Wu Cheng’en – The Author of The Journey to the West

wu cheng'en

Wu Cheng’en (吴承恩) (approximately 1504–1582) was a prominent Chinese Ming dynasty writer and government official, hailing from Lianshui (present-day Lianshui County, Jiangsu Province), and later residing in Shanyang (modern Huai’an City, Jiangsu Province).

Wu Cheng’en gained renown for his exceptional literary talents from a young age. In the eighth year of the Jiajing reign (1529), he attended the Longxi Academy. Despite his outstanding abilities, he faced repeated disappointments in the imperial examinations. Around the twenty-first year of Jiajing (1542), Wu Cheng’en completed the initial draft of his novel “Journey to the West” (西游记). Subsequently, he continued his pursuit of official positions through the examination system, but his career was marked by setbacks. It wasn’t until the twenty-ninth year of Jiajing (1550) that he finally passed the examinations and obtained the title of a successful candidate. He further pursued his studies at the National University.

In the forty-fifth year of Jiajing (1566), Wu Cheng’en, now in his sixties, was appointed as the magistrate of Changxing County. However, his tenure was short-lived, lasting only two years, as he was falsely accused of corruption and imprisoned. After his release, he resigned from his post. In the second year of Longqing (1568), he was exonerated and invited to serve in Hubei, holding a position at the residence of Prince Jing, Zhu Yiju. In the fourth year of Longqing (1570), he resigned from his official duties and returned to his hometown. Wu Cheng’en passed away around the tenth year of Wanli (1582), leaving no known descendants.

Wu Cheng’en’s most significant literary contribution is “Journey to the West” (西游记), which stands as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. It is considered the first extensive work of Chinese fantasy fiction. After its publication, “Journey to the West” was translated into more than ten languages, including English, Russian, Japanese, French, German, and Italian, gaining acclaim worldwide. In his later years, Wu Cheng’en engaged in self-amusement by composing poetry and creating artwork. He also compiled “Flowers and Plants New Compilation” (花草新编) and wrote the supernatural novel “Record of Yu Ding” (禹鼎记), although unfortunately, the original manuscripts have been lost to history. Wu Cheng’en’s literary legacy endures through the enduring popularity and cultural impact of “Journey to the West.”

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