Pig of Power!

One of the first monsters encountered by the Monk and Monkey in the classic novel Journey to the West is a chimera, part pig and part human, who cannot survive without eating ravenously — and indulging his other fleshly desires as well. Like Monkey, this beast had also run afoul of the authorities in Heaven, where he once held the office of Marshal of the Canopy, commander of the 100,000 sailors in the Navy of the Milky Way. The other gods called him “Heavenly Tumbleweed,” presumably because he had a tendency to ramble into precincts where he wasn’t exactly invited to go. During one celebration, he drank too much and made an indecent pass at the Moon Goddess; the Jade Emperor was so infuriated that he banished Tumbleweed from Heaven, to be reincarnated on earth — in some retellings, the poor amorous immortal was sentenced to 1000 lives, each of which would end in a love tragedy.

Drawing of Pigsy with his nine-toothed rake.

Illustration of Zhu Bajie, aka Pigsy

Worse and worser: during his transmigration from deity to human, there’s a technical error at the Reincarnation wheel, and the former Marshall Canopy ends up in the womb of a sow, and thus is born Zhu Ganglie, “strong-maned pig” — or Pigsy to his friends (except he doesn’t have any yet, only victims). After years committing one atrocity after another, he is finally saved by Guanyin, the Goddess of Compassion, who intervenes and converts him to Buddhism, promising that his sentence will be commuted if he assists Monkey in protecting the Tang Monk on the Journey to the West. In honor of his conversion, Guanyin bestows upon him the title Zhu Wuneng, or Pig Who Rises to Power!

According to Lehigh professor Norman Girardot (who has been a mentor to us from the beginning, and who led the original project to build the Harmony Pavilion where our play will be performed), if Monkey symbolizes mind and imagination, then Pigsy represents the body and its powerful hungers and drives, against which the poor “idiot” — which everyone, including the author, calls him — is pretty much powerless. The Monk Xuanzang gives him the nickname Zhu Bajie, or “Eight-Precepts” Pig, to remind him of the eight kinds of food he’s forbidden to eat as a good Buddhist. Pigsy’s conversion, however, is never quite effective in keeping him out of trouble, especially when his appetites come into play, and he must be rescued himself more than once; in the end, however, his tremendous physical strength, courage, and excelling good humor more than make up for the inconvenience he creates.

Pigsy’s signature weapon is a nine-toothed Rake, and he is also capable of 36 transformations (in contrast to Monkey’s 72). But he’s especially good at fighting in water, which is not Monkey’s best element. Best of all, he’s a tolerant, soft-hearted optimist, and this really complements the emotional makeup of the group. And even though he and Monkey are always squabbling, Pigsy really does look up to Sun Wukong as to an older brother.

Welcome, Pigsy! In an upcoming post, we’ll meet our last two Pilgrims, Sandy and Horsey.

— BBly

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