The Rediscovery of Cathay: Chinese Elements in Cordwainer Smith's Science Fiction (2004, 2007) -- Chapter 2: The Journey to the Old Old Earth (3/7)

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Chapter Two: The Journey to the Old Old Earth

Alan C. Elms is the first scholar who connects Cordwainer Smith's only novel-length work, Norstrilia, to The Journey to the West, one of the greatest traditional Chinese novels. He mentions this 'literary adaptation' while discussing the important ideas in the novel. Several parallels are spotted, such as the long, inflictive journey with encounters with 'monsters or demons (giants spiders and mutated humans), animal spirits (the underpeople), and god in disguise (the E'telekeli)'[1], the monkey companion, the female saviour (C'mell and the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin[2]), and the self-enlightenment of the protagonists. In the end of this section of introduction, he notes that 'there may be even more connections between Norstrilia and The Journey to the West, in both deep structure and detail'[3]. And here I am going to discuss more about the relationship between these two works.

I would like to briefly introduce The Journey to the West first. It is a chapterised novel composed in the sixteenth century, which is related to demons and gods and based on a historical fact. 玄奘 Hsuan-tsang (Xuan Zang in Pinyin), also known as Tripitaka (602-664), is one of the most important Buddhist priests in Chinese history and the first well-known model of Chinese people who study abroad and successfully achieve their goals. In the year of 629, he started his journey alone to India, seeking for true knowledge of Buddhism. He brought 657 volumes of scriptures back to China in 645 AD, and then began his career of translating. His journey to the west was transcribed by his disciple and published as 大唐三藏西域記 Records on the Western Regions of the Great Tang Empire, which is also a major piece of work in geological studies. Carol McGuirk states in 'The Rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith' that Monkey (a simplified translation of The Journey to the West) recreates the journey of Taoist patriarch 丘處機 Chiu, Ch'u-ki (1148-1227, spelled in Wade-Giles system, Qiu, Chu-Ji in Pinyin) to Central Asia owing to the invitation of Genghis Khan[4]. Chiu did have such a travel, and was recorded by a scholar named 李志常 Li, Zhi-Chang in a two-volume book, 長春真人西遊記 Immortal Sage Everspring's Journey to the West. According to Lu, Hsun's research, this book is included in 道藏 Tao Tsang (The Taoist Canon). Because of the similarity of the titles, these two books were confused as the same one. Lu further explains that in the early Qing Dynasty, a certain publishers added the preface of Chiu's travels to The Journey to the West, 'and the confusion became even worse confounded'[5]. So I doubt that McGuirk did refer to the translation based on the incorrect information.

Like other historical events, the travel of Hsuan-tsang had become a legend in later dynasties, and storytellers have taken advantage of it to create a fantastic work. As early as the 13th or 14th century, a prototype story was formed. It is called 大唐三藏取經詩話 The Tale of Tripitaka's Search for Buddhist Sutras, and is the first Chinese novel divided into chapters. The Monkey is quite active even in such an earlier version; with his helpful magical power, Tripitaka could safely obtain the scriptures and back to the capital of Tang Empire.

In spite of the fact that Tripitaka's travel for scriptures is still the main theme of The Journey to the West, it is 孫悟空 Sun, Wu-k'ung (Sun, Wu-Kong in Pinyin), the Monkey, the most significant protagonist in this novel. The entire story can be divided into three parts: chapter one to seven depict the birth of the Monkey, how he obtains the great magical power, making troubles in the Seas, Netherworld and Heaven, and is subdued by Buddha. Chapter eight to thirteen explain that Buddha demands Kuan-yin to look for a sutra-seeker, who is able to endure all kinds of hazards and then bring back the scriptures of Mahayana (the Great Vehicle) to enlighten Chinese people. Hsuan-tsang, who is the reincarnation of one of Buddha's most brilliant disciples, volunteers for this labour. From the thirteenth chapter to the end narrate the journey itself. Besides Monkey, Tripitaka recruits two other disciples, 豬八戒 Chu, Pa-chieh (Zhu, Ba-Jie in Pinyin) and 沙悟淨 Sha, Wu-ching (Sha, Wu-Jing in Pinyin), and one dragon horse (all arranged by Kuan-yin beforehand) to protect him. It is worth noticing that when they encounter some difficulty, it is almost only Monkey that is capable of trying every effort to overcome it; Tripitaka is rather passive, either guarded by the remaining disciples or even captured with them by demons. After reaching the Spirit Mountain, acquiring the scriptures and bringing them back to the Tang Empire, all members in this pilgrimage earn spiritual enlightenment and achieve higher ranks; Tripitaka and Monkey even become the 旃壇功德佛 Buddha of Precocious Merit and 鬥戰勝佛 Buddha of Victorious in Strife respectively.

