This is a story you will not find many places, but still it should be told, because it is a very odd story. The Handsome Monkey King was entertaining his friends; his Four Illustrious Generals, his six sworn brothers the Bull Demon King, the Salamander Demon King, the Roc Demon King, the Camel King, the Macaque King, and the Lion King. They were enjoying themselves, and talking about their travels, and where they had or had not been. The Camel King had walked the Thousand-Mile Desert, the Macaque King had climbed to the top of the Tree of the World, and the Salamander King had been to the very bottom of the Whispering Cave. These were all impressive deeds, and the other companions rightfully gave them honor for their daring, but
The Monkey King, Great Sage of Heaven,
Handsome Sun Wukong, who wields the Needle of the World,
Who can fly on his cloud-carpet
Who can travel 108,000 li in one leap and
Knows infinite transformations,
Laughed and sneered at his friends
The demon kings, who could not
Travel as far or as fast as he.
“Indeed, indeed,” he crowed. “You have all certainly been to some interesting spots. Just let me tell you where I’ve been, though! I’ve journeyed all the way to the bottom of the North Sea, to the End of the World, and to Heaven, where none of you have ever even dreamed of going. Yes, you have gone farther than the average monster or human, but there is no one who has seen more of the Earth than me!”
The Demon Kings were used to the boasting of Sun Wukong, but the Bull Demon King was tired of his proud posturing. “I know that there is another, a Fat Traveling Demon, who has been everywhere in the world, to every home, and that he is more well-loved than you, Monkey King, because he does not brag at every chance he gets.”
“Well,” replied the Great Sage, “as the saying goes, ‘don’t be modest about your talents, if you are really the best.’”
All the sworn brothers of the Monkey King replied (for they had agreed that if it came to it, they would all stand with each other, because sometimes they tired of the Monkey King’s boasts), “If you really are the best, then go bring him back to us, and we will hold a little contest to see who is really the better traveler!”
The Monkey King leapt up and tucked his As-You-Will Rod, the Needle of the World, behind his ear. He put on his cloud-walking boots, and his phoenix armor, and without even bidding his friends goodbye, began to search for the demon. He was flying east, over the Cattle-Gifted Continent, when he saw something in the distance. In an instant it was nearly upon him, so fast was it traveling. The Great Sage was flustered:
The demon was fat and terrible,
Laughing with merry glee
As he cracked the reins of his flying chariot,
Pulled by twelve great deer-demons.
The hat on his head was made of dyed red leather,
and on its tip was a ball as white as pearl,
And his robe was the same bright red, and his boots black.
In one hand was a great brown sack, dirtied and careworn, bulging with magic,
And in the other were the great reins he held lightly.
His chariot was drawn by twelve deer-demons,
Stamping and braying as they trod on air like it was firm ground,
And the bells on their harnesses
Rang out like the gongs of the Heavenly Court.
In the van pulled one, nose aglow with red fire,
Proud as any of the Jade Emperor’s steeds,
And they were faster than the propitious clouds of Heaven.
The bearded face, the bright red cheeks,
The gleaming eyes; the mysterious demon was riding on
Some unknown journey.
Monkey was amazed at this sight. He flew alongside the magic chariot, and yelled loudly, “Who are you, demon? The Great Sage of Heaven demands to know, so that I can bring you back to my friends at the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit and settle a wager to my satisfaction.” The demon did not reply, but rode on, his booming laugh
Echoing in the sky
As if it had been there always,
Beautiful to those who were good
But terrible to those who had been naughty!
“Halt, demon!” Monkey cried. “What are you, and where are you going?” The demon did not answer; just gave a deep, rumbling laugh, and continued to speed through the sky. The Handsome Monkey King was not used to being ignored, and he grew to the height of a mountain. He shouted, “Are you the Fat Traveling Demon? I have come to find you, so that we can see who is really the most well-traveled.”
Still the demon made no reply. Furious, Monkey raced after him, and as he drew level he gave the fat demon a great whack in the belly with the Ruyi Jingu Bang, the golden-banded cudgel, that he won from the Dragon Emperor under the Ocean. As the blow struck, both the fat demon and the Monkey King’s prized possession disappeared instantly. Watch
The Monkey King’s face turn
From triumph to despair in the blink of an eye,
The Golden-Banded Cudgel,
The Compliant Rod,
Which had lain at the bottom of the ocean
Before it had found its true master, Sun Wukong,
Overlooked by Ao Guo, the Dragon King,
Kept in the Great Sage’s ear,
Able to grow to any size, defeat any enemy,
The staff of black iron
Had been taken from Monkey
By a fat, old demon.
Monkey gave a great shout and leapt into the chariot, mad with anger. He pulled with all his might on the great reins, but the twelve deer-demons gave no notice they had felt even the tiniest tug. The Monkey King howled again, and his golden eyes shone with a fierce light. Then he heard a voice, deep and joyous, ring out all around him. “Monkey, you have done a foolish thing! This is the one night of the year when you should not have struck me so!”
“Fat Traveling Demon,” Sun Wukong yelled, “what have you done with my staff? I demand you give it back to me!”
“If I could, I would, Great Sage, but it is not easy. You see, tonight I am at my weakest, and I don’t have enough power to bring myself, and your staff, back into the world. You will have to do a little work before I can reappear.”
“Tell me what to do, then, and I’ll have it over in the blink of an eye! Whatever it is, I can handle it with the faintest flick of my ears.”
