A Translation of Black Myth: Wukong — Compendium of Creatures

The most hyped videogame release of this year might just be Game Science’s Black Myth: Wukong. It’s set in the fantasy world of Journey to the West, a classic Chinese tale of a monk and his band of heroes on an epic gods-and-demons pilgrimage westward to retrieve sacred Buddhist texts. Published in 1592, the revered novel is still massively influential and perhaps the most famous Asian literary work of all time.

In the game, you’ll play as a likeness of Sun Wukong, the hero known as the Monkey King, as you fight wondrous monsters in extraordinary settings plucked straight from the pages of the legendary mythos. This Souls-like action RPG, coming to all platforms in August, is one of the few flagpoles for Chinese culture and representation in the prestige game industry.

To improve my Chinese and be able to fully immerse myself in Black Myth: Wukong on release, I’ve been consuming anything I can find about the game online. During public demos last year, players screen-captured a lore book in the game called yǐng shén tú (影神图), an illustrated compendium of supernatural enemies encountered in one of the game’s regions, Purple Cloud Mountain (紫云山). Each entry is accompanied by a painting, a poem, and a short folktale or fable.

Here, I’ve translated the available compendium entries from the original blog post, with some help from ChatGPT.

It seems that, in this travelogue, some benefactor has recorded the likenesses, names, and stories of the various characters and creatures encountered by the Destined One during his journey.

Purple Cloud Mountain

There are no purple clouds on Purple Cloud Mountain,
and no end to strangeness in the Valley of a Thousand Flowers.
Snakes, scorpions, insects are each others’ constant enemies;
The brightest day offers no light, yet the darkest moon shines brightly.

Small monsters

The dragonfly demon (蜻蜓精)

Through the trees fly silent arrows,
Beating wings riding evil winds.
It’s hard to reach virtue merely through good deeds and cleverness,
When so many obstacles block the Way

There once was a dragonfly goblin who loved archery. When his mother found out about her son’s talent, she pulled some strings and had him sent to the Monster King for formal training.

The Monster King soon found that the dragonfly was an exceptional disciple. Besides working hard day in and day out, the dragonfly was exceedingly respectful and attentive to his master, heeding his every beck and call. Even when the dragonfly was practicing well outside the palace, the king would but open his mouth and the student would appear at his service immediately! This he thought a little strange, but the king reasoned the dragonfly must be surprisingly fleet of wing, and he didn’t inquire further.

One day, the Monster King was giving a lesson on how to store up more mystical energy in one’s arrows, exhorting, “Draw the bow until the arrowhead glows brightly, then fire precisely at that moment.” The dragonfly eagerly gave his assent, but when the king quizzed him that afternoon, he was totally clueless. He must have failed to learn the lesson, the king thought, and carefully repeated his teachings. But the next day, the dragonfly was again utterly ignorant.

This began to happen more and more frequently, until the king boiled over and resolved to punish his disciple. The dragonfly, now terrified, dropped to his knees, beseeching “Please calm down master! In truth, I have a few twin brothers, and we often take turns studying so that we all learn a little. So you see, that’s why we don’t always remember your lessons!” As soon as he said this, a dozen-odd dragonfly spirits rushed forth, each one a perfect copy of the others, throwing themselves to the ground and kowtowing ceaselessly. The Monster King didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Henceforth, he bade them all be relegated to patrolling the mountain, never again teaching them any of the prized arts.

Ah, a little cleverness might pay off at first, earning one praise and favor, but it conceals a hidden danger — when exposed, it invites not just mockery, but also trouble.

The toad demon (小呱呱)

Making trouble with staring eyes
Making noise with ringing ears.
Filthy bodies and stinking flesh
Bursting apart at the perish.

Once upon a time, there lived in a swamp two toads, both devoutly cultivating virtue[1]. The small toad was often bullied, but the large toad always stood up for him, so rather quickly, they became friends. One day, Wave in the Storm (波里个浪?) decided to select a pair from among the toads to become his demon officers. Of course everyone wanted to be chosen, but wth the large toad’s strength and the small toad’s cunning, they were shoo-ins for the job. The other toads were indignant to a one, but no one dared protest.