Although Alan C. Elms has asserted that 'the reworking of mythic elements from the classic Chinese epic Journey to the West occurs mainly in the second third'[6] of Norstrilia, I have found a similarity between the plot structures of these two novels while discarding the second part of The Journey to the West where Tripitaka is introduced into the story, that is, to consider that Rod McBan is in corresponding to Monkey. It is not so instinctive to come to this idea, since there is already a monkey, A'gentur, who turns out to be E'ikasus, son of E'telekeli, joining in McBan's journey to Old Earth. However, to judge if two characters are in parallel, we should compare not only their appearances but also other aspects. Take the characteristics for instance; both figures are bold, active and emotion driven. Since they are leading characters, the stories surrounding them are constructed of sequences of plots which are alike. Here enumerats both protagonists' deeds while the plot lines proceed:

Stage 1: Introduction of an extra-ordinary protagonist
Rod McBan in Norstrilia:
  McBan cannot properly communicate in telepathy (hiering and spieking) but a broadbander; thus makes others consider him as a freak or retarded.
  He still passes the death trial, winning his freedom and citizenship.

Monkey in The Journey to the West:
  Monkey is spawned from a stone. He travels for years; finally learns the Secret of Long Life, seventy-two kinds of transformation, 筋斗雲 Cloud Trapeze from 須菩提祖師 the Patriarch Subodhi, and is free from death thereafter.

Stage 2: Trouble-making
Rod McBan in Norstrilia:
  To deal with the crisis because of Onseck Houghton Syme, McBan authorises the computer to buy Earth.
  Though he is free from the disturbance of the Onseck, the purchase does cause troubles to both governments of Old North Australia and Earth and draws the attention of those who want money or power. Therefore he has to start a journey to the Old Earth.

Monkey in The Journey to the West:
  After Monkey obtains his magical power, he makes a series of troubles in the Seas, Netherworld and the Heaven, claiming himself as 齊天大聖 'Great Sage, Equal to Heaven'.

Stage 3: The suffering
Rod McBan in Norstrilia:
  To safely arrive in the Earth, McBan chooses to be scunned in a small box during the space travel. He is later restored on Mars by Doctor Jeanjacques Vomact and the monkey A'gentur. In order to protect him, they even change his appearance into a cat-person.

Monkey in The Journey to the West:
  Monkey is arrested once by 二郎神 the god Erh-Lang, and imprisoned in 太上老君 Utmost Old Taoist's (Lao Tzu's) alchemic crucible for forty-nine days, but he still escapes.
  It is Buddha who completely quells Monkey, and presses the whole 五行山 Five-Phases Mountain on him. Monkey is stuck for five hundred years until Tripitaka comes to rescue him.

Stage 4: Confrontation against hazards during the journey
Rod McBan in Norstrilia:
  There are three fighting violent encounters while McBan was on Earth. He always takes action and uses his broadband spieking power – Brainbomb – as a telepathic weapon to attack his opponents, who are respectively the giant spider at Earthport, the man attacking him at the 'People Only' Upshaft Four, and the inhuman man Tostig Amaral.

Monkey in The Journey to the West:
  While the pilgrim group are in trouble, Monkey is the only figure who can deal with the difficulties either in brute force or with wits. While confronting too serious a problem for him, Monkey is still able to search for the right person for help.

