Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Assignment Essay

This assignment examines and compares two examples of shape shifting in folklore, the Chinese half human pig, Zhu Bajie and the Japanese Fox Spirit, Kitsuné.  Research sources include “Journey to the West (TV series)”,” Kitsuné: Japan's fox of mystery, romance & humor” and “Pig in Chinese Culture-Zhu Bajie”.  Both feature mythical characters from different cultural backgrounds and the interest in legendary characters and so would like to research further. The essay will define characters of Zhu Bajie and Kitsuné with their cultural history and then how these characters are depicted as shape shifters.

Zhu Bajie in Journey to the West

The Kitsuné, meaning fox spirit is a common term and a folklore character used in Japan which it has the ability to shape shift into a human being.  Whereas for Zhu Bajie, he was one of the legendary characters in the famous folktale, Journey to the West which Bajie was one of the disciples in helping the Monk, Xuanzang in his quest to travel to India in search of the sacred sutras.

Zhu Bajie with cast from Journey to the West

The whole Kitsuné legend is inspired by the Japanese Red Fox; it is also derived from a folktale where a Kitsuné had taken the form of a human named Koan who was well known for his magic powers. One day while staying with someone at their house, he scalded his foot when getting into the bath since the water was too hot. He ran outside naked in pain, though without realizing, people around the house noticed that Koan’s body is covered in fur and was extremely surprised to find a fox’s tail growing out of Koan. Then Koan transformed into a fox in front of them, before running away. As for Zhu Bajie’s, before he became a half human half pig creature, he was originally an immortal Marshal of 80,000 soldiers in the heavenly kingdom. He got into a lot of trouble for misbehaving, though at a party for important figures in heaven, Bajie was caught for flirting with the Goddess of the moon and was banished to Earth. His sentence on earth was to live through a thousand lives where each of his life would end in a love tragedy. Though at one point, whist going into a portal to reincarnate, he accidentally fell into the animal portal and ended up being reborn as a half man half pig monster. However, at the ending to The Journey to the West (Sell, 2011) says, “ In the last chapter of the novel called “The five immortals achieve Nirvana”, all of Pig’s (Zhu Bajie) fellow pilgrims achieve enlightenment and become buddhas or anrhats  , but he does not; he is still too much a creature of his base desires. He is instead rewarded for his part in the pilgrimage’s success with a job as “Cleanser of the Altars” which means he can eat leftovers of the altar offerings. “(Sell, 2011)

A gathering of Kitsunés making fox fire.

Magical power wise, both Kitsuné and Zhu Bajie can shape shift into various things mostly human forms, though, a Kitsuné only knows shape shifting when it reaches to fifty or a hundred years old.  However, Zhu Bajie only knows thirty six transformations including rock, bull, girls or even a big fat man.  Whereas A Kitsuné can also possess people and things, cause mischief in people’s dreams, create illusions and those with greater powers would have the ability to bend time and space or even make people go crazy. Other supernatural abilities that people would associate with to the Kitsuné are mouths or tails that make fire or lightning, flight and invisibility. As for Zhu Bajie, apart from transformations he has the normal traits of a pig like constant hunger and prefers to be laid back and lacks the will or strength to fight. He carries with him a nine- toothed rake which has magical abilities since he had it with him during his time as a marshal. His name was given by the goddess Guan Yin meaning “Pig awakened to power” which is also in conjunction of reminding him about his Buddhist teachings, according to the novel, Journey to the West, "Master," he replied, "When the Bodhisattva laid her hands upon my head and told me to obey the prohibitions, she gave me a Buddhist name−−Zhu Wuneng, Pig Awakened to Power." (Wu, 1955: 281)
However, there are two different types of Kitsuné: the zenko, which are the good Kitsuné though are commonly associated to the god, Inari; and the Yako, who are thought to be the bad and malicious kind of Kitsuné.  Whereas with Zhu Bajie is only a single character.

