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Here Be Dragons co-curated by Cressida Cowell and Toothless - opens 13 July. Admission included with ticket to the Galleries

1001 Stories Collection

The Monkey who would be King

1001 themonkeywhowouldbeking
Added on 06th October 2020

Oral tradition Chinese folktale from the Ming Dynasty

Asia Animals

The adventures of the Monkey King.


An ancient mountain rose from the distant Eastern Oceans. Although beautiful, its inhabitants were demons. Only one cave was safe from them, the Water Curtain cave which lay behind a waterfall. One day a strange stone egg appeared at the summit of the mountain. When it hatched there emerged an inquisitive monkey. The monkeys who lived on the mountain slopes warned him about the demons beyond the waterfall but to their surprise, with one leap, Monkey passed through the falls. The monkeys named him Monkey King and made him their leader. Over time the Monkey King became consumed with pride and arrogance and left the mountain in search of knowledge and power. His arrogance lead him to clash with the Xian, a race of immortals. Ejected from their realm he next angered the gods who demanded that the Jade Emperor deal with him. Finally the gods called on the Buddha who imprisoned him inside a mountain for eternity

Why we chose it

Monkey King (Sun Wukong) is a legendary figure and one of the best known of the characters in the 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West attributed to Wu Cheng’en, one of the four classic novels of Chinese literature.

Where it came from

Inspiration for Monkey comes from an amalgam of Indian (Hindu) and Chinese (Chu Kingdom) cultures. It is also thought that the character may have originated from the first disciple of Xuanzang (Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller). Inspiration also comes from the peoples of Fuzhou, China worshipped Monkey Gods long before Monkey became a household name.

Where it went next

Monkey is released from the mountain to accompany the monk, Tang Sanzang on his journey to retrieve Buddhist Sutras from ‘the West’ (India). Monkey's journey is told in the 1978-1980, 26-episode Japanese series Monkey (Saiyūki) where Monkey is joined by Pigsy (Pig Monster) and Sandy (Water Demon).

It was remade in the 1978 action comedy, The New Legends of Monkey for Netflix.

There are hundreds of animation and cartoon re-tellings.

Added on 06th October 2020

Oral tradition Chinese folktale from the Ming Dynasty

Asia Animals