Stage 5: The conesquence after the journey
Rod McBan in Norstrilia:
  McBan donates his fortune to establish a foundation named after his father's number in the family, and then E'telekeli makes him change back his physiognomy as well as have a shared dream with C'mell, grants him a prescription to cure the Onseck, and sends him back along with his books and post stamp.
  After that, McBan lives happily with Lavinia on Norstrilia, while Eleanor, who is disguised as a double of McBan, stayed on Earth, bearing the name of Roderick Henry McBan. S/he is later appointed as Lord Roderick Eleanor, a Chief of the Instrumentality.

Monkey in The Journey to the West:
  After sending the Buddhist Sutras back to 長安 Chang-An, the capital of Tang Empire, the pilgrim group back to Western Heaven, and are granted new positions; Monkey becomes the Buddha of Victorious in Strife.

The only sub-plot in Norstrilia without a counterpart from The Journey to the West is the chapter 'The Department Store of Hearts'Desires', which is based on Linebarger's personal experiences according to Alan E. Elms. Here, McBan accepts the treatment by the clinical psychologist C'william and finds out what he really wants in this journey to Earth. Even so, the name 'The Department Store of Hearts' Desires' may be a play on words in Chinese. In the chapter titles of The Journey to the West, Monkey is more than once called 心猿 'Ape of Heart'[7], a term is usually combined with 意馬 'Horse of Will' to form a idiom, which describes a person whose determination is not firm, so that she either does not know what to do or is very easy to change her mind. Due to the fact that Monkey does not perform his duty well when he worked for the government of Heaven but caused lots of problems, and after he starts to protect Tripitaka on the road, he still gives up several times because of Tripitaka's misunderstanding or being in a desperate situation which is far out of his ability to handle. So he is quite suitable to be called 'Ape of Heart'. In McBan's case, this term is still appropriate to his unawareness of his true heart's desires.

The correspondence between McBan and Monkey also exists in some trivial descriptions. Elms has spotted one: the shortened first name 'Rod' (for Roderick) is probably a 'joking reference to the magical golden rod wielded by Monkey'[8], and here is another. While McBan leaves Mars to enter the Earthport in the form of cat-person, there are also nine mouse-powered robots plus Eleanor disguised into his appearance to distract the antagonists. Using multiple doubles might be an inspiration from one of Monkey's common tricks. When he has to fight against a large number of enemies at the same time, Monkey usually produces numerous doubles from his body hair to confront them. Comparing to A'gendur, who only helps to reassemble McBan's body and does nothing else, it is Rod McBan himself that is more comparable to Monkey.

Although I have mentioned that it is more adequate to compare McBan with Monkey if we want to seek a plot structural correspondence between these two novels, McBan indeed still has some features related to Tripitaka. The most significant evidence is that so many antagonists plot to kill or rob him in order to enjoy his money and power. Such a phenomenon is equivalent to monsters' desire to eat Tripitaka's meat, since they believe that Tripitaka is the reincarnation of Buddha's disciple, therefore his meat can make the consumer immortal. Some female monsters also would like to have sex to him because Tripitaka keeps his virginity for incarnations, and that means he has a body of pure 'yang', so intercourse with him would lead to the same effect. In Norstrilia, there are females who want to marry McBan or 'wait for him' as well, and each of them has her own reason: Ruth Not-from-here is because of her father's wish to go back to Old North Australia; E'lamelanie is because of her faith to the Promised One; and the little turtle girl is just because of her determination.

Rod McBan's stubbornness is the personality most akin to Tripitaka's. In a certain cases, the antagonists would set up some conspiracies, but Tripitaka still goes into the traps in spite of Monkey's warning, thus brings lots of troubles. McBan has the same weakness: while he wants to go to the toilet, he insists to enter the men's room, where underpeople are forbidden to go, despite the capital punishment. His taking the 'People Only' Upshaft is also leads to a crisis. His broadband telepathic assault is somewhat like Tripitaka's reciting 緊箍咒 the Tight-Fillet Spell, which makes Monkey's cap shrink into his head, producing great pain. While Tripitaka's incantation is only for Monkey, McBan's brainbomb is able to strike people nearby. And McBan's repetitive childhoods (four times in total) might be a parallel to Tripitaka's reincarnation.

