Lust, Caution, and Enlightenment A Reexamination of Su Wukong’s Sexuality in Xiyou ji

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Ji Hao



The formation of the character of Sun Wukong has remained one of the most controversial issues in the field of Xiyou ji studies. While acknowledging that different strands might have fed into the image of Sun Wukong in the sixteenth- century novel Xiyou ji (Journey to the West), this paper calls attention to complex and sometimes contradictory representations of Sun Wukong’s sexuality and explores the mechanism of displacement that subtly operates in the novel and reveals itself through such representations. It further demonstrates the dual function performed by the displacement of Sun Wukong’s sexuality: on the one hand, it connects Sun Wukong to the image of the lustful ape in the white ape tradition; on the other hand, such displacement allows him to utilize and transcend his desire by experiencing the process of awakening to kong 空 by means of se 色 on his path to enlightenment. Therefore, a reexamination of Sun Wukong through the lens of sexuality helps draw together these two seemingly separate aspects and reveals a narrative in which Sun Wukong’s sexual desire not only encodes his hidden past associated with the white ape tradition but also generates significant meaning in light of the Buddhist context, that is, the notion that erotic encounters and fulfillment of sexual desire can be integrated into the Buddhist journey to enlightenment.

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