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Sun Wukong (孙悟空)

Chinese. ‘Grandchild understanding emptiness’. Name of a mythical monkey, with acrobatic skills and a child-like playfulness, but also with a cunning mind. He was born out of a magical rock made of the primal chaos and which was fostered by the rays of the sun and moon for 1,000 years. After realizing his mortality he set out on a journey to find immortality and became a disciple of the xian Subhuti of whom he acquired the 72 earthly methods of transformation and the power of cloud-traveling, enabling him to jump 54,000 km in a single leap. He received three magical hairs from the bodhisattva Kuan Yin for use in dire situations and obtained a magical golden staff (fig.) which was originally used for measuring sea water depth and flood control by holding down the sea, thus causing the sea to be turbulent. This staff could be shrunk down to the size of a needle and kept behind his ear, as well as expanded to gigantic proportions, as big as a pillar. Known as a troublemaker he was invited to Heaven by the Jade Emperor, who promoted him to be the guardian of the Heavenly Stables, hoping that would make him more manageable. After being excluded from a royal banquet however, he rebelled against Heaven and stole a Peach of Immortality, subsequently achieving immortality (fig.), though in another story, he breaks into the Underworld and crosses out his name from the record of living souls, hence granting himself immortality. Although feeling guilty about it at first, he continued to be a nuisance to everybody until the heavenly authorities decided to try and subdue him. He was caught and locked into the trigram caldron, in order to be distilled into an elixir. However, after cooking him for 49 days, the cauldron exploded and Sun Wukong escaped, stronger than ever, due to the magical fumes. Finally the Buddha himself was called in to help, who eventually subdued him and trapped him under a mountain for five centuries, until he offered to serve Xuanzang, the Buddhist monk who was destined to make the pilgrimage known as Xiyouji or, in English, as Journey to the West. He was accepted as a disciple but not before being tricked into putting on a magical headband that couldn't be taken off, allowing Xuanzang to control and rebuke him. Also known as the Monkey King (fig.) or Magic Monkey, and in Thai called Sun Ngokong (ซุนหงอคง) or Heng Jia (fig.). The fictional character of Goku (fig.), a popular Japanese cartoon, is based on the character of Monkey King.