The results of both journeys are alike, too. Elms has analysed:
The monk [Tripitaka] not only hopes to obtain Buddhist scriptures to take back to China, but also seeks self-enlightment and, ... Rod McBan does not seek self-enlightment but he gets it anyway, at the hands of Earth's last clinical psychologist; and, with the encouragement of C'mell, he lends his assistance to an underground (literally!) movement that will ultimately unite people and underpeople, at least at a spiritual level.[9]
But the processes of transcendence are a little different. In The Journey to the West, the pilgrim group send the scriptures back to China first, which implies that the people and the ghosts in China will be uplifted, and then they enjoy their own enlightenment; while McBan accepts the psychological treatment in Hate Hall, comprehending his true desire, i.e. achieving his own transcendence, before he donates his property for the foundation, not to mention going back to Norstrilia to save the Onseck.

Concluding all these evidences, I think it is quite safe to say that Rod McBan is a combination of both Monkey and Tripitaka.

Elms also points out another pair of corresponding characters: C'mell and Kuan-yin:
One of the underpeople, the cat-woman C'mell, may be partly inspired by Kuan-yin, a female Buddha [should be Bodhisattva] in The Journey to the West who organizes assistance for the traveling monk.[10]
However, I do not agree with him at this point. First of all, Kuan-yin is the executive who arranges the complete pilgrim journey, while C'mell has not been in the story until McBan is restored on Mars. Second, even though Kuan-yin helps the group in the highest frequency, she is not a participant of the pilgrim; on the other hand, C'mell is McBan's companion at most of the time. Third, and the most important of all, is that Kuan-yin does not fall in love with either Monkey or Tripitaka, but C'mell is certainly fond of McBan. The only obvious scene where C'mell and Kuan-yin take a similar action is a seduction to the protagonists. In chapter twenty-three, four Bodhisattvas disguise themselves as a widow with three daughters to seduce the pilgrim group by proposing marriage, testing their will and determination; Kuan-yin is one of the four. Tripitaka and two disciples, Monkey and Sha, are of course not influenced, only Chu, who is in a shape of hog (the meaning of 豬 'Chu' is exactly 'pig') and represents a symbol of laziness, lust and gluttony, is not able to contain himself, so he receives the punishment. The scene in Norstrilia is even more straightforward:
"That's right," she said, with an odd intonation in her voice, "Be it, then!"

"What?" said Rod.

"My husband," she said, her voice catching slightly. "Be my husband, if it will help you to find

She stole a quick glance up and down the shaft. There was nobody near.

"Look, Rod, look!" (Smith's emphasis) She spread the opening of her dress down and aside. Even with the poor light, to which his eyes had become accustomed, he could see the fine tracery of veins in her delicate chest and her young, pear-shaped breasts. ... For a moment there was pleasure and then a terrible embarrassment came over him. He turned his face away and felt horribly self-conscious. What she had done was interesting but it wasn't nice. (Smith's emphasis again)
But the reasons behind both seductions are different. C'mell acknowledges that she is also attracted by McBan, therefore such behaviour might be out of her own passion, and she is willing to 'be McBan's wife' if 'it helps'. McBan's reaction on the one hand provides another evidence of his resemblance to Tripitaka; on the other hand, it reflects Linebarger's difficulty to get along with women in his youth. Therefore I still prefer to give Cordwainer Smith the credit of C'mell's originality. It is his affection of cat to create this character, and it is still his personal myth to make her play such an important role in this story.

The tasks of Kuan-yin are carried out by two people, Lord Redlady and Lord Jestocost. The conversation which reveals the true identity of A'gentur gives the reader some clues:
She [C'mell] looked around and lowered her voice. "He's a bird," she said solemnly, "and he's the second most important bird on Earth."

"So what?" said Rod.

"He's in charge of your destiny, Rod. Your life or your death. Right now."

"I thought," he whispered back, "that that was up to the Lord Redlady and somebody named Lord Jestocost on Earth."

