As a young child in the 1980s I have vague memories of watching a Japanese television show called Monkey. The show was an explosion of martial arts, monsters and magic. The electro-psychedelic theme tune by Godiego was particularly catchy. It wasn’t until the early 2000s as a student when I rediscovered this cult Japanese show, it was a welcome distraction from late night study.
The show was of course a 1970s interpretation of the 16th century Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West by author Wu Cheng’en. The novel details the adventures of the Buddhist monk Tripitaka and his 14 year and 108,000 mile odyssey, with his 3 supernatural companions Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy, to retrieve Buddhist scriptures from the Thunderclap Monastery in India.
Having realised that this piece of Japanese pop culture was actually based on a Chinese epic novel I began reading Wu Cheng’en’s text. Whilst reading volume 3 on a train a young Chinese woman was rather tickled as in her opinion I was reading a children’s story. In China the story is very popular amongst the younger generation and many animations have been based on the novel. The story has not only been a stimulus for animators but graphic novelists, computer game designers, and television, film and theatre directors too. The characters were even used by the BBC to advertise their coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
This Saturday the Manchester Museum will be celebrating all things Journey to the West including the screening of a contemporary animation. Other events will including handling Buddhist Chinese objects from the Living Cultures collection and a chance to discover more about this captivating Chinese epic. Our exhibition China: Journey to the East full of wonderful Chinese objects will be open throughout the day.
See you there,
Stephen Terence Welsh
Curator of Living Cultures