American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese Summary and Analysis of Pages 133 – 199


The storyline returns to the Monkey King. The narration comments that only four monks ever achieved legendary status: Chi Dao meditated until he became stone, Jing Sze fasted for fourteen months, and Jiang Tao delivered such eloquent sermons that the bamboo wept. Wong Lai-Tsao was less remarkable: he couldn’t meditate, fast, or speak well, but he woke early every morning and gathered fruit to share with vagrants outside of town. He would dress their wounds all day and then return home at sunset.

One day the vagrants ask Lai-Tsao why he feeds them and treats their wounds. He says he is no more worthy of love than them, yet Tze-yo-tzuh provides for his daily needs: how could he not help by doing the same for others? The vagrants transform to reveal that they are the emissaries of Tze-yo-tzuh. Lai-Tsao has been chosen for a mission to deliver three packages to the West. He is warned that people will try to eat his flesh in the wilderness, because an old wives’ tale says the flesh of a holy man grants eternal life. Lai-Tsao is granted three disciples to protect him and share the burden. The first is the Monkey King, imprisoned beneath a mountain of rock.

Carrying the three packages, Lai-Tsao travels forty days on his own to reach the Monkey King. Lai-Tsao addresses him as a disciple and asks him to free himself so he can share the load. The Monkey King responds in anger that he is the Great Sage of Heaven and threatens to beat Lai-Tsao for impudence. Lai-Tsao tells him that if he returns to his true form he will be free of the rock. The Monkey King says the seal prevents him from performing Kung-Fu; Lai-Tsao says returning to true form is not an exercise of Kung-Fu but a release of it. The Monkey King brings Lai-Tsao’s attention to the demons stalking him. Lai-Tsao says he is aware; this is why he needs the Monkey King’s help. The Monkey King smugly says he’ll gladly watch the demons pick the flesh from his bones. Lai-Tsao says this is his last chance at freedom.

Suddenly the demon impale Lai-Tsao and put him on a spit over a fire. The Monkey King mulls it over then returns to his true form and wriggles out of the rock pile. He saves Lai-Tsao from death and dispatches the demons with his Kung-Fu skills. The Monkey King helps the injured Lai-Tsao to his feet, nearly calling him mortal, but then switching to call him master. They begin the journey after Lai-Tsao tells him there is no need for shoes. The scene ends with the image of the Monkey King’s shoes left in the sand and the narrator commenting that the Monkey King accompanied Lai-Tsao all the way to the West.

On p. 163, we return to the Jin storyline. Jin knows his mother prefers him to focus on his studies; he is forbidden to date until he has a master’s degree. He asks Wei-Chen to support his lie that Jin is with Wei-Chen, not Amelia. On their date, Amelia rides on the front of Jin’s handlebars as he grows exhausted from pedaling. He is too sweaty to make it possible to put his arm around her. During the movie, he doesn’t pay attention to anything but her giggles and breathing hard when she touches his shoulder. He goes to the bathroom to wash his armpits. He returns and gets a jolt of confidence, putting his arm around her. She leans into his chest for the rest of the film.

With horror, Jin sees, as they leave the theater, that pink soap bubbles transferred from his armpit to her naked shoulder. As they leave to get ice cream, Greg leaves the same theater with his arm around another girl, who is smiling, and Greg notices Jin. Amelia doesn’t mention the soap, and Jin is pestered by the thought that she must have noticed and was too polite to say something. At school, Wei-Chen says he’ll figure out a sneaky way to learn if she did notice the soap. He also says Jin’s mother called and Wei-Chen had to talk to her for two hours so she’d forget why she called.

Wei-Chen asks Amelia if she had fun on the date. With some embarrassment on her face, she says she did. He asks if Jin was bubbly and she asks what he means. Wei-Chen gives a thumbs up to Jin, who is watching from the hall. Jin spends the rest of the morning imagining his future with Amelia: their marriage, having sex, having a baby. After school, Greg asks Jin for a favor: he wants Jin not to ask out Amelia again. Jin assumes this means Greg likes her, but Greg sticks out his tongue and clarifies that she’s like a sister to him. It’s just that Amelia is a good friend and Greg wants to make sure she makes good choices; they’re almost in high school and she “has to start paying attention to who she hangs out with.”

