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Journey to the West is a 16th-century Chinese novel whose original title 西遊記 means (according to Wikipedia) "West-Wandering Chronicles". In Arthur Waley's well-known 1942 English translation, he changed the title to Monkey: A Folk-Tale of China. It's been published under a few variant titles, but always the title's focus is on the monkey rather than the journey.

Why was the title changed in this translation? Not all English translations have changed the title: Journey to the West seems more common for English versions. Does it relate to the chapters Waley chose to excise or keep during his abridgement - does the change in title reflect a change in focus of the story?

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Journey to the West is divided into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1–7: the rebellion of Monkey (Sun Wukong) against the gods and his punishment by Buddha.
  2. Chapters 8–12: the early life of Tripitaka (Tang Xuanzang) and his recruitment by Kuan-Yin.
  3. Chapters 13–100: the recruitment of Tripitaka’s companions, their journey to India, and their return to China with the sutras.

Thus, 88% of the original novel is about the journey to the West, amply justifying its title.

Waley’s translation, however, substantially abridges the original. He included the whole of part 1 (Monkey’s rebellion) and part 2 (Triptaka’s recruitment), but from part 3 he selected eighteen of the eighty-eight chapters:

  • Chapters 13–15: recruitment of Monkey and the Dragon Horse.
  • Chapters 18–19: recruitment of Pigsy (Zhu Bajie).
  • Chapter 22: recruitment of Sandy (Sha Wujing).
  • Chapters 37–39: ‘The Lion Demon in the Kingdom of Crow-Cock’.
  • Chapters 44–46: ‘The Cart-Slow Kingdom’.
  • Chapters 47–49: ‘The River that Leads to Heaven’.
  • Chapter 98: ‘The Goal Achieved’.
  • Chapters 99–100: ‘The Eighty-first Calamity’.

Monkey’s rebellion thus constitutes nearly a quarter of Waley’s translation, and the particular episodes selected from the third section of the book further foreground the character:

The episodes selected by Waley all highlight the Monkey as a hero who plays a vital role in using his own power or strategies to subdue demons and help the pilgrims successfully complete their mission. Waley’s reduction of The Journey to the West from one hundred chapters to thirty chapters makes an important change to the original story: to a large extent, the journey becomes the Monkey’s journey of self-development, whose growth and heroic behavior overshadow Tripitaka, the original protagonist.

Hao Ji (2016). ‘A Comparative Study of Two Major English Translations of The Journey to the West: Monkey and The Monkey and the Monk’. Journal of Chinese Humanities 2:1, p.80.

Waley thus refashioned the book from the story of Tripitaka’s journey (in which Monkey plays a secondary role) into the story of Monkey’s rebellion and penance (in which Tripitaka plays a secondary role).

  • Perfect answer: I thought something like that might have been the reason. (Wikipedia claims that the original is divided into four unequal parts, not three, where the fourth one is just chapter 100.) – Rand al'Thor Jul 25 at 16:25
  • @Randal'Thor: I followed Hu Shih, who writes "The story is originally in one hundred chapters which may be divided into three main parts." I don't see the point of making a separate part just for chapter 100, since the action immediately follows that of chapter 99. – Gareth Rees Jul 25 at 16:30

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