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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - Journey to the West

Journey to the West is a classic of the road trip genre, but it’s so much more than that. Written by the Chinese poet Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century, its source material dates back to the 7th. Journey to the West details the journey of the monk Tang Sanzang and his animal companions to The Western Paradise in search of Buddhist texts. Wu Cheng’en creates a richly comedic novel that faithfully quotes the source material while also skewering the hypocrisy of the 16th century Ming Dynasty. Let’s hit the road; we’ve got quite a journey ahead of us!

The Monkey King from "Journey to the West". Part of the Qwiz5 series by Qwiz Quizbowl Camp, written to help quiz bowl teams power more tossups

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Journey to the West.


Tang Sanzang, the protagonist of Journey to the West, is based on the Buddhist monk Xuanzang. Also called Tripitaka or Tang Seng in certain translations, Tang Sanzang is the reincarnation of Master Golden Cicada, the second disciple of The Buddha. Because of his divine nature, Tang Sanzang’s flesh is said to bestow immortal life on those who eat it. Three powerful, supernatural animals come to Tang Sanzang’s aid to protect him from demons who want to eat him.


The Monkey King Sun Wukong is one of Tang Sanzang’s closest disciples, and he is the most trusted guard on the journey. Tang Sanzang frees him from beneath a mountain where he was imprisoned for 500 years by The Buddha for eating the peaches of immortality. Born from a magic rock, Sun Wukong has many special abilities. Sun Wukong possesses magic items like boots that allow him to walk on the clouds and an eight-ton staff that can shrink to the size of a needle. Sun Wukong eventually attains enlightenment and repents of his sinful pride during his journey with Tang Sanzang.


Known as “Pigsy” or “Piggy” in English translations, Zhu Baije is another of Tang Sanzang’s companions. Initially a marshal in Heaven, Zhu Baije is exiled to Earth for his lust. Part human and part pig, Zhu Baije is gluttonous and lustful. Frequently called The Idiot by other characters, he can’t even marry a farmer’s daughter because he eats more than he harvests. Despite these faults, Baije is a capable fighter. His weapon of choice is a nine-toothed rake.


Sha Wujing is named “Sandy” in English translations of Journey to the West. The third of Tang Sanzang’s guardians, Sha Wujing was exiled from Heaven after breaking a valuable vase. As punishment, Sha Wujing was also beaten 800 times with a rod and turned into a man-eating monster who lives in a river of quicksand. Like Zhu Baije and Sun Wukong, however, Sha Wujing earns redemption through his journey.


Tang Sanzang’s ultimate destination is Vulture Peak. After 81 tribulations, the travelers finally reach the mountain. The reader is led to believe that Vulture Peak is as much a metaphysical location as an actual one, and it is here that Tang Sanzang receives both his Buddhahood and the sutras from The Living Buddha.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

  • This article details many of Sun Wukong’s numerous exploits prior to joining the journey to the west.

  • Although it’s a bit of a read, this article regarding the authorship of Journey to the West is worth your time.

  • Read this article for a brief overview of the Ming Dynasty, including notable literature of the period.

  • Watch this video to learn more about the original monk Tang Sanzang was based on, Xuanzang.


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