Sha Wujing's True Power: Could Sandy be More Powerful than Sun Wukong, or at least Equal in Strength?
Please note that I am not implying any of these theories on this blog to be true, nor do I personally believe them to be. In saying that, I must mention that all these theories do have bases in facts indicated in the Journey to the West novel. Whether you want to take these theories to heart is entirely your decision. This article just explores possibilities, not being suggestive towards readers.
Out of the Tripitaka Tang’s three bodyguard disciples, it is common knowledge that the eldest disciple Sun Wukong appears to be the strongest of the bunch, being the most witty when it comes to evading strife and most capable in quelling demons. A few months ago, I was introduced by my friend “Zhang” to a concept where the youngest disciple Sha Wujing could really be more powerful than his senior brother Monkey. The possibility of this theory remains entirely valid since the novel has never stated Monkey to have truly defeated Sandy. Furthermore, Sandy doesn’t make many appearances in combat, which leads to his true strength being undetermined and allows it to be opened up for discussion.
In this article, the focus is on land battle, because we already are aware that Monkey is incompetent in water and Sandy can easily beat him in such circumstances. So read on to hear my theory on the possibility of Sandy being able to beat Monkey anywhere, anytime, not just in marine battle.
1. As General Curtain-Raiser
Before being exiled as a river monster, Sha Wujing was actually a high-ranking celestial god, titled “Great General Curtain-Raiser (juanlian dajiang, 卷帘大将)”. His role was to serve directly under the Jade Emperor as his prime bodyguard, personal attendant and chief of the imperial guards, which makes him already at a very prestigious position. Being the Jade Emperor’s personal bodyguard surely indicates that he is a highly capable warrior to be able to achieve this honourable placement. Furthermore, there is another point mentioned in the novel, regarding combat skills, that may suggest that Sandy could indeed be stronger than Monkey (see para. 1.1).
1.1. Spiritual Officer Wang
Spiritual Officer Wang (wang lingguan, 王灵官)  is a member of the Jade Emperor’s imperial security force, of which Great General Curtain-Raiser is the chief of. During Monkey’s havoc in Heaven, Spiritual Offer Wang was the warrior who fended Monkey off from approaching the Jade Emperor inside his palace hall. He and Monkey fought a long battle, and appeared to be equal in strength.
He [Monkey] fought all the way into the Hall of Perfect Light and was approaching the Hall of Divine Mists, where fortunately Numinous Officer Wang, aide to the Immortal Master of Adjuvant Holiness [Jade Emperor], was on duty. He saw the Great Sage advancing recklessly and went forward to bar his way, holding high his golden whip . “Wanton monkey,” he cried, “where are you going? I am here, so don’t you dare be insolent!” The Great Sage did not wait for further utterance; he raised his rod and struck at once, while Numinous Officer met him also with brandished whip. The two of them charged into each other in front of the Hall of Divine Mists.
Sandy at this time was the chief of the imperial guards, which suggests that his powers must be greater than Wang, a mere member under his command. During the Monkey vs Wang fight, Monkey had just broken out of Laozi’s furnace and was fully enraged, determined to completely destroy everything in his way. Depicted here is a raged Monkey not being able to beat a member of the imperial guards (Wang), which leads to the question of how would he (Monkey) be able to beat the chief of the imperial guards (Sandy)? 
2. Hidden Abilities
Sandy was written to be sort of a mysterious character. Not much of his true abilities are directly stated, and thus it is difficult for us to determine his true prowess. Sha Wujing’s abilities are all mentioned in passing throughout the novel; none of them are specified and it is up to us as readers to make all the inferences we can based on the novel’s hints. Indeed, Sandy does have quite a few hidden skills that leaves his true powers undetermined, but in this article we will only be emphasising on the one most notable ability: transformations.
2.1. Transformation Skills
Presumably the only incident of Sha Wujing demonstrating his hidden transformation skills is at the end of chapter 44 to the beginning of chapter 45, during a scene taken place at Cart-Slow Kingdom (chechi guo, 车迟国). When Monkey discovers a Daoist abbey with delicious food meant as offerings for the gods, he brings his junior brothers Pigsy and Sandy there to enjoy a tasty meal together. Before they were permitted to begin feasting, Monkey instructed Pigsy to carry the statues of the Three Pure Ones  away, so that the the three of them could enjoy the gods’ offerings without drawing suspicions. The three disciples then transformed themselves to assume the forms of the Three Pure Ones; Sandy performed this practice too, by transforming into the Daoist Lord of Numinous Treasures (lingbao daojun, 灵宝道君), thus displaying that he actually is capable of transformation magic.
So Eight Rules changed himself into Laozi, while Pilgrim took on the appearance of the Celestial Worthy of Commencement and Sha Monk became the Daoist Lord of Numinous Treasures .
