American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese Summary and Analysis of Pages 201 – 236


We return to the Chin-Kee and Danny storyline on page 201. Danny has come from his conversation with Steve at the gym to the library. A boy complains that Chin-Kee’s spit is on him, and wonders if he contracted SARS. Chin-Kee is singing Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” and dancing on a table. He drags Chin-Kee by his braid and tells him he wants him to pack up and go back to where he came from. Chin-Kee says he must stay until the visit is over. Danny punches Chin-Kee as Chin-Kee pleads with him to stop; he says he is playing with fire.

Chin-Kee fights back with Kung-Fu style moves whose names reference Chinese restaurant menu items. He apologizes and says he will visit every year forever. They fight until Danny knocks Chin-Kee’s head off with a punch. This reveals the Monkey King’s face. He shrinks to his regular size. The Monkey King tells Danny that now he has revealed his true form, he must too. Danny transforms back to Jin Wang, a few years older than when we last saw him.

The Monkey King explains that he is an emissary of Tze-Yo-Tzuh; he has stood in his holy essence ever since completing a test of virtue (i.e. his journey to the West). The Monkey King explains that Wei-Chen, Jin’s friend from junior high, is his son. For his test of virtue, the Monkey King’s son Wei-Chen was asked to live in the mortal world for forty years while remaining free of human vice. The Monkey King would visit once a year to assess his progress. The Monkey King gave Wei-Chen a toy that transforms from human form to monkey, to remind him of who he is.

Things went well, until his third visit, when Wei-Chen admitted he told a lie to Jin’s mother. Wei-Chen said he found humans soulless, and the thought of serving them sickened him. He decided to spend the remainder of his days in the mortal world using it for his pleasure. From then on, Wei-Chen refused the Monkey King’s visits, and so the Monkey King started visiting Jin instead. Not as a punishment, but to serve as Jin’s conscience—as a signpost to his soul. Jin asks the Monkey King what he is supposed to do now. The Monkey King says he would have saved himself five hundred years’ imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock had he realized how good it is to be a monkey.

The Monkey King ascends into the starry night sky on his cloud. A pink business card falls into Jin’s hand. It is for a Chinese bakery and restaurant. Jin goes home and asks his father for the car keys. His father asks if he’s taking Chin-Kee out, and Jin says Chin-Kee already went home. His father and mother are surprised because Chin-Kee’s flight wasn’t until next week.

At 490 Bakery Cafe, the waitress asks Jin in Mandarin what he’d like. He mistakenly points to characters that read “cash only.” Jin stays until closing and returns the next day after school. He stays at the restaurant every day for a month. Wei-Chen arrives in a purple car tricked out with accessories. Jin goes out to greet him. Wei-Chen has flashy jewelry and earrings and sunglasses; he is smoking. He asks what the hell Jin wants. Jin says he met Wei-Chen’s father and he wants to talk.

Inside, they talk over pearl milk tea. Jin apologizes. Wei-Chen says the milk tea here sucks; like it was made too close to a stir-fry, and with boba (tapioca pearls) that remind him of rabbit droppings. He removes his sunglasses and says there’s a hole-in-the-wall place down the street that’s much better. He offers to take Jin sometime. Jin says that would be cool. The book ends with an image of the two old friends laughing and talking in the restaurant.


In the final section of the novel, the three storylines converge. Furious with his cousin, Danny beats Chin-Kee, telling him to “go back where he came from,” a common xenophobic insult. Their conflict escalates as Chin-Kee reveals an array of fighting moves, which are absurdly named after common American Chinese restaurant menu items.

With a punch, Danny knocks off Chin-Kee’s head to reveal that Chin-Kee has been the Monkey King all along. Once his true form is revealed, the Monkey King makes Danny transform back into Jin, his true identity. Jin is a few years older than when the reader last saw, suggesting that he has been lost in the Danny alter-ego for the duration of his time in high school.

The themes of transformation and folklore find their greatest significance to the plot of the novel as the Monkey King explains how Wei-Chen was his son all along. As a test of his virtue, Wei-Chen was tasked with living life on earth for forty years without succumbing to human vice. However, Wei-Chen’s falling out with Jin corrupted his image of humanity, and Wei-Chen decided to abandon the quest and embrace a life devoted to pleasure. In this way, Wei-Chen undergoes his own transformation as a consequence of the identity struggles Jin experiences.

Jin is unamused and flatly bewildered by everything the Monkey King tells him. This suggests that he hasn’t yet understood the lesson the Monkey King is trying to impart. Jin asks what to do and the Monkey King answers obliquely but helpfully, saying he could have saved himself time under the pile of rocks if he’d remembered how good it is to be a monkey. Jin’s parallel experience is to remember how good it is to be himself, which necessitates an embrace of both his American and his Chinese cultural identities.

The novel ends on an optimistic note. Though Wei-Chen is nearly unrecognizable in his new grown-up form as a smoking, jewelry-wearing, sports-car driving teen, the two friends are soon able to regain their connection as friends. Bonding over how bad their boba tea is, the friends end up laughing together. Yang leaves the reader with this visual image to signal that Jin has found peace in his soul through accepting his true identity.