Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great novels of China’s Ming era, and perhaps the most loved. Written in 1592, it draws on the celebrated travels of a real monk from China to India a thousand years before, and on a thousand years of retellings of that story, especially the addition of a monkey as companion who, in the novel, becomes supersimian. For most readers the monk, Tripitaka, is upstaged by this irrepressible Monkey with his extraordinary powers, accompanied by the fallen but recovering deities, Pigsy and Sandy.

The image above, from the caricature series Yoshitoshi ryakuga or Sketches by Yoshitoshi, is of Monkey creating an army by plucking out his fur and blowing it into the air, and each hair becomes a monkey-warrior.


Julia Lovell Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London

Chiung-yun Evelyn Liu Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, Taiwan


Craig Clunas Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at Trinity College, University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson