From China to the World: The main media pilgrimages of Sun Wukong and Son Gokū


‘Poetic notes of the pilgrimage of Tripitaka of the Great Tang to acquire the sutras’
‘‹Journey to the West›’ Opera’
Dragon Ball
Hou Xingzhe
Sun Xingzhe
Sun Wukong
Son Gokū

How to Cite

Ruscica, G. “From China to the World: The Main Media Pilgrimages of Sun Wukong and Son Gokū”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 10, Dec. 2021, pp. 21-50, doi:10.32926/2021.10.rus.china.


The ‘Journey to the West’, also translated as the’ Pilgrimage to the West’, is one of the masterpieces of ancient Chinese literature. Published anonymously by the putative author Wu Cheng'en in the late 16th century, the story traces in broad outline the journey taken by the monk Tripitaka in the year 629 a.D. to India to acquire Buddhist scriptures, and it is the result of reworking antecedent works, such as ‘Poetic notes on the pilgrimage of Tripitaka of the Great Tang to acquire the Sutras’ and ‘‹Journey to the West› Opera’. In this fiction, the writer moves away from the authenticity of the traditional pilgrimage: here the monk is escorted by sinful-followers (i.e., a dragon-horse, a pig, a demon, and a monkey) capable of removing malevolent beings throughout the journey. Sun Wukong is the wild and skillful monkey that ascends to Buddhity, becoming a ‘Victorious Fighting Buddha’ at the end of the literary work. Later on, the Chinese work of fiction was used as a source of inspiration for the creation of Dragon Ball, a Japanese fantasy & martial arts manga. Published in 1984 as a manga and then adapted into an anime, Dragon Ball sketchily follows the Chinese work of fiction. After coming across Bulma, young Son Gokū decides to escort the girl in her quest to collect seven magic dragon spheres. The series’ success allowed the manga’s author, Akira Toriyama, to continue the story arc and launch a new series in 2015. Since 1986, several videogames with a monkey character have entered the market. The purpose of this article is to highlight the main affinities between Sun Wukong and his Japanese counterpart Son Gokū first, and then attempt to explain how the monkey character has become a world-famous symbol, and contextualise it into the phenomenon of ‘worldwide pilgrimage’.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Giovanni Ruscica