Food, Religion, and the Pilgrims in the Journey to the West
Modern Languages & Literatures Department
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Arts and Humanities
Journey to the West is the earliest Chinese vernacular novel that centers its narrative on a religious pilgrimage. The abundant Buddhist and Daoist themes and vocabulary in its narrative have inspired many religious and allegorical readings for the novel. Among the many religious themes, food holds a special significance. Food is not only important as sustenance for the pilgrims on the road; it is also indispensable in religious ceremonies, coveted as a stimulant for Daoist cultivation, and viewed as a distraction for a monks ascetic life style. The celestial background of the pilgrims as they travel through the human world gives a humorous twist to religious practices the pilgrims witness, and the irony in such presentations is effectively conveyed through the use of food. The episodes to be discussed are from chapters 44 and 45 where the three disciples of Tripitaka visit a Daoist temple at night to steal sacrificial food and from chapter 13 where Tripitaka stays overnight at a hunters lodge and insists on vegetarian dining. The questions of what food is considered desirable and what is considered untouchable in these episodes brings out interesting paradoxes and reveals different perspectives on religious piety in late imperial China.
Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference
Liang, Yan, "Food, Religion, and the Pilgrims in the Journey to the West" (2015). Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants. 532.