China Celebrates the Monkey God Festival 2013

by Jules on September 20, 2013

Each year the mischievous mythical Monkey God is celebrated with the dates falling on 20 September 2013 and 9 September 2014.

The character of the ‘Monkey God’ first came to prominence during the ruling of the Ming Dynasty which spanned some 246 years from 1368 to 1644. Specifically it was the novel ‘Journey to the West’ which was penned by Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century and which makes up one of the four great classical books within Chinese literature.  The English speaking population knows the works better simply as just ‘Monkey’. The character was also known as Sun Wukong and possessed supernatural powers, which he achieved though his dedication to Taoist practices. The story goes that he could walk over hot coals and climbs ladders made with rungs of knives without injury.

The fictional novel tells the story of a Buddhist monk’s pilgrimage to India. Xuanzang was accompanied by the Monkey God who was sent on the challenging journey as a punishment from Buddha for rebelling against heaven. Monkey proved himself and as a result became something of a cult character. The story fuses spiritualism, adventure and enlightenment.  Wu Cheng’en’s tome is built upon the principals of Chinese mythology and folk religion, which continued to resonant through Chinese culture from the Ming Dynasty to the present day.

The popularity of the Monkey God character spread throughout stories told in East Asia and he has even made it onto TV. The ultimate honour however comes with the dedicated festival which is aligned with the lunar calendar. Each year in the eighth lunar month and on the sixteenth day the Monkey God Festival falls. Western dates translate as Friday 20 September 2013 and Tuesday 9 September 2014.

The revered character sparked many such copycat instances of ‘supernatural powers’ such as attempts to walk over hot coals. Today however the celebrations tend to focus more on burning incense and presenting paper offerings, rather than anything that might induce injury.

Watch out for celebrations at Taoist temples across China, Hong Kong, Macau and beyond as folk gather to honour the mischievous little imp.

Image Credit; d’n'c from Beijing

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