A Kitsuné in disguise due to the fox shadow
Like what Tehri Mikkolainen says, people depict Zhu Bajie commonly as a pig due to his natural traits like eating greedily, lazing around and being most of the time as an idiot as well as reminding people of how they can be like him like being lazy and greedy at times as well.  (Mikkolainen, 2007) He can also be depicted as a metaphor of being an idiot. This, in contrary to the Kitsuné, they are sometimes known as lovers, guardians, friends and or wives, also a trickster for tricking people. This is because that many years ago, at one stage humans and foxes would work and live alongside each other. It is also believed that for a Kitsuné to be able to transform itself into a human, it must place reeds, broad leaf or balance a skull on top of its head and bow in awe to the Dipper before transformation, and if the skull stays on top of the Kitsune’s head, it will be allowed to shape shift. (Nozaki, 1961: 25-26).Also Kitsuné are most notably known for their number of tails. They’re are commonly found to have their tails in odd numbers, however the more they have, the more older, wiser and powerful they become. Although they disguise themselves, they would have some trouble in hiding their tails which the disguise would be ruined if the Kitsuné is too careless, drunk or if the people see a fox’s shadow, a coating of fine hair or the reflection of their true form.  Comparing to Zhu Bajie, his disguise would not be ruined unless according to Journey to the West, “if Sun Wukong (monkey) uses his magic to reveal the disguise.” (Journey to the West, 1996) as this is just for Zhu Bajie’s gain in getting close to women, such as he heard that a man is looking for a groom to marry his daughter in the village and so Zhu Bajie decides to transform into human to marry the daughter. He gets married to her but as time passed, his true nature unfolds causing his wife wanting a divorce. Frustrated by this, he locks her up in the house and leaves to live in a cave but visits his wife every once in a while.

Like Zhu Bajie being associated with Xuanzang, Monkey , Sha Wujing and the Buddhism religion, Kitsuné are mostly associated to the god Inari which originally had been thought that Kitsuné were a messenger of his but over the years, the line between the two has been so mixed up that people would actually think that Inari was too a Kitsuné.

A kitsune statue outside the Kitsuné temple
Between these legendary characters, they both are unique and interesting, they both have some similarities such as the backstory of how religion is involved and how this would affects people’s perspectives of them. Both characters are depicted are monsters at first and even if it did existed, people would’ve thought that they would be suited as being in folklore tale therefore society begin to accept them and gains interest in them as folktale legends with magical powers fighting with other worldly beings through stories. However, differences are between the two is of how they shape shift themselves into humans or other various forms, like with the Kitsuné balancing a skull on their heads, whereas Zhu Bajie who still has his powers from being a marshal can just shape shift when and where he wants to unless if it is disturbed by Monkey.
They both can possess things including humans though with Kitsuné after possessing a human and leaves, the once human host will no longer be able to eat things that a fox would’ve like to eat like tofu, meat, etc.  Whereas with Zhu Bajie, possession for his is his way of earning a good deed therefore once he leaves the host, the host will have no recollection of the events happened and can freely do things as they wish.  
A Zhu Bajie Statue outside Zhu Bajie's temple.

Both characters can be seen as either good or bad as they both have individual shrines to commemorate their work. Though like again, Kitsuné are known to be a trickster to people which to them people can see them as a way of being a God and worships them, which apparently the worshippers have their facial features resembling to that of a fox’s as well as some personality changes like craftiness, etc. However, as for Zhu Bajie he is worshiped for his ways of change- from being a monster to being a man at heart who helps people.  As described by Scilla So, “The monk Xuanzang gives Zhu Bajie a chance to make up for his previous mischievousness and make a new start” (So, 2009)

List of illustrations:

Wong, T ( 1996) Zhu Bajie in Journey to the West (online):

Heidi (2006) Kitsuné (online):

An-An (1996) Zhu Bajie with cast from Journey to the West (online):http://juriglagu.multiply.com/photos/photo/1642/3 - (Accessed on 18/10/11)

Hunter, H ( 2011) A gathering of Kitsunés making fox fire (online):http://theyounglovers.tumblr.com/post/2471884470/kitsune - (Accessed on 18/10/11)

Kuniyoshi, U (2006) A Kitsuné in disguise due to the fox shadow (online):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kuniyoshi_Kuzunoha.jpg - (Accessed on 18/10/11)

EJPcreations (20011) A kitsune statue outside the Kitsuné temple (online):http://ejpcreations.blogspot.com/2011/02/kitsune.html - (Accessed on 18/10/11)

Vista, K (2011) A Zhu Bajie Statue outside Zhu Bajie's temple (online):http://odysseyimages.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/journey-to-the-west-zhu-bajie/sony-dsc-154/ - (Accessed on 18/10/11)


Mikkolainen, T (2007) Zhu Bajie- The traveling half- pig half- man powerhouse (online):
(Accessed on 14/10/11)

Sell, W (2011) Pig (online):

So, S (2009) Pig in Chinese Culture-Zhu Bajie (online):

Wu, C (1955) Journey to the West. Beijing, Collinson Fair

Nozaki, Kiyoshi. (1961)  Kitsuné- Japan’s Fox of Mystery, Romance and humor. Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press.

Journey to the West, episode 17-18. (1996) TVB

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