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Translating trickster, performing identity: Representations of the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) in Chinese and Asian American rewritings

Hongmei Sun, University of Massachusetts Amherst


My project examines the transformations of the Monkey King figure in both Chinese and Asian American literatures and cultures. A protagonist in the sixteenth century classics Journey to the West (Xiyou ji), the Monkey King is still a highly popular cultural figure in China today, thanks to the continuous retellings and rewritings of his story. As the adaptations both in China and the United States make the image of the Monkey King a multifaceted subject, I adopt different research approaches for the varied examples chosen for each chapter. My methodologies range from close readings of literary, visual and graphical works in relation to their broader socio-historical contexts, to a theoretical analysis of the ambivalent nature of the Monkey King figure, the process of translation and representation, as well as identity formation from the approach of performativity and national/cultural myth-making. This project crosses boundaries between premodern and modern Chinese literature, Asian studies and Asian American Studies, and translation studies and media studies. The first chapter focuses on the literary use of the Monkey King in Asian American self-representation. Taking Gene Yang's graphic novel American Born Chinese as an example, drawing on Homi Bhabha's discussion of the "fixity" and the "splitting" nature of stereotype, I examine the intricate relationship between monkey, human and god embodied in the Monkey King image. The second chapter borrows the lens of western trickster theories to examine the Chinese mythical character in Journey to the West. I also bring in W.J.T. Mitchell's picture theory in considering the multivalent nature of the Monkey King image and the reasons that this image is most suitable in representing the ethnic American. The third chapter provides a (hi)story of the transformations of the Monkey King image, from a serious friar to a clown, and then from a trickster to a hero. I juxtapose two major changes in the growth of the image: how it is stabilized as a trickster in the Ming prints, and how the trickster is transformed into a hero under Communist politics. The fourth chapter analyzes the representation of the Monkey King image in American media. Focusing on cinematic works such as The Lost Empireand The Forbidden Kingdom, I examine texts from the approach of cross media adaptation and from the viewpoint of chronotope.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Asian literature|American literature

Recommended Citation

Sun, Hongmei, "Translating trickster, performing identity: Representations of the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) in Chinese and Asian American rewritings" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589187.