The Origins of ‘I was here’ Graffiti
In the classical novel Journey to the West (Xiyou ji 西游记), the Buddha fools the Monkey King (Sun Wukong 孙悟空) by promising that if he can manage to leap out of the Buddha’s palm, he can occupy the Celestial Throne. The overconfident Monkey King accepts the challenge, jumps into the Buddha’s palm and then does an almighty somersault, tumbling through the air for thousands of miles. Finally, coming to rest at a place where five massive pillars reach into the sky, the Monkey King promptly scratches the following characters into the middle pillar to prove he was there:
老孙到此一游 (Lao Sun dao ci yiyou ‘Old Sun was here’)
The Monkey King then takes another almighty leap back where he came from, and lands back in the Buddha’s palm – or so he thinks. But to his great consternation, he looks down at the bottom of the Buddha’s middle finger, where he sees the characters he himself had just carved: ‘Old Sun was here’. He had in fact never left the Buddha’s palm, and had merely defaced the latter’s middle finger.