challenge our cultural standards. They resemble an unknown/ugly form of ourselves and what we know as humans can become.” The “ourselves” indicted in the statement is the Chinese people and it gives them an understanding of what it would be like without order and proper behavior present in their culture.
Which leads us to the book: American Born Chinese written by Gene Yang. The comic/novel tells the story of Jin-Wang, whose family has moved from Taiwan to America and he has to cope with being in a totally new setting where you don’t need to bow to your elders or use chopsticks for your food. Jin-Wang goes to a Mayflower Elementary and meets a new friend, Wei-Chen Sun, who stays his best friend all throughout high school. The interesting and unique thing about this book is that in every chapter it transitions into a whole new other story. The book starts off with the story of the Monkey King, then with the story of the main character, Jin-Wang, then lastly with Danny and Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is this strange very stereotypical looking person whose appearance in the book seems to mock the Asian culture and imposes the idea that most Asians have squinty eyes. I found this character to be significantly appalling and, in my opinion, I think that the main reason why the author decided to add this character in this book is to give insight to how the American public views the Asian culture and helps us understand that we, Asians, must take a stand to change this idea. At the end of the book, it takes a unique turn with all three of the stories coming together to form one huge, epic story.
The book overall taught me a lot about how the Chinese valued their traditions and also “ironed out” my knowledge about the Monkey King. The original story, based on what I’ve interpreted, was that the Monkey King killed a god and that was why he was bond to a mountain and could not move for the rest of his life. Apparently in the book, he beat up all of the gods and that was why he was condemned. The part about him peeing on the 5 Pillars of Gold, the Dragon King chasing him to the ends of the Earth, and his journey to the West with Xuanzong stayed a consistent theme throughout all of the media about the Monkey King.
Now, I’ve been talking a lot about the mythical creatures of China, but you may have noticed already that these monsters are completely different from its Northwestern counterparts…
Let’s take example the Jiangshi. If I were to pick a monster that’s most similar to it, it’d be the typical green zombie you’d see in films. This is because both monsters are “undead”, and they see the meat of living humans. They also “come alive” in a form of a human, but with features that are what a dead person should have: decay and the dirty stench. The reason why I did not pick the vampire as the most closest relative to the Jiangshi, even though the Jiangshi has fangs and can suck blood, is because the main reason how the Jiangshi is reincarnated is through if its grave is disturbed, somewhat like a zombie, and in order to stop it from its dangerous actions, you must simply put a talisman over it, like how you can simply kill a zombie. Another comparison I can make would be with Yinglong and Dobby from Harry Potter. This is because they both were servants for a higher authority. in this case, it’d be the Yellow Emperor and Harry Potter, respectively. They were people of lower status and were able to become their better selves at the end of the story. Yinglong, initially a human being, was granted the ability to turn into an immortal dragon and Dobby was able to be freed from the ownership of the wicked Malfoy family. Unfortunately, you may have known already, but Dobby dies trying to save Harry Potter and they were able to make a burial for him. The difference between these two is that Yinglong was able to live a long life with happiness and luck on his side, while Dobby’s freedom was short-lived due to his death from saving Harry. Although they both are similar, I feel like the story of Yinglong has a better way of teaching someone how the role of loyalty plays in everybody’s lives, while in Dobby, there was much more pity coming from Harry that caused Dobby to becoming loyal to him. The Merriam-Webster definition of the word loyal is “unswerving in allegiance.” This means that you are to follow whatever commands to the person you swear allegiance to without expecting anything in return. I feel like this is what the story of Yinglong greatly embodies and expresses. With the Monkey King, I’d say that he’d most be like Gru from the American film Despicable Me. Both of them originally were bad guys turned good through the help of an external force. In this case, for the Monkey King, it was Xuanzong’s Journery to the West and for Gru, it was the three girls that he eventually adopted that helped him become a hero. They both also were suppressed or unable to pursue their evil actions due to an obstacle. This meant that everybody either hated them or loved them. In the story of the Monkey King, all of the gods hated him because he was just a monkey and was able to beat up all of them with just himself. This caused the Dragon King to take action and stopped the Monkey King’s bullying by encasing him in a humongous pile of rocks that suppressed his powers. For Gru, his ultimate obstacle was his competition with Vector and Mr. Perkins, head of the Bank of Evil, that halted him from doing his supervillain activities. A difference between these two is that the Monkey King took time and patience to build up his power with the Four Major Heavenly Disciplines, while Gruwas impatient and wanted to speed things up.
A major difference I see between Chinese and American monsters is that monsters from China come with a purpose. This meaning that each story tells a lesson and the same lesson is repeatedly expressed throughout the story. These stories aren’t much like those of the American culture, which seeks to entertain the listener more rather than try to help the listener get something out of the tale. After analyzing some of the major American tales such as Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, etc. (besides a few exceptions), I have not yet been able to figure out a major moral or lesson that is trying to be expressed to its listeners. As in the few exceptions, those were more of the lesser known stories such as the Hare and the Tortoise, which teaches you that you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly. Also, the story of the Princess and the Pea, with the lesson on “don’t judge a book by its cover”.
Nevertheless, China’s monsters have a great deal of importance to Chinese culture and this culture may be one of the most influential to its people. It seems like the people are able to learn from the morals and lessons that have derived from these stories and implement it into their own daily lives. With the stories of the Jiangshi, Monkey King, Xinglong, Lung, etc., they serve as the idols and are probably far more influential than the celebrities of China!
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