In China, the monkey is widely perceived as smart and powerful. People often offer sacrifices to monkeys to pray for rain and even for sons, and they have become an interesting part of Chinese culture. Chinese people love monkeys. Find out why below.
The Monkey Symbolizes Cleverness in Chinese Culture
The Monkey (with a big 'M') is the ninth of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Many Chinese try to give birth in a year of the Monkey, as they believe that this will make their babies clever. In China saying, "Your kid is like a Monkey," is perceived as praise. More on the characteristics of the zodiac Monkey.
"Monkey" Sounds Like "High Official" in Chinese
The Chinese character "猴" (hóu /hoh/ 'monkey') is pronounced the same as "侯" ('high official'), and the association dates back hundreds of years into feudal times.
The imagery of the monkey as nobility often appears in ancient paintings:
- A monkey hanging a seal on a maple tree symbolizes getting promoted to a high position with an official seal.
- A monkey riding a horse symbolizes getting promoted quickly.
- A monkey riding on the back of another monkey symbolizes maintaining a high official standing from one generation to another.
The Mythical Monkey — a Protecting God
In traditional Chinese mythology, the monkey god is almost all-pervading and all powerful. Images of the monkey (god) can be seen in many traditional settings as a talisman of protection:
The Child-Protecting Monkey on Kangs
A stone-carved monkey with a red thread on its tail is often displayed on the kangs (heated stone beds) used for babies of households in rural Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia. According to ancient beliefs, the stone monkey blesses the baby with peace, and the baby will be very capable and efficient when he or she grows up.
The "Safe Journey" Monkey at Yellow River Ferry Crossings
A monkey statue was carved on top of each mooring post at each ferry crossing of Sanmenxia and Shan County. It was said the monkey statue would bless both the men and the boats with a safe journey.
The Stone Monkey for Protecting Horses
Almost every village had its own posts for tying horses to in Shanxi, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces in ancient times, with a monkey statue carved on the top of each post. It was said that the monkey talisman would protect the horses from diseases and even death.
The Monkey King in Chinese Fiction
Monkeys frequently appeared in Chinese fiction, most famously "the Monkey King" — Sun Wukong, hero of classical novel Journey to the West.
In the fable, Sun was a master of 72 methods of transformation, able to lift a 13,500-jin (6,750-kg) staff with ease, and able to travel 108,000 li (54,000 km) in one somersault. Sun, together with a Buddhist monk, a pig-man, and a celestial general, conquers evils and helps retrieve Buddhist sutras.
The Best Places to See Monkeys in China
Particularly in years of the Monkey, like 2016, many Chinese will go to see monkeys in the hope of receiving good luck. The best places to see monkeys in China are:
Huangshan Monkey Valley
In the southwest of the Yellow Mountains Scenic Area, Huangshan Monkey Valley is home to troops of Tibetan macaques. It is the only place in China where observing monkeys in the wild is specially arranged for tourists.
- Recommended itinerary: Huangshan Photography Tour
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
In Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, there are more than 3,000 macaques. According to their fur color, they are classified into three groups: blue macaques,yellow macaques, and golden macaques.
- Recommended itinerary: Zhangjiajie Photography Tour
Mt. Emei Natural Ecology Monkey Reserve
Mt. Emei Natural Ecology Monkey Reserve is China's biggest reserve for wild monkeys. There are over 1,000 Tibetan macaques. Along the tourist route from Leidongping to Jieyin Palace, visitors will likely see dozens of monkeys.
- Recommended itinerary: 5-Day Chengdu and Mount Emei Tour