We’ve all heard of how the character Xuanzang is based off the Tang-period monk of the same name, but did you know that this is the same case for Zhu Bajie? Zhu Shixing was the real name of the historical Pigsy. Similar to Xuanzang, he was also a Chinese monk who took a similar journey to fetch Buddhist sutras from the west. The only difference is, Zhu predates Xuanzang by nearly 400 years! In this research article, I will explore who the historical Zhu Bajie really was, what he did, and the relation that Journey to the West's Pigsy has with him.
1. How Pigsy is Based on Zhu Shixing
Firstly, let’s explore how Pigsy is even literarily related to Zhu Shixing. You might be thinking: "Pigsy is a pig monster, Zhu is a human monk. Even if they do have the same surname Zhu, how can Zhu Shixing have been the inspiration for the character of Pigsy?" Well, the answer is quite simple. Zhu and Pigsy do share two major parallels as I detail below, which display Zhu to be Pigsy’s evident antecedent.
1.1. Matching Religious Names
The most notable point of Pigsy being based off Zhu is definitely their religious names. Zhu Shixing was the monk’s birth name, but after becoming a Buddhist priest, Zhu assumes the religious name “Bajie (八戒, lit: eight precepts )”, and was also know as “the monk Bajie (bajie heshang, 八戒和尚). This is where Journey to the West author Wu Cheng’en had his inspiration for Pigsy’s name throughout the novel after being taken in by Tripitaka.
Even though both their religious names are Zhu Bajie, please note that their surnames are merely homophones of each other, with Zhu Shixing’s being a conventional surname (朱), and Pigsy’s one carrying the literal meaning of “pig” (猪). This is likely a pun that author Wu Cheng’en implemented as an indication of the appearance of the pig monster in his story.
1.2. Pilgrims to the West
As mentioned in para. 1, Zhu Shixing was a monk who journeyed for the western sutras, just like Xuanzang did. This is fitting with Pigsy, who was also a monk journeying west when he became the fictional Xuanzang’s disciple. Please read on to para. 3.2 for a more detailed introduction to Zhu’s pilgrimage.
2. Introduction to Zhu Shixing
This section is just a brief biography, providing a basic overview into the life of Zhu Shixing, a.k.a. Zhu Bajie.
2.1. Birth and Early Life
Zhu Shixing was born in modern day Yuzhou, Henan province, China in 203 AD, during the late Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD, 汉朝). During this time, the Han government was under control of the Prime Minister Cao Cao (曹操) , who restricted people of Han ethnicity (hanzu, 汉族)  to become monks. The restriction remained in place even after the fall of the Han dynasty, where Cao Cao’s descendants ruled the kingdom of Cao Wei (220-266 AD, 曹魏). Zhu had always had a passion for the Buddhist religion and practised it even before officially becoming a monk. It was only during the reign of the third emperor of Wei that the restriction was relaxed. In the year 250 AD, a 47-year old Zhu Shixing received ordination at White Horse Temple (baima si, 白马寺, lit: white horse monastery) , took on the religious name Bajie and became the first monk of Han ethnicity in Chinese history.
2.2. Monk Bajie's Journey West
The monk Bajie soon became a priest and was to pass down Buddhist teachings to students. While expounding these scriptures, Bajie realised that they didn’t make much sense, and the Chinese translations were all loose and rough. Years later, Bajie met a foreign monk who informed him of a set of original sutra texts in the western regions. Bajie was determined to fetch these sutras to enhance Buddhist teachings in China. Now 57 years old, Bajie renounced his family and set off from Yongzhou (雍州)  in the year 260 AD with a small group of disciples. After years of travelling, Bajie and his disciples arrived at the Kingdom of Khotan (yutian guo, 于阗国) , located on the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, and successfully discovered the original text of the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra (dapin bore jing, 大品般若经, lit: greater sutra of wisdom) .
2.3. Later Life and Death
Bajie stayed at Khotan and spent the following years copying the full Sanskrit text of the original Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra which consisted of over 600,000 words. In 282 AD, Bajie had completed his manuscripts. He sent a disciple as an envoy to deliver the sutras he copied back to China, while Bajie himself remained at Khotan due to old age. He died later that year at the high age of 79.
As you see, Zhu Bajie is a case similar to Xuanzang; both figures are Buddhist monks who journeyed west for sutras and served as the inspiration for Wu Cheng’en’s fictional characters with the same names. The significance of Zhu Bajie as a figure lies with notably being the first ever Han-ethnic Buddhist monk and the first Chinese monk who journeyed to fetch sutras from the west, with Xuanzang plainly being the most famous case and fitting the time period of Journey to the West. Although Zhu did not travel as far west as Xuanzang did, nor brought back as many sutras, it is undeniable that Zhu Shixing was a highly significant figure for Wu Cheng’en to use as a basis for his fictional character Zhu Bajie.
 Bajie (八戒)
Also translated as: eight proscriptions, Eight Rules (Anthony C. Yu, 2012).
Literal meaning: eight precepts.
The eight precepts (i.e. forbidden acts) of Buddhism are: killing lives, stealing, sexual misconduct, telling lies, drinking alcohol, using cosmetics (e.g. makeup), using personal comforts (e.g. a fine bed) and eating outside of regulated hours.
 Cao Cao (曹操)
Cao Cao (155-220 AD) was a Chinese warlord and later Prime Minister during the end of the Han dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). He rose to great power and founded the Wei kingdom (220-266 AD), which succeeded the Han.
 Han ethnicity (汉族)
Also translated as: Hanzu, Han Chinese.
Han Chinese is one of the 56 ethnic groups in China. Approximately 92% of the Chinese population are of Han ethnicity, making the Han distinctively the largest ethnic group in China. Its great size has had this ethnicity lend its name to the traditional Chinese culture, the Mandarin language and even Chinese people collectively.
 White Horse Temple (白马寺)
Literal meaning: white horse monastery.
White Horse Temple is a Chinese Buddhist temple located in modern day Luoyang, Henan province. Established in 68 AD, it is traditionally recognised as the first ever Buddhist temple in China.
 Yongzhou (雍州)
Yongzhou was an ancient Chinese district located north-west of the city of Chang’an (长安, modern day Xi’an).
 Kingdom of Khotan (于阗国)
Khotan was an ancient Buddhist kingdom located along the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, located in modern day around eastern Tajikistan and China’s Xinjiang province.
 Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra (महामहाभारतसूत्र, 大品般若经)
Also known as: Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, 摩诃般若波罗蜜经.
Literal meaning: greater “perfection of wisdom” scripture.
Did you know that Zhu Bajie is based on a real historical figure, just like Xuanzang is, except Zhu predates Xuanzang by nearly 400 years?