民間道敎 as Religion of the People: Journey to the West, Part 2.

We must start our discussion from author. Author Wu Cheng En has relatively humble background, compared to other major literary figures in Chinese history. He was born in the family of small merchant. Though he didn’t have economic hardships, his social position is the lowest according to the Confucian division of labor’s preciousness (士農工商 – obviously, he was the last one) Only to add difficulty, his family had absolutely no connection with mainstream politicians. Under these conditions, though he had high talents, he never made it though 科考.

The 科考, when it was first introduced in 唐代, effectively served the role of providing government the real smart human resources, strictly judged on their ability – merit. However, by 明代, corruption took over scoring process, eventually taking away chance of hiring people like Wu Cheng En. Indeed, he held quite a grudge against this phenomenon and quotes in one of the poems he has written: Ugliness of the reality is due to rulers’ nepotism. Not only him, but the whole low class people were thinking the same. Analyzing the history, we can find out that whenever there were Taoism-led insurgences, common men replied passionately (Take an example, 白蓮敎 or 黃巾賊.) Why would that be? It obviously was because Confucianism pretending gentleness or Buddhism chasing ultimate emptiness, both could not save people.

His merchant lineage also made him to contact with Civilian Taoism quite often. Just like lower class people of China back then, his father used to pray in various temples for the success of running business. Following him, Wu Cheng En naturally came across various aspects of Taoism. Also, he enjoyed in hearing to weird tales and owning rare paintings – the referential resources that helped him writing Journey to the West. These features combined make 西遊記 a novel which criticizes Buddhism and Confucianism in Taoist world view.

Let me first go with how Confucianism was criticized. First of all, author shows satire against both nepotism and corruption. Heaven depicted in Journey to the West is not much different from imperial court back then. Though supposedly moral and gentle Confucianism ruled, bureaucrats were extremely corrupt. If you compare 玉皇上帝 to the Emperor and heaven’s corrupt bureaucrats and demons to Confucian officials in reality, this appears clearer. Since ‘Heaven’ is corrupt too, people have nowhere to depend on.

Author also criticizes inability of Confucianism. In the beginning, when 孫悟空 started riot against Heaven and 龍王, even extremely high ranked officials – including those ranked higher than 孫悟空 – could not defeat him. Everything went back to place only when 太上老君 engaged the battle. Officials and bureaucrats didn’t have ability because they were hired according to nepotism, not by ability. There seems to be an additional criticism against extreme formalism and harsh punishment. 沙悟淨 was hit by rod 800 times and driven to the earth because he broke a single vase. The reality wasn’t much different. Even to some minimal crimes, punishment could be unreasonably harsh.

Though little less criticized than Confucianism, Buddhism is also under criticism. One might think, since the whole story of this novel is about monk brining Buddhism bible from India, the author would be favorable to it, but that’s not true. To begin with, 玄奘, who is the main character, seems to be created entirely for satire against Buddhist. He always emphasizes extremely impractical and needlessly moral rules such as mercy against monsters ahead of his way. Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem that he has capability to defeat such monsters – he would rather sit and cry only. Yet he always criticizes 孫悟空, who is trying hardest to think of solutions and eventually resolve the situation, simply because 悟空 didn’t follow some minimal rules of Buddhism. He in fact, is the biggest reason why the travel of four people becomes difficult and dangerous.

Criticism against Buddhism also includes one against absurdly impractical and inflexible idealism thereof. Travel itself is a little bit difficult to understand. 玄奘 argues that it is not meaningful if he brings bible back to China easily dependant to the cloud of 悟空. I personally wonder whether riding the cloud and getting bible conveniently, safely, and fastly will change the content. After all, he was bringing bible to save the people, not to discipline himself. More absurdly, at the end of the travel, 如來 orders 悟空 to drop 玄奘 because they are 8 days short from number of days they have to spend on the road, and lack of one hardship to experience from 81 hardships. It seems that 如來 has totally about the original reason of bringing bible from India: to save 衆生 from hardships and encourage the development of Buddhism. Normal, sane and reasonable person would never think this way.

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