"You're dealing with other powers, Rod – powers which keep themselves secret. They want to be friends with you. And I think," she added in a complete non sequitur, "that we'd better take the risk and go."
I have mentioned before that Kuan-yin is the executive who organises the whole journey and then protects them safely arrive at the Western Heaven, but she does not grant them the fulfilment of duty; the pilgrim group have to go to Buddha (a higher power in the story) to achieve it. It is Lord Redlady who participates in the trial of McBan and save his life. And later McBan is in trouble with the Onseck, it is still Lord Redlady who files lawsuits against Houghton Syme and arranges McBan's journey to Old Earth. While Lord Jestocost does not in person come to help McBan after the latter arrives at the Earthport, he does secretly monitor and guard the Norstrilian all the way through. McBan does not know this until he is receiving a physical examination by the Doctor Vomact on Earth. By ignoring the motives of these two Lords, the consequence of their deeds is somewhat comparable to Kuan-yin's.

From later plots, the reader can discover that the secret power C'mell mentions in the upper dialogue is E'telekeli, the leader of underpeople, who has shown his telepathic capabilities in 'The Ballad of Lost C'mell'. In Anthony R. Lewis's explanation, 'The E-telekeli [sic] is God (even to the fact that his name may not be said aloud).'[13] Besides, eagle is a common symbol in religions: e.g. Aquila the bird of Zeus in Greek mythology, Garuka the king of the birds in Hinduism, and the lecterns in Christian churches are often in the shape of eagle as well. Though to my knowledge, eagle is not a significant symbol in Chinese Buddhism, I still consider that E'telekeli in Norstrilia is in parallel to Buddha in The Journey to the West. Both characters are the final destination of the journeys and provide solutions to transcend the masses. Buddha gives the Chinese Mahayana Sutras to enlighten the people and the ghost; E'telekeli proposes to establish a foundation to 'teach men to hate easily and lightly, as in a game, not sickly and wearily, as in habit.'[14] The different parts lie in the enlightenment of the protagonists; Buddha transcends the pilgrim members as well, while McBan self-enlightens in Hate Hall before he meets E'telekeli.

As for the antagonists in Norstrilia, there are two who might be originated from The Journey to the West; both of them are under the command of Commissioner Teadrinker and appear at the time when McBan just arrives at Earthport. The cattle underperson B'dank may be based on the monster 牛魔王 Bull Demon Lord, whose appearance in chapter 59 to 61 becomes one of the most famous episodes. The fates of both bull-men are somewhat similar, too. B'dank is under arrest with Teadrinker but escapes, and he is with Lord Jestocost when E'telekeli communicates with this Lord of Instrumentality. About Bull Demon Lord, after a great fight against Monkey and is surrounded by the Heaven Army, he surrenders at last. The other hazard is the giant spiders. They are the ones who kidnap and kill Rod McBan and his doubles. Unlike their counterparts in Norstrilia, the spiders in The Journey to the West are female; they transform into women and set up a trap to catch Tripitaka. All of them are killed by Monkey while the spider also dies under McBan's telepathic shriek.

Besides The Journey to the West, there are at least two subplots in Norstrilia based on other Chinese backgrounds. The linked dream of McBan and C'mell granted by E'telekeli is the more obvious one. In the dream, C'mell and C'roderick (the cat-man identity of McBan) share a bliss life for about a thousand years:
You [McBan] will live through all the happy things that you might have done together if you had stayed here and become a c'man. You will see your kitten-children flourish, grow old, and die. That will take about one half-hour.[15]
Living an entire life in a dream is one of the commonest topics in Chinese allegorical stories. It is so common that the Chinese have idioms like 黃粱一夢 'a dream of yellow sorghum' or 南柯一夢 'a dream of Nan-Ke'. These stories usually start with an ambitious young man who seeks for success in taking a high position of the government, enjoying the money and power. He does achieve this goal, but then his fall comes right after, all the property and fame are lost, and he becomes nothing at all, as unfortunate as a beggar. He is so scared that he comes to consciousness and then discovers that the whole life is just a dream. The story is to persuade people not to devote oneself to pursue transient prosperity, because it could be as illusionary as a dream. But here in Norstrilia, such a dream is used as a compensation for McBan's donation of his fortune. Even though he cannot legally live together with C'mell on earth, he still has a dream, a beautiful memory he can taste at the rest of his life.

The other subplot is Eleanor's disguise of McBan and then getting along with Ruth Not-from-here. There is a Chinese story 喬太守亂點鴛鴦譜 'Governor Qiao, the Unusual Matchmaker' in 馮夢龍 Feng, Meng-Long's 醒世恆言 The Eternal Words Which Wake up the World concerning about fake bride and groom, and later is adapted into a famous comedy[16]. In this story, the groom of an engaged couple is severely ill, but his family insist to hold the wedding, so they make his sister disguised as him in the ceremony. On the other hand, the family of the bride side know the reason and do not want to be taken advantage, so they arrange the bride's brother disguised as her as well. After they sleep with each other, the secret is discovered. Not only are both families irritated but also the families whose son and daughter are engaged with the groom's sister and the bride's brother. So they go to the court to sue one another. Finally the governor wisely adjudicates by considering the facts and according to traditional ethics; the whole event comes to a happy ending. Eleanor/McBan's case is certainly not so complicated, but due to the fact that Eleanor's disguise as McBan is a transsexual one, and this Chinese story is so famous that I believe Linebarger would hear of it, therefore I think it might be related to this subplot.

Though I have provided some information to explain the parallel between Norstrilia and The Journey to the West in this chapter, it is of course unnecessary to comprehend this Chinese novel before reading Norstrilia. What is more, just as Cordwainer Smith's other works, the background of Norstrilia is certainly more than the Chinese work. Readers always can enjoy the reading by discovering other interesting materials in both worlds of Earth and Old North Australia, just like Elms has said, 'Paul Linebarger was never one to let strict literary parallels spoil a good story, and much of Norstrilia wanders far from The Joruney.'[17]

[1] Elms, Alan C., 'Introduction' in Smith, Norstrilia, pp. vii-xiii (p. x).
[2] Whom Elms mistakes as a Buddha. This is somewhat similar to mistaking an Archangel as God. While 觀音 Kuan-yin (Guan Yin in Pinyin) is the Chinese translation, the original name should be Avalokiteshavara Bodhisattva (see http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/kuanyin.htm). Since this dissertation does not discuss Buddhism but a fictional work, and the difference between Kuan-yin and Avalokiteshavara could be regarded as the localisation of Buddhism in China, I will continue to use Kuan-yin thereafter.
[3] Elms, op. cit.
[4] See McGuirk, Carol, 'The Rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith', p. 194. This passage is in fact a quote from Monkey re-published by Grove in 1984, and I cannot find this edition. However, the version of Monkey I refer to (Penguin edition re-published in 1961) directly points out that the story is based on Hsuan Tsang's journey. See Waley, Arthur, 'Introduction' in Wu, Cheng-en, Monkey, trans. by Waley (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1942, 1961)), pp. 7-8 (p. 7).
[5] Lu, Hsun, The Essay Collection on the History of Fiction: A Brief History of Chinese Fiction and Others, p. 143.
[6] Elms, Alan C., 'From Canberra to Norstrilia: The Australian Adventures of Cordwainer Smith' in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, 78, (2000), pp. 44-58 (p. 52).
[7] Though Anthony C. Yu translates this term as 'Monkey of Mind', I think 'Ape of Heart' is still adequate, since the original Chinese character has both meanings of heart and mind, and it is Linebarger himself to choose which one to be used.
[8] Elms, 'Introduction' in Smith, Norstrilia, p. xi.
[9] Ibid., p. x.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Smith, Norstrilia, p. 138.
[12] Ibid., pp. 139-140.
[13] Lewis, Anthony R., Concordance to Cordwainer Smith, 3rd edn. (Framingham, MA: NESFA Press, 2000), p. 54.
[14] Smith, op. cit., p. 201.
[15] Ibid., p. 202.
[16] See Feng, Meng-Long, The Eternal Words Which Wake up the World (Taipei: Sanmin Books, 1995), pp. 141-162.
[17] Elms, 'Introduction' in Smith, Norstrilia, p. x.

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