So without a doubt, it is clear that Sandy’s true abilities remain undetermined, and therefore we cannot make conclusions based on basic inferences and definitely not from movies and television shows, which portray the novel’s characters highly inaccurately. If Sandy had kept his transformation ability hidden the entire time, who knows what other powers he may be keeping to himself too?
3. Notable Battles in Comparison to Monkey
Throughout the Journey to the West novel, Sandy, as a less important character, hasn’t made many appearances in combat. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no cases of him in fights. Here, I will be listing three of Sha Wujing’s most notable battles with characters that Sun Wukong has also duelled with, as an mutual experiment to compare the fighting skills of the two, and to decipher if Sandy is more powerful than Monkey, or perhaps even at least equal in strength.
3.1. Against Pigsy
While staying overnight at Old Gao Village (gaolao zhuang, 高老庄), Monkey volunteered for the task of ridding a troublesome pig monster who had kidnapped the squire’s daughter. When Monkey reveals himself, the monster immediately flees in fear of Monkey’s prestigious reputation, with the added fact that he had no weapon with him at the time to defend himself. However, after returning to his mountain home and fetching his divine weapon, the monster was ready for a fight and locked in combat with Monkey. The novel describes their battle to have went like this:
Pilgrim, of course, was unwilling to be tolerant; lifting high his rod, he struck at the monster’s [Pigsy’s] head. The two of them thus began a battle in the middle of the mountain, in the middle of the night. What a fight!
So Monkey and Pigsy’s duel lasted from the second watch  to sunrise. The second of the five watches in traditional Chinese night time corresponds with the hours of 21:00-23:00. As stated in chapter 1 of Journey to the West, sunrise occurs during the hour of Mao (卯), which corresponds with the morning hours of 5:00-7:00. This suggests that Monkey’s skills could match with Pigsy for 6-10 hours before forcing the latter into fatigue.
Although it may not be relevant to this article, one note I have to mention for this Monkey vs Pigsy battle is that Monkey had just had a full dinner at the squire’s manor before this fight, whereas Pigsy was not on a full stomach, which was a factor that contributed to his defeat. If it had not been because of that fact, it’s entirely possible that their fight could have went on for much longer.
Upon reaching Flowing-Sand River (liusha he, 流沙河), the pilgrims encounter a river monster who tried to capture the Tang Monk to eat. Pigsy eagerly volunteered to earn merit in fighting this fiend, while Monkey stayed by his master’s side to provide personal protection, mainly because Monkey is incapable in marine battle. Pigsy and the river monster, later identified as Sha Wujing, engaged in three separate duels. All three battles conveyed the result of the two being perfect rivals, with none of the battles having determined even a slight difference in their strength. Here, I’ll use their second duel as an example to compare Sandy and Monkey strength against Pigsy, where the two of them fought for a full four hours.
When the monster saw the rake coming, he used the style of “the phoenix nodding its head” to dodge the blow. The two of them thus fought to the surface of the water, each one treading the waters and waves. This conflict was somewhat different from the one before.
For a full four hours, Sandy and Pigsy were totally even, before Pigsy faked a loss to lure his enemy towards his senior brother, Monkey. Implementing the first four of Monkey’s eight hours against Pigsy into Sandy’s four hours, it shows that both characters are capable of equally enduring at least four hours of battle with Zhu Bajie, leaving the ultimate outcome yet to be determined. This fact gives the impression that Sandy and Monkey could duel each other for at least a lengthy four hours without outcome, as modelled by Pigsy in this assessment.
3.2. Against Hui'an
Just before suggesting the deployment of Lord Erlang (erlang shen, 二郎神), Bodhisattva Guanyin sent out her disciple, Hui'an (惠岸), to contend with the rebellious Great Sage Equalling Heaven. Hui’an proved himself to be a competent fighter, and managed to last an impressive 50 bouts against Monkey.
Our Great Sage battled Hui’an for fifty or sixty rounds until the prince’s arms and shoulders were sore and numb and he could fight no longer.
Sandy’s first appearance in the novel was when he emerged from his river home to attack a passing Guanyin and her disciple Hui’an, hoping to turn them into a meal. Being courageous like any other warrior, Hui’an fended the fiend off from his master; he and the monster engaged in a fight, which lasted at least 20 rounds.
Holding in his hands a priestly staff, that fiendish creature [Sandy] ran up the bank and tried to seize the Bodhisattva. He was opposed, however, by Hui'an, who wielded his iron rod, crying, "Stop!", but the fiendish creature raised his staff to meet him. So the two of them engaged in a fierce battle beside the Flowing Sand River, which was truly terrifying.
Hui’an was capable of battling Sandy for at least 30 bouts; the ultimate result remains undetermined. With Monkey, he could withstand a determined 50 bouts, an indication that when validly compared with Sandy, he is capable of at least 30 bouts with Monkey as well. Therefore, this point shows that Sandy and Monkey could duel each other for a good 30 bouts and neither would appear to prevail.