Not long after, while the two toads were guarding their master’s dwelling, one of his amber cups turned up broken, with no obvious culprit. Yet all the toads went up in arms, clamoring for the pairs’ heads. The large toad argued back, rising to blows, while the rest claimed he was lashing out from embarrassment, further evidence of his guilt. Meanwhile, the small toad stood to the side without a word. The large toad was dismayed the smaller wasn’t defending himself, but that quickly turned to suspicion.

After some hesitation, the small toad admitted that it was indeed he who broke the cup. However, the other demons didn’t buy it, claiming that both should still be punished — one for recklessness, the other for neglect. The small toad became more and more anxious as he listened, till he couldn’t bear it any longer and joined the squabble. The throng argued louder and louder, their bellies swelling bigger and bigger, until all of a sudden, several of them burst straight open! Blood and flesh splattered over the whole gathering — and in the end, not a single toad came out unscathed.

The timeless verdure (青冉冉)

In the deep forest, the timeless verdure thrives,
Unsoiled by worldly dust.
The web of branches are ever intertwined,
Resolute as stone in pursuit of the Way

Once upon a time, there was a son of a wealthy family who deserted his home in search of the immortal Way, retreating into the mountains to devote himself to the spiritual teachings. Because he had been waited on hand and foot since birth, he had no domestic skills, and he suffered greatly under this solitary existence. One day, the river carried away the wooden bowl he had been using to wash his clothes. As he chased it along the riverbank, howling in despair, he suddenly heard a rustling from the trees and looked up. Indeed, he saw a young, fair-featured woman, floating towards him on a tread of leaves and branches.

The woman descended in front of him, and with comforting tone, said, “I am the spirit of the forest cypress. My soul was moved by your devoted ways, so allow me to lend you a hand.” Thus, she began to help the young man, assisting him in cooking food, cleaning and mending clothes, and other daily chores. Each time she came, she spoke little, and lingered none. But even so, the young man began to develop an affection for her. Eventually, he propositioned, “Since you’re so willing to care for me, let us be partners in our spiritual journey, and live in harmony as yin and yang.”

The spirit flew into a rage, angrily rejecting, “Our journeys have nothing in common! Besides, I have over a thousand years of spiritual cultivation, why would I ever divulge those truths to you?” Thus spoken, she stormed off.

After many tearful entreaties by the riverside, the young man eventually won her forgiveness. But not a half year later, he again brought up the same crazy idea, like a lunatic raving about utter nonsense.

The woman thought for a moment, then declared, “You have yet to see my true form, how could we be partners? First, come with me.”

She led the man to a grove deep in the forest, whereupon he saw a colossal cypress tree, its bark thick with creases, every groove a deep ravine. The woman flew up into the treetop and disappeared. Shortly after, a great sound emanated from the old wood, as if rising from the ground itself. With a twirl of her magic, she called forth several lesser trees, each one a tangle of forks and branches, gesticulating wildly, approaching the young man to give him a lesson. The son was so terrified that he fled tail between his legs, hurriedly packing his bags and scampering towards home.

The serpent apothecary (蛇司药)

Hues of pine, bamboo, plum, and orchid
Yet hearts akin to jackals, wolves, tigers, and leopards.
Collecting herbs in remote mountains,
Devoid of compassion for the world.

In olden times, Purple Cloud Mountain was home to a Daoist monastery. One day, a devout and long-suffering nun arrived, weary from her distant travels, seeking lodging. The temple’s own nuns saw her road-worn state and showed great sympathy, preparing her hot water so she could clean and change clothes.

While in the bath, the nun unexpectedly heard a sound coming from the rafters. Without letting on, she casually got out and draped on clothes, then picked up a fly-whisk (拂尘 fúchén) [2] and gave it a few swishes. The whisk’s hairs grew like the wind, twisting and curling, until they reached up to the ceiling and pulled down a hiding monster.

