Wu Ch'eng-en wrote "Monkey" in the middle of the 16th century, adding to an ancient Chinese legend his own touches of delicacy and humour. The result is a jumble of the absurd and the profound, of religion and history, of anti-bureaucratic satire and pure poetry.
Monkey depicts the adventures of Prince Tripitaka, a young Buddhist priest on a dangerous pilgrimage to India to retrieve sacred scriptures accompanied by his three unruly disciples: the greedy pig creature Pipsy, the river monster Sandy and Monkey. Hatched from a stone egg and given the secrets of heaven and earth, the irrepressible trickster Monkey can ride on the clouds, become invisible and transform into other shapes skills that prove very useful when the four travellers come up against the dragons, bandits, demons and evil wizards that threaten to prevent them in their quest. Wu Ch'eng-en wrote Monkey in the mid-sixteenth century, adding his own distinctive style to an ancient Chinese legend, and in so doing created a dazzling combination of nonsense with profundity, slapstick comedy with spiritual wisdom.
Very little is known about Wu Ch-eng-en (c. 1505-80) although he is believed to have held the post of District Magistrate for a time. He had a reputation as a good poet but only a few rather commonplace verses of his survive in an anthology of Ming poetry and in a local gazetteer. Arthur Waley CBE, FBS, was a distinguished authority on Chinese language and literature. He was born in 1889 and graduated from the Universities of Cambridge and Aberdeen. He died in 1966. His many publications include 170 Chinese Poems, Japanese Poetry, The Tale of Genji (6 vols), The Way and its Power, The Real Tripitaka and Yuam Mei.