Wu Ch’eng-en

Illustrated by Mu Pan

Introduced by Frances Wood

Translated by Arthur Waley

One of the Four Great Chinese novels, and a worldwide cultural phenomenon, Monkey is reimagined as a Folio edition with exquisite artwork by Mu Pan, including a foldout map, and a new introduction by Frances Wood.

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‘A delectable introduction to Chinese literature.’
  1. David Lattimore, New York Times

Wu Cheng’en’s 16th-century retelling of an ancient Chinese folk tale combines spiritual wisdom and legend with a large dose of humour, making it the ultimate adult fantasy adventure. Charting the perilous mission of a shape-shifting, cloud-jumping monkey through China and India to retrieve sacred Buddhist scrolls, the themes of freedom, identity and heroism have resonated through the ages and the Monkey King has inspired generations of authors, artists, filmmakers and anime creators.

The fantastical tale has been reimagined as a tall, slender Folio edition that is evocative of ancient Chinese scrolls, with exquisite illustrations by Chinese-American artist Mu Pan. Fusing classic and contemporary elements, Mu Pan celebrates the cultural heritage of this masterpiece, his incredible fold-out map completing the edition.

Bound in blocked cloth

Set in Garamond

344 pages

Frontispiece and 6 colour illustrations, including one double-page spread

Black & white illustrated title-page 

Fold-out map

Blocked slipcase

11˝ x 6˝ 

Drawing influence from folk-art, and with a particular interest in Chinese scroll paintings and Japanese prints, Chinese-American artist Mu Pan was on the Folio radar to illustrate this edition. His talent for timeless visual storytelling spills from each of his seven incredibly detailed and beautifully executed colour drawings; the characters and their fantastical adventures coming to life under his careful hand. Our edition also includes a specially commissioned fold-out map, which leads the reader along Monkey’s adrenalin-filled adventures. Chinese history expert Frances Wood has written a new introduction which is both a celebration of the novel and a fascinating precis of ancient Chinese literature and Monkey’s role in it.

‘Monkey was brought to the place of execution, where heavenly soldiers bound him to a pillar and began to hew him with axes, stab him with spears, slash him with swords. But all this had no effect whatever.’

    An abridgment of the longer Chinese epic, Journey to the West – one of the Four Great Chinese Novels – Monkey is also widely known as a standalone book with exceptional literary kudos. The renowned Arthur Waley translation won the James Tait Memorial Prize in 1942. Folio first published Monkey in 1968 and this edition returns to Waley’s rich and timeless interpretation. Bringing together the wisdom, culture, myth and legend of ancient China, and reimagining it for a 16th audience, Wu Ch’eng-en’s extraordinary adventure sees Monkey and his cohorts overcome evil wizards, ogres, demons and dangers, as they forge a path to India with Tripitaka to find the artefacts that will deliver enlightenment.

    Wu Ch’eng-en lived in Jiangsu, one of China’s eastern coastal provinces, in the 16th century. Having struggled to win a place at the imperial university in Nanjing and then to establish himself as a mandarin in the civil service, he was posted to Beijing, but resigned early in order to devote himself to writing poems and stories. He lived for many years in seclusion in Huai’an, Jiangsu province. Monkey or Journey to the West was published anonymously in 1592; Wu is widely believed to have written it. He may have chosen not to publicise himself as the author because of the low status of prose fiction in vernacular Chinese at that time, but the novel is now regarded as one of the finest classic Chinese novels and is among the most popular and influential works of all East Asian literature.

    Arthur Waley (1889–1966) was one of the most important 20th century translators of Chinese and Japanese literature into English, as well as a poet and biographer. Remarkably, he was a self-taught linguist, having learned classical Asian languages as part of his work as an Assistant Keeper of Oriental Prints and Manuscripts at the British Museum, a job he left in 1929 to become a full-time translator and writer. During the Second World War he worked for the Ministry of Information, and was later elected an honorary fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and the Order of the Companions of Honour.

    Frances Wood, former curator of Chinese collections at the British Library, is a leading Western interpreter of Chinese cultural traditions. She was educated in Cambridge and Beijing, and her books include studies of Marco Polo, the first emperor and his terracotta army, the Forbidden City, and the Diamond Sutra – the earliest datable printed book. Wood is the author of a memoir, Hand-Grenade Practice in Peking, on her first-hand experience of the Cultural Revolution, and most recently, Great Books of China (2017).

    Mu Pan is a Chinese American artist who was brought up in Taiwan and later moved to the United States, where he studied for BFA and MFA degrees in illustration at the School of Visual Arts, New York City. His work – often violent and darkly humorous, featuring battle scenes and half-animal, half-human characters engaged in combat – is deeply influenced by martial-arts movies and Hong Kong cinema, as well as Chinese literary classics such as Monkey or Journey to the West and the works of Jin Yong. He has exhibited widely across Europe, the United States and Hong Kong, and the first monograph dedicated to his paintings – American Fried Rice: The Art of Mu Pan – was published in 2020.


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