Hearing the commotion, the temple’s nuns rushed in, to the sight of a green-scaled snake demon subdued on the floor. The demon wasn’t perturbed at all, as if his voyeurism were a thing of routine, while the violated nuns took turns hurling curses and insults at him. The serpent, still not repentant in the slightest, puffed his cheeks and spewed forth a thick stream of green poison, splashing it everywhere. Whoever came into contact with it immediately fell to the ground in intolerable pain.

Seeing the snake goblin’s utter lack of remorse, the nun sent forth a golden needle[3], preparing to strike down the monster. At last scared, the serpent begged, “Please immortal lady, spare me, I’m just a little mountain apothecary! I have an antidote in my basket outside, if you’ll but let me live!”

Sensing the demon’s sincerity, the nun decided to give him another chance. The demon produced a small white pill for her to inspect, claiming “This is a leaf of the pearl tree — very rare in the mortal realm, and able to cure a hundred ills. Have each nun take one, and they’ll immediately be healed!”

Henceforth, for reasons not widely known, the temple would always have a supply of tree pearls. Victims of poisoning would travel to the monastery from far and wide seeking a cure, only to find that the pearls were far too expensive for the common man to afford, leaving most to await their demise.

The spider puppeteer (傀蛛士)

Heinous noses, crooked mouths,
Sharp fangs full of thick poison.
Deformed ears, truncated forehead,
Eight eyes borne by ugly faces

Once, there was a woodcutter who lived in the deep mountains. Every time he descended to take his goods to market, he would always stop to see the puppet shows, which brought him great joy and left him constantly longing for more.

One day, he was cutting firewood in the forest when he suddenly heard the sound of cheers and whoops. Searching a bit, he came upon a crowd of monsters clustered around something, having a grand old time. Even though he was scared, the woodcutter couldn’t contain his curiosity, so he climbed a rock to survey the scene. In fact, the monsters were gathered together to watch a vaudeville act! Though he was too far to get a good look, he could make out a demon dressed all in red, brandishing two thin blades, whirling and flipping in marvelous fashion.

The woodcutter couldn’t help but get closer, till he could see that the red-clothed demon actually had several legs tied behind his back, the feet hanging from threads. He quickly realized it was a puppet show, and scurried up a nearby tree to get a better view.

This puppet’s appearance was comically ugly, and the woodcutter thought the show was even more entertaining than the ones that old Bao put on; he was completely transfixed. Presently, he felt something cold on his neck, and reaching back, discovered it was green saliva! Looking up in alarm, he saw several beady eyes fixed on him. In reality, the tree was home to a giant lotus-colored spider, whose legs, twitching and pulling on silk threads, were in fact puppeteering the demon from afar.

The woodcutter let loose a cry and tumbled out of the tree as the spider stopped the performance. The horde of demons turned towards him, fixing him with rigid stares. The man hastily fled in terror, but fell gravely ill once he returned home. Try as he might, no medicine could help him, and before long, he succumbed to his affliction.

The horsetail whisk Daoist (拂尘道士)[2][4]

Wide robes and a crane cloak[5], two sleeves fluttering in the wind,
Why ask whether or not one knows the Way?
To sing of virtues and deeds disturbs peaceful dreams;
The fly-whisk sweeps away dust and stirs the void

At Falling Blossoms Manor, there once was a junior priest — apprenticed the latest, and in years the youngest, he thus received extra attention from the patriarch. The young priest also piously supported his revered master — when the master extended his hand, he poured tea, when he lifted his foot, he took off his shoes. Be it swatting flies, waving fans, or folding bedsheets, the priest was diligent and attentive, so the patriarch was very partial towards him.

The other brothers all harbored jealousy, but they couldn’t manage to ingratiate themselves either. Instead, they resorted to verbal abuse and ostracism to vent their envy.

