American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese Summary and Analysis of Pages 37 – 85


Wei-Chen Sun arrives two months after Peter leaves. The teacher makes the same mistakes as Mrs. Greeder when introducing him, getting his name wrong and saying he is from China. Wei-Chen says he is from Taiwan. Something makes Jin want to beat Wei-Chen up. At lunch, Wei-Chen addresses Jin in Mandarin, and Jin tells him to speak English, reminding him they’re in America. In uncertain English, Wei-Chen asks to be friends. Jin says he already has enough friends, and points to Greg and Timmy playing without him. Wei-Chen sighs and sits down. When he pulls out a monkey robot Transformer, Jin asks in Mandarin if he can play with it. Wei-Chen says his father gave it to him before he left, as a goodbye present. The two become best friends over the next few months.

On page 43, the third storyline begins with a full-page introduction that reads “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee,” accompanied by the sound of clapping and a racist caricature of a Chinese boy with buck teeth, closed eyes, and a long black braid. In the next scene, a blue-eyed white teen named Danny is drooling as he looks lovingly at Melanie as they study chemistry together. He is about to tell her he likes her when his mother interrupts, unseen in the kitchen, to tell Danny his cousin Chin-Kee is coming to visit. Danny looks terrified and drops his textbook. His mother says his father is picking Chin-Kee up from the airport right now.

Melanie asks Danny who cousin Chin-Kee is when Chin-Kee bursts through the front door shouting “Harro Amellica!” He wears a traditional Chinese outfit, his skin is pale yellow, and his luggage is Chinese restaurant takeout containers, although made giant. After everything Chin-Kee says there’s a laugh track running beneath the frame.

Chin-Kee tells Danny he is “happy as ginger root pranted in nutritious manure of well-bred ox” to see him. Danny is less enthusiastic. When Chin-Kee sees Melanie he starts drooling and comments on her bountiful American bosom; he says he must bind her feet and make her bear his children. Chin-Kee realizes she must be Danny’s girl, and so says he hopes to find his own American girl at school tomorrow. Danny is visibly nervous at the idea, but his mother says they’ll have so much fun together.

On page 55, we return to the Monkey King storyline. It is the morning after the heavenly dinner party: the Monkey King issues a decree that all monkeys must wear shoes, which makes it difficult to climb trees. The Monkey King locks himself deep underground in his royal chamber and trains in Kung-Fu and meditates, forgoing food or drink. He learns the four major disciplines of invulnerability: he learns to withstand fire, cold, drowning (from water), and wounds (from swords). He learns disciplines of bodily forms: how to grow large, make himself miniature, create clones from his hairs, and shapeshift.

When he leaves his chamber, his monkey followers notice he looks different. He is taller and stronger and wears shoes, appearing more human-like. They inform him that a scroll came down from heaven: it is a conviction for trespassing upon heaven, carrying a sentence of death. He is meant to report to the palace of Ao-Jun, Dragon King of the Western Sea, to be executed. The Monkey King says the “Monkey King” no longer exists; he has mastered the twelve major disciplines of Kung-Fu and transcended his old title. He is now to be called The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven. He rides off on a cloud to announce his new name.

He first meets Ao-Kuang, Dragon King of the Eastern Sea, who has been waiting for his arrival. In the underwater palace, a guard slices the Monkey King’s head from his body, but his head immediately reconnects. He tells the Dragon King he is not a monkey and announces his new name, at which the Dragon King laughs. He grows to a giant size and he presses the Dragon King under his foot. Convinced, the Dragon King gives the Monkey King a magic cudgel that can grow and shrink. The Monkey King meets Lao-Tau, patron of immortality, Yama, caretaker of the underworld, and the Jade Emperor, ruler of the celestials: all laugh at the Monkey King and “need convincing.” He shifts shape, creates clones from hairs, and hits out with his cudgel to threaten and intimidate them.

