‘The Stone Monkey’ — a diversion during a plague

Viral Alarm

‘The Stone Monkey’ was translated by Herbert Allen Giles and included in his Chinese Fairy Tales, originally published in 1911. It is based on a famous episode in Journey to the West 西遊記, also known in English as Monkey, a sixteenth-century novel by Wu Cheng’en 吳承恩.

Geoffrey Cox is a barrister and a conservative British politician with a somewhat noxious reputation. He is, however, possessed of a sonorous voice and, on 1 April 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 crisis in the United Kingdom, he released a recording of ‘The Stone Monkey’. Cox told his Twitter followers that:

‘I’ve been asked to record a children’s bedtime story for while we are cooped up in CV confinement. This is a Chinese fairy tale entitled, “The Stone Monkey”, told by H A Giles in a beautiful little pamphlet of tales published in 1911. I hope you enjoy it.’

In a report on a fad among A-list Hollywood stars to record bedtime stories in support of charities during a pandemic that had originated in China, The Guardian noted that Cox:

‘… whose booming oration was described as sounding like “Uncle Monty played by Brian Blessed”, has joined the ranks of well-known bedtime storytellers. There were suggestions Cox should start narrating audiobooks after a clip of him reading A Visit from St Nicholas, more commonly known as ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, was widely circulated in December last year.’

A link to Cox’s rendition of the story is followed by the text of Giles’s translation.


‘The Stone Monkey’ is reproduced here as part of our ‘Viral Alarm’ series. Given the fact that the coronavirus has occasioned heightened state surveillance of society, be it in China’s People’s Republic or elsewhere, it is worth noting that this episode from Monkey is the origin of the Chinese expression: 跳不出如来佛的掌心, ‘You can’t escape from the Buddha’s palm’.

We also recall that Mao Zedong notably referred to himself as having quite a bit of the ‘monkey’ in him, what he called 猴氣. The first essay published in China Heritage commented on the dark traits shared by Monkey, Mao and US President Donald Trump (see ‘A Monkey King’s Journey to the East’, 1 January 2017).

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
1 April 2020


The cover of the 1920 edition of Giles’s Chinese Fairy Tales


The Stone Monkey 

Translated by Herbert Giles


Long, long ago, on the top of a mountain called the Flower-and-Fruit Mountain, there lay all by itself a queer-shaped stone egg. No one knew what bird had laid it, or how it had got there; no one ever saw it, for there was nobody there to see. The egg lay all by itself on some green grass, until one day it split with a crack, and out came a stone monkey, a monkey whose body was of shining polished stone. Before long, this wonderful stone monkey was surrounded by a crowd of other monkeys, chattering to one another as hard as they could. By and by they seemed to have settled something in their minds, and one of them came forward and asked the stone monkey to be their king. This post he accepted at once, having indeed already thrown out hints that he thought himself quite fit to rule over them.

Soon after this, he determined to travel in search of wisdom, and to see the world. He went down the mountain, until he came to the sea-shore, where he made himself a raft, and sailed away. Reaching the other side of the great ocean, he found his way to the abode of a famous magician, and persuaded the magician to teach him all kinds of magical tricks. He learned to make himself invisible, to fly up into the sky, and to jump many miles at a single jump. At last he began to think himself better and stronger than anybody else, and determined to make himself Lord of the Sky.


“Have you heard of the new king of the monkeys?” said the Dragon prince to the Lord Buddha one day, as they were sitting together in the palace of the sky. “No,” answered the Lord Buddha. “What is there to hear about him?” “He has been doing a lot of mischief,” replied the Dragon prince. “He has learnt all kinds of magical tricks, and knows more than anybody else in the whole world. He now means to turn the Lord of the Sky out of his place, and be Lord of the Sky himself. I promised I would ask you to help us against this impudent stone monkey. If you will be good enough to do so, I feel sure we should conquer him.” The Lord Buddha promised to do his best, and the two went together to the cloud palace of the Lord of the Sky, where they found the stone monkey misbehaving himself, and insulting everybody who dared to interfere with him. The Lord Buddha stepped forward, and in a quiet voice said to him, “What do you want?” “I want,” answered the stone monkey, “to be Lord of the Sky. I could manage things much better than they are managed now. See how I can jump!” Then the stone monkey jumped a big jump. In a moment he was out of sight, and in another moment he was back again. “Can you do that?” he asked the Lord Buddha; at which the Lord Buddha only smiled and said, “I will make a bargain with you. You shall come outside the palace with me and stand upon my hand. Then, if you can jump out of my hand, you shall be Lord of the Sky, as you wish to be; but if you cannot jump out of my hand, you shall be sent down to earth, and never be allowed to come up to the sky any more.” The stone monkey laughed loudly when he heard this, and said, “Jump out of your hand. Lord Buddha! Why of course I can easily do that.” So they went outside the palace, and the Lord Buddha put down his hand, and the stone monkey stepped on to it. He then gave one great jump, and again he was away far out of sight. On and on he went in his jump, until he came to the end of the earth. There he stopped; and while he was chuckling to himself that he would soon be Lord of the Sky, he caught sight of five great red pillars standing on the very edge with nothing but empty space beyond; and now he thought he would leave a mark to show how far he had really jumped. So he scratched a mark on one of the pillars, meaning to bring the Lord Buddha there to see it for himself. When he had done this, he took another big jump, and in the twinkling of an eye he was back again in the Lord Buddha’s hand. “When are you going to begin to jump?” the Lord Buddha asked, as the monkey stepped down on to the ground. “When!” cried the monkey sarcastically; “Why, I have jumped,—jumped to the very end of the earth. If you want to know how far I have been, you have only to get on my back, and I’ll take you there to see. There are five red pillars there, and I’ve left a mark on one of them.” “Look here, monkey,” the Lord Buddha said, holding out his hand; “look at this.” The stone monkey looked. On one of the fingers of the Lord Buddha’s hand there was the very mark which he himself had made on the red pillar. “You see,” said the Lord Buddha; “the whole world lies in my hand. You could never have jumped out of it. When you jumped, and thought you were out of sight, my hand was under you all the time. No one, not even a stone monkey, can ever get beyond my reach. Now go down to earth, and learn to keep in your proper place.”


Further Reading, from The Wairarapa Talks: