Chinese zodiac / Year of the Monkey

Shen(申), Year of the Monkey

Shen, the Monkey

Monkeys share the most similarities with mankind compared to the other eleven zodiac animals, smart, funny, and good at imitation. Trained monkeys are capable of asking people for food or serving as playmates for mankind. Additionally, monkeys also help people with some simple work, such as grazing cattle, picking fruits and delivering letters. They are also believed auspicious. The Chinese pronunciation of monkey is Hou, which is also the same pronunciation of nobleman. As a result, the monkey is often adopted in Chinese paintings to symbolize promotion. For instance, a Chinese painting depicts a monkey (Hou, same pronunciation as nobleman) sitting on a maple (Feng, same pronunciation as appointing), which implies the wishes for continuous promotions as a government official; a monkey on a horse (Mashang, same pronunciation as immediate) means immediate promotion: two monkeys sitting on a pine tree and one monkey sitting on another monkey both imply that all family members, including children and grandchildren, will be promoted as government officials.

Mankind has evolved from apes. In the earliest stage after mankind had no longer regarded themselves as beasts, they naturally started to worship certain animals as their clan ancestor and totem. Monkey is no exception. Actually, it has been generally accepted that monkey is the ancestor of mankind. In some places of China, monkeys are still worshiped as the ancestor by some ethnic minority groups. In these places, monkey hunting is forbidden and people hold regular sacrifice ceremonies to express their worship for the monkey. One typical phenomenon is the clay toys of monkeys with human faces. Every year from the 2nd of the second lunar month to the 3rd of the third lunar month. at the ancestry temple fairs in Huaiyang County, Henan province, people see a large quantity of human-face monkey toys, styled as god statues in a solemn way with official hats on their heads, from which one knows that the human-face monkey is still worshiped by local people as the ancestor. In Xunxian County, Henan Province, there are clay monkey toys entitled with Holy Monkey, as well as giant painted monkey sculptures. All stone railings and pillars at local temples are carved with monkey patterns. In addition to the monkey-styled crafts above, the monkey show also enjoys great popularity. Monkey show, also called monkey play, refers to a play performed by monkeys or our other primate relatives. Originally, monkey plays were performed by people who were good at imitating monkey’s behavior, expression, and language. Later, monkeys have gradually become the main performers in place of men. The portrait stone Acrobatics Figures in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. -220 A.D.) has vividly depicted the monkey play performers, which is also a sound proof of its long history. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), monkey play has already developed into a complete set of performance. A typical monkey trainer would carry his equipment with a shoulder pole and lead a ram with his monkey sitting on the ram. After he picked a place, the trainer gathered his audience by striking a gong. The whole play started with tumbling, water bucket carrying, rope walking, pole climbing, mask probing from the box and costume walking, all performed by the monkey.

The traditional cultural image of monkey is represented by the Monkey King in Journey to the West. It is modeled with features from the monkey, mankind as well as immortal. Therefore, the readers find this character not only smart and full of energy, but also very courageous and powerful. It has actually represented people’s desire for freedom and the conquest of nature. Due to the profound influence of Journey to the West on Chinese culture, the character of Monkey King in this novel has deeply rooted in the memory of its readers. Now if someone mentions monkey, most people will unconsciously recall the image of Monkey King, with the golden cudgel in his hand.

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