Jin is the novel's protagonist. Born and raised by Chinese immigrants in San Francisco's Chinatown, Jin moves to a predominantly white suburb, where he is bullied by his peers for his ethnicity. His discomfort at being Chinese leads him to fantasize about shedding his ethnicity and transforming into a white boy named Danny. Jin eventually embraces his true identity.
Wei-Chen is Jin's best friend throughout most of the book. A recent immigrant from Taiwan, Wei-Chen's accent is pronounced and Jin encourages him to act less like he is "fresh off the boat." After Wei-Chen and Jin have a falling out, it is revealed that Wei-Chen is the Monkey King's son incarnated as a human, as a test of virtue to see if he can avoid human vices for forty years. Jin later meets Wei-Chen to see that he has embraced consumerism and flashy clothes and cars.
The Monkey King
The Monkey King is a deity who rules over Flower Fruit Mountain. He considers himself equal to the gods and goddesses that rule over him and the monkeys within his kingdom, but when they reject him from a party because he is a shoeless monkey, he assaults them in anger. He returns to his kingdom and masters Kung-Fu disciplines that make him invulnerable to the execution order leveled against him. When he faces Tze-Yo-Tzuh, the creator of the Earth, he retains his false belief that he is the greatest being ever created and winds up buried in a mountain of rock for five hundred years. Eventually, a monk named Wong Lai-Tsao helps him return to his true form as a monkey, without shoes. The Monkey King later arrives incarnated as Chin-Kee. He brings a message to Danny, who is really Jin, that he must embrace his true identity as an American-born Chinese person.
Danny is Jin's fantasy alter-ego, who embodies everything Jin Wang wishes he could be: popular, smart, blond, athletic, and white. Every year, Danny makes inroads at a new high school only for his cousin Chin-Kee to visit and ruin Danny’s reputation.
Chin-Kee is Danny’s cousin, an over-the-top racist caricature of Chinese stereotypes. Chin-Kee speaks in broken English, mistaking his r’s and l’s, his eyes are slanted, his teeth stick out, he eats cat parts with noodles, and his name is a play on the slur "chinky." He embodies every negative stereotype that Jin does not want to be associated with. After Danny fights Chin-Kee, it is revealed that Chin-Kee is in fact the Monkey King, acting as Jin's conscience.
Amelia is a classmate of Jin's who Jin develops a crush on. After much anticipation, Amelia and Jin have a mutually enjoyable date. However, Amelia's friend Greg asks Jin not to ask her out again, saying he isn't sure they are right for each other.
Greg is a popular classmate of Jin's. Early in the book, Greg defends Jin when Timmy insults him, but later Greg asks Jin not to date Amelia, saying she needs to start paying attention to the sort of person she hangs out with.
Suzy is a Japanese-American girl who goes to school with Jin. When young, she and Jin avoid each other due to rumors about them being related. Later, she dates Wei-Chen. After disclosing to Jin how she often feels embarrassed and like she doesn't fit in, Jin kisses her, causing her to slap him in anger.
Lai-Tsao is a selfless monk who feeds and treats the wounds of vagrants. He is sent on a journey by Tze-Yo-Tzuh; as a disciple he is given the Monkey King, who he helps return to his true identity. Lai-Tsao is based on Tang Sanzang, a character from the Chinese novel Journey to the West.
Tze-Yo-Tzuh is the creator of the universe. After the Monkey King's anger and ego grow too strong, Tze-Yo-Tzuh traps him under a mountain of rock and prevents him from practicing Kung-Fu for five hundred years.
Timmy is a bully at Jin's school. Early in the book, Timmy teases Jin with racial epithets. Later, he calls Suzy Nakamura a "chink," triggering her to reflect on how she lives with a permanent sense of being an outsider.
American Born Chinese Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for American Born Chinese is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The graphic novel begins the story in ancient China. It is nighttime and the gods and goddesses are having a party. The noise, smells and enticing music make the Monkey King want to attend. He wonders that he was not invited. However, after...
Greg is not a major character in the book, but his effect is evident and lasting as Jin decides to cut himself out of Amelia’s life because of him. Though in the past, all the way back in elementary school, we see Greg defending Jin against a...