Journey To The West: The Chinese Inspiration Behind Dragon Ball

Son Goku's history and features have an even older origin than you thought. Learn more here.

A monkey with superhuman strength and supernatural combat skills always carries with him a sacred scepter and has the ability to walk on clouds. He is also able to change his appearance. His only weakness? His tail. 

Sounds familiar?

Although this might sound like the description of a very popular cartoon character, this is the description of an ancient Chinese legend, thousands of years old, the archetype of a hero that has been adapted and adopted by many cultures and that has served as the inspiration for novels, plays, manga, anime, and video games: Sun Wukong.


Journey to the West: From Sun Wukong to Son Goku

Sun Wukong is the main character in the Chinese literature classic, Journey to the West, which follows the adventures and hardships faced by buddhist monk Xuanzang in his long journey to India, a pilgrimage made in search for illumination and to recover the sutras (sacred texts in the buddhist tradition) to bring them back to China. Throughout his journey, Xuanzang is provided with three protectors: a demon who has natural abilities in water combat (Sha Sheng), a pig (Zho Wuneng), and Sun Wukong, a monkey.

The original version of this anonymous story dates back to the 16th century and has a hundred chapters, with the first seven exploring Sun Wukong's background, when he was known as the King Monkey. His origin is supernatural, and the story explains how this monkey learns from his master; his abilities go from shape-shifting to becoming immortal.


Along his journey, Sun Wukong acquires a scepter that gives him the ability to shape-shift as well as other abilities, like controlling the fur on his body and transforming into objects or living beings, and walking on clouds. 


After facing several Chinese gods and defeating them, The Monkey King challenged the Jade Emperor, the ruler of the heavens and maximum authority in the Chinese pantheon. For this, he was locked up by Buddha himself for a period of 500 years, until he offers himself as Xuanzang's servant in exchange for his freedom.

It is no coincidence that Goku –the main character in Dragon Ball, a manga created by Akira Toriyama, one of the industry's living legends– and Sun Wukong share so many common traits. Both stories include some iconic symbols and an unstoppable search for an object that gives meaning to the journey, as well as super human abilities and a kinship with monkeys.


However, as the manga and the TV series became more and more popular, the story of Goku diverted from the original, and little by little, it strayed from the story in Journey To The West; but in order to understand the origin of the sayajin, you definitely need to go back to Sun Wukong.

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