Journey to the West and World History

Did you know Journey to the West (1592) was published the same year that Shakespeare‘s Richard III was first performed? Here is a list of other 16th-century world events that took place before and slightly after the novel was published. The chosen source is Eurocentric, but I think this serves to contrast the hyper distillation of Chinese history and culture presented in the book. This list is by no means exhaustive.

c. 1500 – The Incan citadel Machu Picchu is constructed

The first watches are made in Nuremberg

1501Michelangelo begins to carve his David

1503Leonardo da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa

1507 – A circulating pamphlet suggests the New World should be named “America” after the explorer and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci

1508 – Michelangelo begins work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

1510Henry VIII becomes king of England

1517Martin Luther nails his Protestant 95 Theses to the church doors

1519 – Portuguese explorer Magellan sets out to circumnavigate the globe

The Spanish conquistador Cortes lands in Mexico

1520 – Europe’s printing presses fuel a pamphlet war arguing for and against the Reformation

1526 – The Mughal empire is founded in India

1533 – Spanish Conquistadors sack the Incan city of Cuzco

1536Wales becomes a principality of England

1539 – The Great Bible, the first authorized English translation of the bible, commissioned by Henry VIII, is published

1540 – Spanish explorer Vasquez de Coronado penetrates America looking for fabled cities of gold

1543 – Polish scientist Copernicus suggests the Earth orbits around the sun

The first Europeans are blown ashore to Japan

Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius publishes his treatise on human anatomy

1549Brazil becomes a Portuguese province

c. 1550 – The Portuguese begin shipping West African slaves all across the Atlantic

1553 – “Bloody Mary” the first ascends the English throne

1564 – The birth of Shakespeare

Gabriele Fallopia invents the condom

1569 – The first map with the Mercator projection is published

1574 – The Ottoman Empire takes control of Northern Africa.

1576 – Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe builds the Uraniborg, the world’s leading observatory

1582 – The Gregorian calendar is introduced

1583 – The Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci arrives in China and begins his study of Chinese culture

1585Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, becomes the first English colony of America

1586Mary Queen of Scots is beheaded for plotting to usurp the English throne by assassinating Queen Elizabeth I

1587Virginia Dare is the first child of English descent to be born in America

1588 – The English fleet destroys the Spanish Armada

1592 – Shakespeare’s Richard III is performed on stage

JOURNEY TO THE WEST IS PUBLISHED

1595 – Matteo Ricci introduces the writings of Confucius to the Western world

1597Dafne, the first opera, is performed in Venice

1599 – The Globe theater, home to many Shakespearean productions, is built

1600William Gilbert concludes the earth is magnetic and coins the term “magnetic pole”

Gilbert coins the term “Electricity”

Journey to the West seemingly takes place in a timeless, magical land full of gods, immortals, demons, and ghosts, yet it was published during the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a time coinciding with the late Renaissance period in Europe. One should remember that the novel was not a contemporary masterpiece born from the mind of a singular talented author but a product of oral storytelling stretching back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and possibly even before. These oral tales were built upon and adapted over the centuries, eventually starting to solidify into accepted episodes by at least the 15th-century. While Wu Cheng’en is widely considered the author, scholars remain divided on the issue. I instead prefer to use the word “compiler” since that is a more accurate description of the book’s construction from existing material.

Source

http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780191735592.timeline.0001

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The Story of the Original Golden Headband in the Great Sage Treasure Temple, Kowloon, Hong Kong

I recently attended the birthday of Sun Wukong on September 25th (the 16th day of the 8th lunar month) in Kowloon, Hong Kong (I’ll write more about this later). While the festivities took place at an alternate location with a secondary altar, I later visited the main altar in the Great Sage Treasure Temple (Dasheng bao miao, 大聖寶廟) on the Po Tat Estate. The altar stage includes a large gilded statue of Wukong, flanked on either side by those of his religious brothers Sha Wujing and Zhu Bajie. Strangely enough, a glass box is conspicuously placed in front of the Monkey King’s visage (fig. 1). Inside is a rusted metal band held together with a single chain link (fig. 2). An accompanying text panel labels it the “Golden Headband” (Jingang gu, 金剛箍) and claims the piece to be the original band worn by the Great Sage during his adventures. This same text is echoed in the Kowloon Great Sage Buddha Hall: Special Inaugural Ceremony Issue of the Sixteenth Year Council Association (Jiulong Dasheng Fo tang: Di shiliu jie lishi hui jiu shi dianli tekan, 九龍大聖佛堂: 第十六屆理事會就識典禮特刊) (2014), a booklet handed out during this year’s festivities. [1]

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Fig. 1 – The glass box is visible between the food offerings and the Great Sage’s statue (larger version). Photo by the author.

From Childhood, I believe that everyone has read the story of the golden headband from Journey to the West. Everyone is familiar with the tale. A few decades later [after the events took place], some Buddhists were invited to a Buddhist statue workshop in Shanwei [City, Guangdong Province, China] to see if the Buddha statue they ordered was finished. But when they saw the statue they found it full of flaws. Suddenly, one among them spoke up and said it wasn’t made well enough. The Buddhist statue workshop master asked not to be chastised and said he instead wanted to give them a treasure. They asked him what it was. When he handed it to them they saw it was the Great Sage Buddha’s [original] golden headband.

People say that when Sun Wukong would not accept the Buddhist teachings, Guanyin put the band on his head. Sun Wukong ran side to side while yelling, trying to take it off and throw it far away to some unknown place [but couldn’t].

Many years later, maybe until ten years ago, a virtuous man purchased a sandalwood tree in order to build a Great Sage Buddha statue. He gave it to a Buddhist statue workshop master, who started to saw the tree but soon discovered the golden headband inside and decided to keep it for himself. Two years later, he decided to return it so everyone could behold this sacred treasure. Today, we asked the Buddhist workshop master to make a glass box to display the band in the Great Sage Temple for everyone to worship (p. 45). [2]

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Fig. 2 – The glass box with the headband. The accompanying text panel can be seen in the back (larger version). Photo by the author.

Chapter 100 of the original novel describes the headband disappearing once Monkey internalizes self-restraint and becomes a Buddha (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 383). The ultimate fate of the band is never commented on thereafter. The above story presents a continuation of the tale, thereby linking the Great Sage Treasure Temple with the original events of the novel. The band is lost and discovered twice over the centuries, eventually coming to rest in Hong Kong.

Similarities with Shaolin art

The displayed headband appears to be quite old given the level of rust damage. In addition, the style is different than any band I’ve written about before. That being said, the style is somewhat similar to a 17th-century mural from the famed Shaolin Monastery. The mural depicts a muscular luohan wielding a staff and standing next to a ferocious tiger (possibly the Tiger-Taming Luohan). His crown is adorned with a headband held together by a single chain link (fig. 3) similar to our aforementioned band. I am by no means claiming a connection to Shaolin, but it shows there may have been some style of linked headband associated with protector deities in late dynastic China.

17th-Century Shaolin Fresco

Fig. 3 – The 17th-century Shaolin mural (larger version). Take note of the linked headband. From Shahar, 2008, p. 90.

Notes

1) The presented folk story is as told by the Kowloon Great Sage Buddha Hall First Vice-Chairperson Qian Peiqun (錢佩群).

2) Thank you to Kelly Black Lin for helping me with the translation.

Sources

Kowloon Great Sage Buddha hall: Special inaugural ceremony issue of the sixteenth year Council association (2014, Sept. 9). Published by the Hong Kong Shanwei General Commerce Association Limited.

Shahar, M. (2008). The Shaolin monastery: History, religion, and the Chinese martial arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The journey to the West: Volume 4. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.