Five Differences in the Redemption Between Journey to the West and the Bible

A picture of four cartoon characters in Journey to the West, including Xuanzang, Monkey King, Sandy, Pigsy (from left to right)
A picture of four cartoon characters in Journey to the West, including Xuanzang, Monkey King, Sandy, Pigsy (from left to right) (photo:
By Li DaonanFebruary 8th, 2023

There is no Christian concept of redemption in Chinese tradition. The ultimate ideal of Confucianism is to rule the world - to be a saint and a moral perfectionist. The idea of Taoism is to live a better life in this world, whether it is through the unity of man and nature or the arts of sex and alchemy, all of which are aimed at obtaining a better life in this world. The religious concept of redemption comes from Buddhism, which is also the reason why Buddhism thrives in China.

The story of Journey to the West (The Journey hereafter) itself did not entirely originate in China. There are many textual studies on the origins of the Monkey King. It is thought that its image comes from the worship of Indian monkeys, while others think that it comes from Mithraism. Others hold that The Journey is the story frame of Manichaeism's background, and there are many references to Mani in the original work of the classic book. The story of the true and false “Monkey King” is a good example of how the two substances of Manichaeism are told. It is precisely because the story's background and values are derived from the West, and the theme of redemption runs throughout the story. In the novel, the journey to the west by the one master and three apprentices after suffering is an act of redemption. Some people compare their westward journey to the 40-year wilderness journey that Jews took after leaving Egypt. The framework of redemption always grows after suffering.

However, the redemption in The Journey is different from that of Christianity in many places, even in essence. Redemption in the Chinese novel is quite in line with the spiritual characteristics of Chinese culture.

First of all, there are differences in the cause of redemption. This novel believes that it is because of the limitations of human beings and the fact that people in the world encounter and face death and suffering that cannot be changed. In Christianity, people need redemption because human sin destroys the relationship between people and God, and redemption is to repair the damaged relationship with God. In the Old Testament, this kind of redemption required offering a sacrifice, while in the New Testament, Jesus himself was crucified as a sacrifice to redeem our sins.

However, in The Journey, we see that redemption is to go to the Buddhist paradise to obtain the true scriptures. In our folk religion and Buddhism, there is a kind of worship of the true sutra, which is believed to have magic power and can bring people a kind of redemption. Salvation in The Journey is not to return to a state of restoration with God. Because there is no creation story like the Bible in The Journey, no one commits sin. Man’s salvation is only to change life and death and bring immortality. The immortal effect of the Tang Monk’s flesh becomes the motive for the monster group to catch him. In the end, it is a pity to learn from the scriptures because of the lack of passages about immortality.

Secondly, in the process of redemption, we can see that when the four scripture seekers encounter insurmountable difficulties, they often seek help from others. We can say that the difficulties described in the novel are often solved by seeking help from the gods in the sky and even the Buddha in the west. These people they seek are still dignitaries in high positions. This reflects the helplessness and hierarchy of civilians.

In Christianity, we know that no one can help us on the road to redemption. Even those in high positions are sinners like us and in deep trouble. As if relying on God and faith weren't enough, it is also against the law of faith to ask for help from other people. In the face of the devil’s three temptations, Jesus did not seek the help of others but relied on his own faith to overcome the temptation.

Thirdly, on the object of redemption, we see that the redemption in The Journey is often centered around the monster group. During the journey westward, except for the Tang Monk and his disciples, those who try to catch the Tang Monk are monsters. Tang Monk saved the Monkey King, Piggy, Little White Dragon, and Sandy Monk from the monsters. In the whole journey to the west, the rescue of people is almost never mentioned. On the contrary, Tang Monk is wary of the temptations in human society everywhere: he turned down the marriage of the daughter country and rejected the beauty of all kinds of monsters. Therefore, we can say that The Journey's salvation is the bottom line. It only redeems those who have degenerated into demons, not ordinary people.

Christian redemption is different. It does not refer to the bottom line redemption, but the top line. Among the conditions of redemption in Christianity, the emphasis on morality is strict. It is not that people need redemption after they fall, but that everyone needs redemption at any time, and redemption is to practice the teachings of Jesus. Just like Jesus’ new command to love each other, redemption requires practical action.

In The Journey, being redeemed means becoming a demon, doing all the bad things, and then waking up. Many of these monsters are descended from high-level individuals who have been redeemed or have led the redemption. That is to say, monsters have backgrounds.

Fourth, there is a significant difference in the initiative of redemption between The Journey and Christianity. The Journey begins with passivity, that is, a person or a god, who is redeemed after being punished. When the choice is between endless punishment and freedom after redemption, the Monkey King unquestionably chooses to be redeemed by Tang Monk. Therefore, redemption is the best of the two outcomes. This kind of redemption may be a utilitarian choice or a last resort. This is typical of the four disciples of Tang Monk. They were all punished for violating the dogma and were led to the road of redemption. The Monkey King is crushed by Palm Mountain, and there will never be a day of freedom; The little white dragon has been trapped in Deep Hallow for hundreds of years. In Christianity, redemption is the initiative of individuals. They convert to God, not because of punishment, but because they need redemption.

Fifth, the result of redemption is different. People will enshrine a Buddha as a result of these scripture seekers. Piggy is a net altar messenger whose main job is to eat the food people give to him. It can be seen that the ultimate goal of The Journey’s redemption is what we traditionally say: “You can be a master only if you suffer." Finally, the seekers become people to worship, like those who help them. In Christianity, being redeemed means taking on more responsibilities, paying more love, spreading the gospel, and making more people convert to God and move toward the road of redemption.

From the above comparison, we can see that the redemption of traditional culture is still beyond the secular. However, this also provides us with vigilance. We should be vigilant about the redemption of the gospel of Jesus so as not to be influenced by traditional culture and deviate from the road of His redemption.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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