“Do you see the bag, there, that brown and battered sack? It holds all the gifts for the good children of the world, every single one. You need to deliver them before the night ends, otherwise you’ll have to do it forever! My steeds know the way; let them guide you. Quickly now, Sun Wukong – and remember, to give is much better than to receive.”
“Why me,” the Monkey King moaned. “I just wanted to see if that fat demon was really my equal. Now I’ll have to spend my precious time on some crazy task. What kind of a story is this going to make for my Illustrious Generals and my Six Sworn Brothers? I’ll be a laughingstock. I just hope I can get my favorite staff back.” He saw the twelve deer-demons, their steaming breath and matted fur.
“So, it seems I find myself Protector of Horses again!” Monkey said, and as he shook the reins of the flying chariot the deer leapt forward at such a speed that he could have scarce managed to go faster on his cloud-carpet. Watch
The Monkey King, who defeated Heaven’s Generals
Because he was not happy to watch the Jade Emperor’s horses
The Handsome Monkey King, who was too proud
To keep the beautiful steeds of Heaven
Be pulled and tugged and mistreated
By twelve shaggy deer, this way and that way
So that the Great Sage, born of stone
Felt his stomach turn a somersault of 108,000 li!
“I’m not much of a horseman, but I suppose I can give it a try,” said Sun Wukong, as his teeth chattered in his head and his bottom began to ache. “Besides, it won’t take very long, as fast as I am.” Down they went to the first home, then the next, and the next, and in every one of them Sun Wukong was met with shrieks and cries of alarm, and the gifts he brought were refused.
“What am I doing wrong?” the Monkey King wondered. “I’m handsome, I’m powerful, and I’m bringing these children gifts! How ungrateful.” He looked at the deer-demon with the red glowing nose. “What sort of thing do I have to do for the humans to love me like they must love that Fat Traveling Demon?” The deer-demon just snuffled its nose in a knowing way.
On and on, the Handsome Monkey King was met with distaste and disgust from the humans. He tried to dance for them, but he only scared the children. He tried to tell them some stories, but the human children screamed and ran away. At last, Sun Wukong was at his wits’ end. He decided to try one more house. It was little more than a hut, a few timbers under a thatched roof made of straw, but a light burned from the window.
The Great Sage of Heaven reached into the magic bag, and pulled out a gift for the children of the modest home. It was
A little painted doll,
Made by loving hands,
For a loving child,
By the Fat Traveling Demon.
Not even the least of the Monkey King’s followers
Would have let their children play with it,
So plain and dull it was,
And made so crudely.
Monkey scoffed, and said, “If this is what that demon uses to win the hearts of the people of Earth, then maybe I shouldn’t really care too much about that bet with those six friends of mine. I’ll just give this last present, and then I’ll find another way to get back my staff.”
In the house, the family slept in one room, and the children were fast asleep. Sun Wukong crept as quietly as he could into the house, and laid the doll with great care on the ground next to the smallest child. As he turned away, he heard a small voice say, “You, gift-giver, don’t leave yet. I have something for you.” It was a small girl, her clothes simple, and she drew from her pocket a small metal bell.
Monkey whispered, “Little human, do you know that I am the Monkey King, who has defeated Heaven? My eyes are golden, and I wear the phoenix armor, the cloud-walking shoes, and I use as my weapon a staff so heavy that no one else in the world is strong enough to lift. In the Water Curtain Cave, my court has whole rooms filled with the gold and treasure of a thousand lifetimes. I do not need your gift. Take yours, and go back to sleep.”
The little girl blinked sleepily, and said, “But, I don’t need your gift. You are very kind to give all those gifts, and not get anything in return. Will you please take this?”
She pressed it into the Monkey King’s hand, and it made a little tinkling sound. In that moment, a weight lifted off the Monkey King, or maybe a weight came down – for the story, it really doesn’t matter very much.
The Monkey King thought for a moment, and laughed, the same laugh that the Fat Traveling Demon laughed when he had first appeared. He plucked a great handful of hair from his chest, and they became copies of the Monkey King, all wearing the red robes of the Fat Traveling Demon, but with Sun Wukong’s tail sticking out from the back.
“Go, go, you miserable monkeys,” he yelled. “There’s much more giving to be done!” In a flash, the thousands of Monkeys went leaping all over the world with as many presents as they could carry from the great brown bag, going this way and that way around the whole world, all through the night.
With bells on their coats,
Flying faster than they had ever thought to before,
All the Monkey King’s minions were
Giving gifts with glee.
The children now were laughing,
Joyous because joy is infectious,
And Sun Wukong was happy to give
To see the faces and hear their happiness.
North Sea, South Sea,
East Sea and West Sea,
Sun Wukong sent his minions
To give gifts and bring cheer.
Every one of his copies
Wore a bell around his wrist
And it jingled every time they came
To a house where children lived.
Just as the sun was rising, the last gift was given, and the copies of the Monkey King disappeared. In a great wind the Fat Traveling Demon appeared, holding the staff. Sun Wukong was so tired after running all around the world that he was fast asleep. With a deep rumbling laugh, the joyful demon leapt into his flying chariot, drawn by the twelve deer, and disappeared.
So, the Ruyi Jingu Bang was returned to the Great Sage, and from then on, the proud Monkey King could not help but be a little more humble about his own power, and also could not help but feel a little tired whenever he heard a bell ring. If you want to know what happened later that made the Monkey King feel even more tired, then you will have to keep reading the next chapter.