The gods, goddesses, demons, and spirits go to the lion, the ox, the human, and the eagle—emissaries of Tze-yo-tzuh. They ask that Tze-yo-tzuh do something about the Monkey King. Tze-yo-tzuh finds the Monkey King beating someone up; he is a large old man with a long grey beard and red, cloud-like robe. He carries a cane. He asks the Monkey King why he is so angry. The Monkey King says he isn’t a monkey, to which Tze-yo-tzuh says he created him, and he is a monkey: he formed the rock the Monkey King was born from. The Monkey King says to prove it, and Tze-yo-tzuh says because he created him, he can never escape Tze-yo-tzuh’s reach.

The Monkey King flies his cloud past the planets and stars to the edges of the universe to outrun Tze-yo-tzuh’s extending hand. Gradually the drawn background disappears until the Monkey King breaks free of the comic panel borders and is in a blank white space. He comes across five pillars of gold. Using his cudgel, he begins carving his name on one of the pillars, which he then urinates on. The Monkey King flies back to Tze-yo-tzuh and says he flew past the bounds of reality and his grasp was nowhere to be seen. Tze-yo-tzuh asks him to come closer, revealing that his hand is etched with the Monkey King’s name and shows a small patch of yellow liquid. The five pillars were Tze-yo-tzuh’s hand.

The Monkey King is speechless. He follows Tze-yo-tzuh across a narrow stone bridge in an empty pink void. Tze-yo-tzuh explains that he is everywhere at all times. He made the Monkey King with awe and wonder, as all his works are wonderful. He says he doesn’t make mistakes, and he intended the Monkey King to be a monkey, and that is what he shall be. The Monkey King says he doesn’t care, he can still take Tze-yo-tzuh on. Tze-yo-tzuh sighs and the bridge crumbles beneath the Monkey King’s feet. On the ground he is buried under a mound of fallen rock. He sets a seal on the mound, preventing the Monkey King from practicing Kung-Fu. The Monkey King stays there for five hundred years.


Jin and Wei-Chen’s first interaction explores the themes of social pressure, racial discrimination, and assimilation. Jin’s initial reaction to Wei-Chen is that he wants to punch him. Later on in the playground, Wei-Chen speaks Mandarin and Jin, though he can speak the language, tells him to speak English. In this exchange, we see Jin applying the same social pressure to assimilate that bullies place on him.

It is significant that the two boys build their friendship based on a shared interest in transformer toys. While the toys may seem like a coincidence, Wei-Chen’s monkey transformer is in fact a clue to his true identity as the Monkey King’s son in mortal form on earth—a plot point that will not be revealed until the story’s climax. The toys also unite the Monkey King and Jin through the theme of transformation.

The novel’s third storyline, concerning Danny and his embarrassing cousin Chin-Kee, takes the themes of racial discrimination and social pressure to a new level of absurdity. While the racial stereotypes Jin encounters seem mundane and misinformed, Chin-Kee is the symbolic embodiment of the extremes of anti-Chinese sentiment that racist American culture has perpetuated since the 1800s. Perplexingly, no one seems particularly bothered by Chin-Kee, other than Danny. This detail will prove meaningful once it is revealed that Danny represents Jin, and Chin-Kee represents Jin’s conscience.

In the return to the Monkey King storyline, Yang reintroduces the theme of transformation as the Monkey King works tirelessly to hone new disciplines that will make him invulnerable to future humiliation and attack. All of his efforts protect him from harm and bring him closer to an identity he finds satisfactory, yet they push him further from his monkey subjects and his identity as a monkey himself.

Having grown drunk on power, the Monkey King is visited by the creator of the universe. In an instance of situational irony, the cocky Monkey King is thwarted in his efforts to escape the creator when it is revealed that the golden pillars he desecrates are in fact the creator’s fingers. As a punishment for his discontent and desire to escape his true identity, the Monkey King is imprisoned under a pile of rocks. This punishment will parallel Jin’s eventual imprisonment in the Danny alter-ego.