Greg apologizes for the way it sounds when he says it; he says that he just doesn’t know if Jin is right for her. Greg says no hard feelings but asks again if Jin can do him the favor. Jin says he guesses he can. Greg thanks him and leaves. In class, Jin obsesses over the conversation; he grows his confidence by imagining standing up for himself and saying no to Greg. He strides with electric confidence to find Amelia in the halls. He’s about to ask her something when he sees Greg is standing with her. His confidence disappears and he walks away. Greg asks Amelia if she sees now what he means: that Jin is nice but kind of a geek.

Jin finds Suzy sitting alone outside the school. Wei-Chen is at after-school math circles. Suzy is upset. She says Timmy said something stupid to her today. On the weekend, she went to an old friend’s birthday and was excluded. She felt embarrassed, and the same embarrassment came up when Timmy called her a chink. As she sobs, Jin gets a jolt of confidence and leans in to kiss her. She smacks his face and asks what’s wrong with him before walking angrily away.

Jin is icing his face at home when Wei-Chen arrives at the front door. In Mandarin, Wei-Chen asks why he would kiss Suzy; if he had feelings for her, he could have told Wei-Chen. He says Jin broke his heart more than Suzy ever could, because they’re brothers; they’re blood. Jin says they’re nothing alike, and he shouldn’t worry because Suzy isn’t his type. Wei-Chen asks why he kissed her then. Jin says maybe he doesn’t think she’s right for Wei-Chen; maybe Wei-Chen isn’t worthy of her; maybe she can do better than an F.O.B. Wei-Chen punches Jin on his other cheek.

Jin spends the rest of the evening thinking over the day’s events until he convinces himself that what he told Wei-Chen was true. He dreams of the herbalist’s wife, who asks him what he would like to become. Jin transforms, looking less Asian and more white. When he looks in the mirror in the morning he is a white guy. He looks shocked at first, then smiles. He says a new face deserves a new name; he is now Danny.


Returning to the novel’s folkloric thread, we learn about how the Monkey King manages to free himself from the pile of rocks after a monk named Wong Lai-Tsao is assigned the Monkey King as a disciple. The narrative is an allusion to the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, in which Sun Wukong accompanies a monk on a test of virtue as a way of atoning for his sins.

The themes of discontent, identity, and transformation are conveyed in the Monkey King’s return to his “true form.” Wong Lai-Tsao informs him that it is not Kung-Fu to change back to a monkey; it is a release of those powers which he mastered because of discontent. All he needs to become free is to accept his true identity. As a symbol of the Monkey King’s journey to attaining peace through acceptance, he discards the shoes he wore to conceal his monkey’s feet.

The themes of racial discrimination, discontent, and social pressure return with the next installment of Jin’s storyline. Though the date with Amelia goes well, an instance of dramatic irony signals to the reader that Greg, who sees them leaving the theater, is going to come between them. But when he does ask Jin to stop seeing her, it is not for the reason Jin or the reader expects.

In an example of situational irony, Greg wishes Jin to stop seeing Amelia because he doesn’t think they’re suited for each other. His ambiguous objection leaves open the question of whether Greg disapproves of Jin because he is Chinese or because he is unpopular. Either way, Jin understands it as a disapproval of his Chinese ethnicity, as Jin never had a chance to be popular on the playground because he was bullied and cast out for being Chinese. Framing the request as a “favor” is a manipulation of social pressure, suggesting an intimacy between the characters that doesn’t quite exist.

The conflict with Greg precipitates a wholesale collapse of Jin’s identity. He betrays Suzy’s trust by suddenly kissing her, he betrays Wei-Chen by not apologizing and for rejecting Wei-Chen’s heartfelt desire to reconcile and understand, and he falls into a dream in which he revisits the herbalist’s wife and then forfeits his soul to transform into Danny, his all-American white alter-ego.