Monkey after the Cultural Revolution
1977 saw the publication, in Lianhuanhuabao, of yet another version of Monkey King’s fight with the demon (LHHB 1977.3:14–17). This time, the white-boned demon is a stand-in for the now demonized “Gang of Four” who is thrice defeated by Sun Wukong, and this time Monkey King comes to symbolize not Mao but the revolutionary masses (亿万革命人民), as the preface explains. It is for this reason that the circle Sun draws does not throw radiance, either (ill. 6.50).
Ironically, this post-Cultural Revolution version of the comic accords much better with the artistic directives associated with Jiang Qing and the so-called “Gang of Four” than either of the two examples published during the Cultural Revolution (e.g. ill. 6.7 and ill. 6.32). The new version does allow Zhu Bajie’s nipples and navel to be seen, but apart from that, it goes along with all the rules of Three Prominences raised as important in our description of the Cultural Revolution straightjacket for comics.
It thus surpasses Zhao’s revised 1972 version in its “orthodoxy:” the demon, for example, is much more clearly marked than in any of the earlier versions. When she first appears, in the form of a young maiden, her real nature is immediately made explicit in a shadow above her (something that happens only at the very end of the Zhao Hongben comic, when Xuanzang is brought to discern Truth from Fiction). When the demon is defeated for the first time in this new version, her real format appears again as she disappears through a wisp (ill. 6.51). Thus, her hypocritical nature is unmasked, twice, at the very first instance.
Monkey King, on the other hand, is the dominant and victorious presence in this version of the comic; commanding in all his appearances, he is either showing the way or reigning in battle. He appears in 15 of 22 total pictures and is shown as victorious in battle in 7 out of these 15 (ill. 6.52). All images show him as clearly superior to his comrades, not only in fighting but also in deliberating and understanding the gravity of the situation. Five times he is shown pointing the way or pointing toward Truth, (illuminating the real nature of the demon, e.g., in ill. 6.53).
Thus, Monkey King becomes the true hero of the comic, while the white-boned demon in all her incarnations becomes a clearly marked negative character with fierce and crooked features both in her real shape and in her different disguises (ill. 6.54). Although the demon appears in an equal number of images as the hero (15/22), her position is clearly inferior. Indeed, faced with Monkey King, the demon always loses out. She receives three full images while Sun has four; more importantly, Sun is always depicted in dominant position, above or central to the image, much different from the demon.
The fact that Tang Seng is at first not to be convinced that it was righteous to kill, that he even believes in the false message sent off by none other than the demon (not Buddha) and, accordingly, sends Sun away only to be attacked again, becomes even more striking in its short-sightedness, as Sun Wukong is now being depicted as such an unmistakably superior hero. Only at the very end, when Sun comes to his rescue, is Tang Seng finally brought to his senses (ill 6.54).