On a certain day, the master took to the stage, meaning to test his disciples’ learning. When the young priest’s turn came, the master deliberately gave him a softball — he asked him to recite just one passage from the Daodejing.[6] The young disciple, brimming with confidence, belted out by heart: “The Way — One begets One, Two begets Two, Three begets Three, all things are begot!” [7]

At this long-awaited moment, the brothers all looked up, having finally gotten what they’d wished for. They started laughing nonstop, even casting furtive glances at their master to see his embarrassed reaction. Sure enough, the patriarch was utterly furious, departing with a swish of his sleeve. The brothers then descended on the young priest, sneering “You insolent boy, now you’ve angered him, don’t expect he’ll ever teach you anything again!”

The master avoided his disciple for a little while, but upon seeing that he couldn’t avail himself of other second-rate helpers, he began to miss the boy’s usefulness. After a few days, he summoned the young priest back to assist him. Yet still, he could see that the young priest’s thoughts were completely unfocused on attaining the Way, which disgusted him all over again.

Some time later, the boy beseeched his master to teach him some Daoist abilities. In perhaps a deliberate taunt, the master contrived a lesson based on the boy’s chores of fly-swatting and fan-waving. He offhandedly imparted the priest with a few cursory wind-controlling magics, and left it at that.

The staff-wielding Daoist (执杖道士)

The immortal mountains and clouds span the firmaments,
But despite gazing to the ends of the earth, there’s no home in sight.
Wielding a staff, journeying into perilous nests,
So as to enjoy white snow and yellow buds.

In times past, there was a village nestled at the top of a mountain infested by pest monsters. Because the monsters would often cause trouble, the townspeople moved away one by one, until the village was entirely abandoned.

In addition, at the base of the mountain, there lived a young boy, motherless and destitute, and neglected by his lazy father. All the villagers looked down on him, heaping on humiliation by the daily, till he figured he might as well flee to the abandoned village and live there instead.

However, it just so happened that a group of bug demons had already moved into the village. So, when the youth alighted at the mountaintop, he was immediately captured. Yet he wasn’t at all concerned, since, in truth, he had already lost the will to live. When the bug demons saw this, rather than cause him any more harm, they instead settled him in one of the run-down houses.

One night, a middle-aged Daoist bearing clothes and food came to the village, saying to the boy, “I’ve heard you’ve nowhere to go, so I’ve brought some essentials for you. If you see fit, you could become my disciple while remaining here — I could even teach you to cultivate your inner qi.” Having long been neglected, the youth eagerly donned the priests’ robes, thus apprenticing himself to his master. From then on, the youth and the bug demons lived and practiced the Way together, rising for their studies as one, and resting just the same.

One day, a scholar abruptly burst into the youth’s home, exclaiming, “I’ve just escaped from the demons’ den! They had me sealed up in a cocoon — I don’t even know what they planned to do with me. I’m about to make a run for it — seeing as you’re another human being, I figure we can make our getaway together!” But the youth shook his head. “I’m living quite a nice life here, why would I want to leave?” he asked.

The scholar angrily replied, “Because you’re surrounded by monsters, and you’re a human! Not even considering whether they might wish you harm someday, if you spend long enough among them, you might become a freak yourself.”

“You’re right,” said the boy, grabbing his staff and knocking the scholar to the ground. “But even if I were to become a monster, I’d be thrilled.”

On seeing the youth’s stubbornness, the scholar gritted his teeth at the pain and scurried out the door, taking off alone.

  1. 1.A religious phrase (修炼) from Daoism meaning to practice virtuous conduct and achieve spirituality, as is the way of all beings
  2. 2.A horsetail whisk, commonly used as an instrument by Daoists and symbolizing authority and power
  3. 3.金针 (jīnzhēn), an acupuncture needle, also figuratively a magical secret, trick, or key
  4. 4.Commentary: The Daoists are often portrayed as enemies in the original Journey to the West, perhaps due to the fact that it was a competing religion to Buddhism during much of China's history
  5. 5.鹤氅 (hèchǎng) one of several names for a traditional Chinese robe, often worn by scholars
  6. 6.道德经, the foundational text of Daoism, ascribed to Laozi circa 4th century BC
  7. 7.The disciple completely botches this fundamental passage from the Daodejing: 'The Way begets One, One begets Two, Two begets Three, and Three begets all things.'