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Monkey King Swings into New York Exhibit


A Monkey King exhibit attracts a child at the Children's Museum of Manhattan in New York. Provided to China Daily

For hundreds of years, Chinese children have grown up with the Monkey King, the epic tale of a young, mischievous primate born from stone and possessing supernatural powers.

After being imprisoned under a mountain as a result of impudence against the deity Buddha, he later accompanies a monk on an adventure-filled spiritual quest to India to find Buddhist sutras.

Naturally, as children's stories go, he learns a few lessons along the way.

Now, a new exhibit at the Children's Museum of Manhattan attempts to teach kids about China through this timeless story about teamwork, cleverness and the importance of behaving.

Monkey King: A Story from China is on exhibit at the museum for the second time after a tour of seven cities around the United States over the last eight years.

Andy Ackerman, executive director of the museum, told China Daily that the curators worked with New York City's Flushing community to develop the idea for the exhibit.

"We asked one simple question: If you're growing up in China, or you're Chinese American, how do you learn about your own culture? And the Monkey King came up over and over again. We talked to people about their memories of learning the story as children, and how they then taught their kids about it."

Some of the videos from those interviews are included in the exhibition. The museum also sent a team to China to view cave etchings of the legend, and consulted Chinese scholar Anthony Yu, who translated the original text of Journey to the West, the 16th century novel by Wu Cheng'en, on which the legend is based.

The Monkey King has been adapted into movies, cartoons and comics. The way in which children have experienced the story has carried across generations, Ackerman said.

"The best part of the exhibition has been seeing the sharing among generations when families come to view the exhibition," Ackerman said. "That's really cool, to see grandparents, parents and kids, taking it in together."

The exhibition, which is for ages 4 and up, leads children first through the story of the Monkey King's misbehavior and background, and then on the journey to India.

Although the story itself has many religious undertones, the museum chose to present the details in a non-religious context, said Kristin Lilley, art director at the museum.

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