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Liu Xiao Ling Tong-- the "Monkey King"
    2007-11-22 19:02:10     CRIENGLISH.com


                                                                                (photo source: msn)

  The Monkey King has been China's favourite superhero for at least five centuries. The character, who stars in the classical Chinese novel "Journey to the West", is an amazingly adept "superman". He can fly and change into 72 different objects. He is one pupil that his master Xun Zang can't do without in his adventure to the West to locate Buddhist sutras. His popularity in China is much more than that of Mickey Mouse in the US, with its long history and literature connotation.

  For over two decades now, whenever anyone mentions the Monkey King, people will think of the name Liu Xiao Ling Tong, or "junior six-year-old kid". The actor played the Monkey King in a very popular TV series of the same name in the 1980s. Let's hear more from our reporter Dandan.


Two decades ago, a TV version of the classical Chinese novel "Journey to the West" brought a live version of the Monkey King, or Sun Wukong into the memory of every Chinese household. The actor, stage named Liu Xiao Ling Tong, or "junior six-year-old kid" has, from then on, become the real-life Monkey King. People call him by various names related to the Monkey King.

"Some call me Brother Monkey. Some call me Brother Ling Tong. Some call me Grandpa Liu Xiao. It doesn't matter to me. They can all call me Sun Wukong."
Liu Xiao Ling Tong is happy to accept this, for he knows well that his life is destined to be linked with the feisty monkey.

Originally named Zhang Jinlai, Liu Xiao Ling Tong was born into a renowned artistic family. For four generations, all the male descendants in the family inherited both skills and fame for playing the Monkey King on stage. His great-grandfather Zhang Tingchun was even considered "better than a living Monkey King". His father, Liu Ling Tong or "senior six-year-old kid", has been acclaimed by Chinese leaders including late Chairman Mao Zedong and premier Zhou Enlai.

Zhang Jinlai started performing at the age of six. After graduating from senior high school, Zhang entered a Drama Troupe School, staging his monkey performance in a range of dramas.

His peak time came when his was 23. In 1982, Zhang's father recommended him for the lead role in the China Central Television or CCTV production of "Journey to the West". To perform the Monkey King, his father told him, the very essence lies in the eyes. These intense eyes with golden pupils, are one of the biggest weapon of the Monkey King: they can see through illusions. And also, a pair of penetrating eyes is a sign of Monkey King's intelligence.

However, for Zhang, a near-sighted guy, that's a challenge to convey a sharp eyesight. Everyday, he gazed at the sunrise and sunset. He stared at pingpong balls while professional players were practising, trying to keep up with rapid movements. He glared at light beams before performing, so as to have shining tears in his eyes. Therefore, although the Monkey King's face cannot move because of its plastic mask, people can still see every expression of wit, innocence, anger, surprise and desperation in the fiery eyes of the actor.

When the TV series was aired after six years of shooting, it became an instant hit. Re-runs of the series are broadcast every year on the TV stations, even today.

"I can't tell how many times I have watched 'Journey to the West', but every time, I was deeply absorbed, although I am familiar with every detail of the story."
"Sun Wukong is my favourite. Many boys have imagined to be all-mighty like Sun Wukong. I think the Sun Wukong in the TV series was just the same as I'd expected."

Zhang's compelling performance helped him capture the title of best actor at the Sixth Golden Eagle Prize, the highest honour in the TV production industry in China.

The TV series were also well received abroad, airing in the United States, Australia, Japan, Germany, France and some South-East Asian regions. Following the Monkey King craze overseas, Zhang Jinlai gained international fame. In November 1998, he was invited by the mayor of Vancouver in Canada, to perform at the opening of a local children's hospital. Where he was also awarded an Outstanding Chinese Artist Prize. What's more, the Prime Minister of Denmark has also honoured him as the Image Representative of the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Anderson's birthday.

With such a strong reputation for performing as the Monkey King, Zhang at the same time sank into distress over how to step out of the shadow of the monkey. As an actor, he wants to act more roles.

"I don't think my life should stop at this 'Journey to the West', I can act other roles. I really hope, that, as director Yang Jie brought me from a human to a monkey, now who can bring me from a monkey back to a human?"
He has tried many other roles, from a middle school teacher to the beloved former premier Zhou Enlai. They were successful, but hardly on a par with the Monkey King.

"Many people have asked me, can you achieve a second success as splendid as your performance as Sun Wukong. I say perhaps not. It would be very difficult. I have compared 'Journey to the West' and Sun Wukong, whom I acted, as the Himalayas. "

The real-life Monkey King is now devoting his whole life to promote monkey culture. He joins in any activity and collects any artwork related to the monkey. He learns from the monkey, acts as the monkey and loves the monkey. In describing his life, he says, monkey is his life!




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