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I am reading Wu Cheng'en's Journey to the West in English (using the translation by Anthony C. Yu, don't know enough language to understand the source) and there seems to be a recurring theme of using the elements for characters and (maybe) their interactions.

Specifically, I keep seeing "mother of wood" (meant for Pig, from context)

Example in Chapter 63:

When the mother of wood was taken by the water monster
The mind−ape did not flinch from a difficult rescue. 
One used his secret skills to open the locks; 

and further on

The yellow−wife blindly joined in the prostration, 
While the mother of wood foolishly agreed. 
The monsters used force to oppress the true nature; 
And hosts of sages helped to wage the fight. 
The mother of wood suffers for showing mercy. 
Determination moves the yellow−wife. 

What is mother of wood meaning? Yellow-wife?

At another point (quote missing) the demon that punches his nose to make fire, he is said to "arrange the carts of elements in a pattern" before doing so.

Is this a feature of the language that is lost in translation (a pun I can't understand), or does it have some aspect of symbolism (like Monkey as "mind-ape") I would be sad to miss out on an interesting layer of the text due to that.

Sorry if this is the wrong site to ask in, I hesitated between Literature and here.

  • For reference, the Chinese word is 木母. – droooze Apr 5 at 5:40
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comparing the original text, with the english version you provided; i would say, most meanings, details and metaphors are lost.

the scenario that "mother of wood" was caught, and recused by "mind ape" is paragraphs 9 - 11 https://ctext.org/xiyouji/ch63/zh

rant about the translation:

When the mother of wood was taken by the water monster

the monster is a (nine-heads reptile "九頭蟲")

One used his secret skills to open the locks

well, the "mother of wood" was tied on the pillar (那獃子綁在柱上). later, mind-ape cut the rope by bite (行者四顧無人,將拑咬斷索子叫走). no locks lah.

such translation, is like, "middlemarch", or "pride and prejudice" in 500 words.

what is mother of wood meaning? yellow-wife?

first of all, the book "journey to the west" is full of taoism metaphors.

then, there're two main groups of taoism, alchemist (外丹) and internal alchemy (內丹). further, over thousands of years, there're many sects, which explain taoism literatures in completely difference ways.

yellow-wife should be "黃婆", a more precise term should be yellow matchmaker (黃 + 媒婆). the metaphor is:

a matchmaker let males and females to get married, intercoursed, producing offsprings. he/she should never be part of the "children production".

yellow matchmaker (黃婆) means the element earth (土), which has the colour yellow.

in 悟真篇闡幽, stated

眞土又名黃婆

調水火而和金木者也

the original text is longer, with more metaphors. here's a brief explanation for beginner.

the yellow matchmaker (黃婆) is to mediate between other four elements: water, fire, metal and wood; it do nothing by itself.

back to the journey to the west, the third disciple (沙僧) always was the mediator between the first and second disciple. that's why the author assigned the nickname yellow matchmaker (黃婆) to him.

what is mother of wood meaning? yellow-wife?

mother of wood is 木母, this nickname is assigned to the second disciple (豬八戒). i can't get the rationale at this moment.

frankly, if you have knowledge of taoism, this book is more funny :)

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木母 ("mother of wood") in Five Elements (五行) Theory corresponds to water, and the phrase is actually a Taoist alchemist's reference to the liquid (water-like) metal, mercury.

Chinese zodiac considerations match the pig to the Earthly Branch (地支) 亥, which has the correspondence 阴水 (contrast this with the monkey!) and the Trigram 坎.

Water is also associated with 精, essence, in Chinese medical theory, appropriate for Zhu Bajie's particular weaknesses.

The relationship between Zhu Bajie and Sun Wukong, and the role of the "Yellow-wife" Sha Wujing as mediator, has its parallels with Taoist alchemical theory (specifically the 三要 Three Essentials of internal alchemy) and the Buddhist Three Jewels.

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