3.3. Against the Six-Eared Macaque
It is obvious that Sun Wukong and his imposter, the Six-Eared Macaque (liu’er mihou, 六耳猕猴) are perfectly on par with each other in all aspects. They are equally strong in combat and would both fall to defeat if their opposition had even the slightest of helping hands. Seeing that both being equals is common knowledge, this point does not require any further explanation.
The Journey to the West novel has mentioned a brief fight between Sandy and the Six-Eared Macaque, taken place during the two’s first meeting when Six Ears, impersonating the Monkey King, refused to return Sandy the pilgrim’s luggage. Adding on to this scene was the fact that the fake Monkey had plans to take along a fake Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy and fetch the Western sutras himself. Triggered at the sight of his specious imposter, Sandy rushed forward and had the demon killed. The death of one of his minions enraged the Six-Eared Macaque, and he with his army began to attack Sandy. Here, the novel does mention that Sandy was able to fight off the Six-Eared Macaque plus his army of demon monkeys before fleeing to report this outrage to Bodhisattva Guanyin.
Dear Sha Monk! Lifting high his fiend-routing staff with both his hands, he killed the specious Sha Monk with one blow on the head. He was actually a monkey spirit. That [fake] Pilgrim, too, grew angry; wielding his golden-hooped rod [Gold-Banded Staff], he led the other monkeys and had Sha Monk completely surrounded. Charging left and right, Sha Monk managed to fight his way out of the encirclement.
Monkey was capable to duel the Six-Eared Macaque only to an equal. Sandy, on the other hand, managed to briefly fight off not only Six Ears, but also an army of demon monkeys to add on. This fact makes it apparent that Sandy’s true strength equates to a combination of the Six-Eared Macaque and a few demon minions, suggesting that Sandy could very possibly be a bit stronger than Monkey.
Seeing that the JTTW author never really specified nor provided a full insight into Sandy’s true abilities, it is improper for us to assume inferences based on his portrayal in film and television. Through studying inside the Journey to the West novel, it is realised that Sandy’s true powers are undetermined, given the fact of him hiding his ability of transformation magic. My best analysis of Sha Wujing’s powers and their comparison with Sun Wukong have been registered in this article. Using the characters Spiritual Offer Wang, Zhu Bajie, pilgrim Hui’an and the Six-Eared Macaque as mutual opponents for comparison, it is concluded that Sandy does seem to be at least equals with Monkey, if not even stronger. That’s all there is to expound in this article, and I hope the explanations were insightful. Please keep in mind that this article is simply a theory; I am not implying my conclusions to be true, because in the end, the final judgement on whether this theory is acknowledged or not, lies completely with you.
 Spiritual Officer Wang (王灵官)
Also known as: Celestial Lord Wang (wang tianjun, 王天君).
In Chinese folklore, Spiritual Officer Wang is believed to be the head of the Jade Emperor's 500 spiritual officers, all of whom are his imperial guards. The religious Celestial Lord Wang is generally viewed as a guardian deity in Daoist temples. In Journey to the West, Spiritual Officer Wang is portrayed as a member of the Jade Emperor's personal security force.
 whip (鞭)
Also translated as: iron whip.
In ancient Chinese weaponry, a whip was traditionally a segmented baton-like steel rod mounted on a sword hilt; a deadly weapon typically used for breaking blades. Notable users of this weapon include: Tang general Yuchi Gong (尉迟恭 - a minor character in Journey to the West), tiger general Huyan Zhuo (呼延灼) from Water Margin, and generals Taishi Ci (太史慈) and Huang Gai (黄盖) from Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
I am indebted to “Zhang” for suggesting this point to me.
 Three Pure Ones (三清)
The Three Pure Ones (sanqing, 三清, a.k.a. Three Purities) are the Daoist trinity. The three deities are: Celestial Worthy of Primal Beginning (yuanshi tianzun, 元始天尊), Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasures (lingbao tianzun, 灵宝天尊) and Celestial Worthy of the Way and Virtue (daode tianzun, 道德天尊 - this is Laozi (老子), commonly known in Journey to the West as Supreme Exalted Lord Lao).
 watch (更)
In ancient China, night time was divided into five periods, each known as a "watch". These five watches, from first to fifth, correspond with the times of 19:00-21:00, 21:00-23:00, 23:00-1:00, 1:00-3:00 and 3:00-5:00, respectively.
 four hours
I have altered the translation here to be more accurate to the original text. Yu’s (2012) English translation said “two hours”; however, the original Chinese states 两个时辰, which directly translates to “two shichen’s”. A shichen (时辰) is an ancient Chinese measurement of time, consisting of two modern-day hours, commonly translated as “double-hour”. Hence, the correct translation in this extract should be “four hours”, not two.
An analysis on Sha Wujing's true strength, weighing up his abilities against those of his senior brother Sun Wukong.