This volume contains five short stories that could be called “spinoffs” of well-known Chinese classics. Author Manabu Makime trains his lens on supporting characters as a means of highlighting the allure of classical Chinese literature and history from fresh, unexpected angles. In his tales he pays homage to the original authors, as well as to Atsushi Nakajima, who also wrote stories based on Chinese legends.
The title work has its roots in the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, modeled on the seventh-century pilgrimage of real-life priest Xuanzang from China to India to obtain some sacred Buddhist texts. Of the three disciples who accompany Xuanzang on his journey, the story centers on the quiet and unexceptional Wujing. One day as winter clouds threaten overhead and their hunger pangs grow, the travelers suddenly come upon an edifice painted in brilliant vermilion. The leader of the disciples, Wukong, who is agile as a monkey and strong in battle, quickly realizes it is an illusion thrown up by a supernatural spirit. He draws a circle on the ground around the other three to create a shield, and tells them not to leave the circle while he goes to investigate. But the avaricious Bajie ignores his instructions and leaves the circle to approach the grand building, which sadly results in all but Wukong being taken hostage by the spirit: the structure was indeed an illusion.
The three prisoners are tied up with ropes and hung from the roof of a dark cave. Wujing, who had anticipated that something like this might happen, regrets having said nothing to stop Bajie. Since when had he turned into such an ineffectual bystander, he wonders. He recalls what he’s heard about the stolid, pig-like Bajie, who is both a ceaseless complainer and an eternal optimist: he was once a general with an army of a hundred thousand men at his command. When Wujing asks him about this, Bajie confirms that he has heard right. Though now reduced to a pig-like appearance for his womanizing ways, he is a living treasure-trove of lessons from battle, which he begins sharing with Wujing. When things change, he notes, it is the process of change that is the most stressful, but precisely for that reason, the process holds something precious that should not be shied away from. Xuanzang then asks Wujing, “Why did you join this pilgrimage? A journey like this is the very epitome of process, which you so dislike.” The question opens Wujing’s eyes, and for the first time he understands the meaning of the journey.