Monkey Business in the Dragon Palace
Mythical heroes are often synonymous with their powerful weapons. Zeus with his lightning bolt, King Arthur with Excalibur, Thor with his hammer, and the Monkey King with his mighty rod, known as the Golden Cudgel. This is the origins story of how the Monkey King found, or perhaps absconded with, his super-weapon.
As told in Journey to the West, a long, long time ago a supernatural rock on top of the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit absorbed the essence of Heaven and Earth. One day, the rock suddenly burst, and out jumped a monkey. He was clever, brave and daring. The other, ordinary monkeys were so impressed with his magical abilities that they crowned him “Monkey King” and they spent their days joyously feasting.
But Monkey was panged with existential angst. What was the point of all this temporary happiness if what awaits a monkey in the end is old age, illness, and death? He decided to seek true teachings to gain immortality.
A Taoist master took him as a disciple and trained him deep in the mountains. There, he learned the arts of flying and transforming himself into anything he wanted. Upon completing his training, he bid farewell to his master and returned home.
Back on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, Monkey King grew troubled with new worries. His skills had improved, but he had no weapon to match his abilities. His fellow monkeys tried to help find one—one proposed a rock, another a big banana. Just as everyone was scavenging about, an old monkey stepped out. He had lived hundreds of years, and knew all there was to know. He told them of a fantastical Dragon Palace at the bottom of the Eastern Sea.
“There,” said he, “the Dragon King keeps many treasures.” The Monkey King was thrilled to hear the news and immediately began his trip.
Meanwhile, many leagues under the sea, the Dragon King and his crustacean courtesans were enjoying a fine banquet in the Dragon Palace. They were in the middle of enjoying a performance by a group of dancing water fairies, when General Wu-gui, the Dragon King’s right-hand turtle, furiously paddled into the hall, "Your highness, an intrud—"
Just then, the Monkey King burst through the doors. He greeted the Dragon King and said, “Hey, Dragon King, how’s it going? Could you help me out? You see, I need a weapon, something powerful. I heard you might have just the thing. How about it?”
The Dragon King had heard rumors of this magical monkey. Word had it he had many tricks up his sleeve. Not wanting any trouble, the Dragon King ordered his subjects to bring out a few weapons for Monkey to try.
The coral doors opened, and Lord Eel slid into the hall, carrying a shiny spear weighing 4,800 pounds. Monkey was excited. He took it with his furry hands and twirled it around like a baton. But it was too light and flimsy. He scrunched up his nose and tossed it back to Lord Eel.
Next, Lord Lobster entered, and with the help of Count Crab, dragged in a giant sword weighing 9,600 pounds. Monkey picked it up with ease, and after swinging it a few times, decided it was also far too light.
The Dragon King was breaking into an underwater sweat. This time, he ordered forth his heaviest weapon.
The doors swung open and three crustaceans entered. They carried a huge halberd, weighing more than any of the other weapons and sending tremors through the seabed with every step. Monkey toyed with them for a while, pretending it was too heavy to lift, only to throw it up in the air and balance it on one finger, just for fun. Monkey shook his head and tossed it aside.
“These are all like toothpicks. Don’t you have anything heavier?” he asked.
The Dragon King was desperate, when his wife swam up and suggested a giant iron pillar sitting in their treasury. She said the pillar lit with a heavenly glow days before, and maybe the monkey was fated to own it. The Dragon King agreed, and took the monkey to see this treasure.
The giant pillar was sitting in the furthest courtyard of the palace. Engraved on its side were the words, “The Compliant Golden-Hooped Rod.” It was wide as a barrel, and 20 feet tall. This pillar was also, mostly symbolically, responsible for keeping the sea stable.
The Monkey King’s eyes brightened when he saw it. He tried lifting it—and while he could pick it up, it was too cumbersome to wield. “Hmm… it’s too big to hold, I wish it could be smaller…”
Before he finished this thought, the pole suddenly shrank to the size of a shepherd’s staff, and flew into his hand. The Monkey King was ecstatic. He began whirling and twirling it, causing huge currents in the palace. The Dragon King and his courtesans were nearly swept away!
Happy with having found the perfect weapon, Monkey magically shrunk the rod again—this time to the size of a needle. He tucked it behind his ear, where he could carry it for future use in battle. He quickly thanked the Dragon King and set off for home.
The Dragon King, though relieved to be rid of the demanding guest, turned to General Wu-gui and scolded him for letting the uninvited monkey into the palace in the first place.
As Monkey’s adventure’s continued, a whole host of creatures would feel the wrath of his Golden Cudgel—from his future associates Pigsy and Sandy to minions, monsters, and skeleton-demons. After all, how else could you protect a pious yet helpless Buddhist monk on a perilous journey?
The Shen Yun 2016 mini-drama Monkey King and the Dragon Palace—choreographed by Gu Yuan and Yu Yue with music by Jing Xian—is based on this story.