American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese Summary and Analysis of Pages 87 – 131


On page 87, we return to Jin’s storyline. One humid day in seventh-grade English class, Amelia Harris removes her cardigan. Jin notices her bare arms with desire and panic. From then on, whenever she enters a room he is aware of her presence. He was nervous to know someone could have so much power over him without her even knowing it. He lies awake at night and fixates on small imperfections she has, but then he thinks of her smile and begins to laugh and drool. Wei-Chen makes fun of Jin for having a crush; in Taiwan, any boy who likes a girl before he is eighteen gets laughed at. Jin says this isn’t Taiwan and tells Wei-Chen to “stop acting like such a FOB,” an acronym for “fresh off the boat.” Wei-Chen considers this. Two weeks later Wei-Chen starts dating Suzy Nakamura.

Jin’s science class receives a rabbit, a lizard, and a monkey, on loan from a student’s mother’s cosmetics company. The animals are used for testing makeup, and they all have lipstick and elegant lashes. Mr. Graham asks for student volunteers to take care of the animals after class. Amelia raises her hand. Wei-Chen pressures Jin to volunteer. Jin refuses. In the confusion, the teacher asks Wei-Chen if he is making so much noise because he is volunteering. Wei-Chen reluctantly says he would like to volunteer. Jin looks unhappily and suspiciously at Greg and Amelia laughing at the table they share.

On the school grounds, Wei-Chen and Suzy laugh and hold each other. Jin asks if they think Amelia likes Greg. They tease him for being shy and fearful; the week before, he walked in front of her table and knocked over a bunch of test tubes. He then said “At least I didn’t rake the breast,” confusing his syllables. Timmy sees the three Asian students together and loudly says to a white friend: “I chink it’s getting a little nippy out here.” Jin, Wei-Chen, and Suzy stop laughing and shame comes across their faces. Walking home, Jin thinks of Amelia with Greg. He thinks of Greg’s curly blond hair. Later, Jin shows up at school with a curly perm.

After school, Wei-Chen and Amelia tend to the animals. They accidentally get locked in a storage closet while looking for the hairless mice they need to feed the lizard. Wei-Chen says not to worry because Jin is supposed to meet him; Jin will figure out they’re trapped. Amelia asks if Jin is the Asian boy with the Afro. Wei-Chen talks about how Jin is his best friend, and how kind he was to take him under his wing when he arrived in America. Wei-Chen knows Jin is sometimes embarrassed by Wei-Chen’s accent; he is grateful that they are friends regardless. He says Jin has a good soul. Amelia smiles and says she always got a weird vibe from Jin: does he like her or something? Wei-Chen laughs and tells her to ask him herself.

After waiting an hour, Jin asks the janitor to help let him into the science room. He finds them in the supply closet. Things become blurry: Amelia looks up at him with a smile, Wei-Chen whispers in his ear that this is the chance of a lifetime, and he gets a jolt of confidence and asks her to hang out with him sometime. She says yes. Her yes keeps him “warm for the rest of the night” as he lies in bed and thinks about how she said it.

On page 109, the Chin-Kee storyline resumes with Danny bringing cousin Chin-Kee to school. Danny looks nervous and tells Chin-Kee to keep quiet. In class, Chin-Kee is the only one who knows the three branches of the American government. The pattern repeats in every other class: Chin-Kee knows all the answers, bringing distress and embarrassment to Danny. At lunch, Chin-Kee offers Danny some of his lunch: crispy fried cat gizzards with noodles. A jock named Steve congratulates Danny on making the basketball team. Steve puts his cola can down and Chin-Kee grabs it when he’s looking in his bag for the basketball game schedule Danny asks for. Chin-Kee disappears from frame and returns the can to the table. Steve walks away with it. Chin-Kee can’t contain his amusement: he whispers to Danny: “Me Chinese, me play joke! Me go pee-pee in his Coke!” Out of frame, Steve vomits.

After school Danny goes to detention for being late to class. Chin-Kee goes off to the library to “find an American girl to bind feet and bear Chin-Kee’s children.” Danny notices two white students pulling their eyes to mock Chin-Kee. He runs into Melanie and apologizes for what his cousin said last night. She said she shouldn’t have left in a huff like she did; it wasn’t his fault, and in some ways it was flattering. Danny asks if she wants to hang out Saturday, and she says she prefers being friends and doesn’t want to mess that up. He gets angry and says he’s nothing like Chin-Kee. She says it has nothing to do with Chin-Kee. She reiterates that she doesn’t want to jeopardize their friendship. Then she says she never noticed it but his teeth buck out: she pulls out her orthodontist uncle’s business card and gives it to Danny.

After detention, Danny talks to Steve in the gym about how he’s already been to three schools: every year he gets the hang of a new school, and then Chin-Kee visits and ruins his reputation. He becomes known as Chin-Kee’s cousin, not Danny, and he has to switch schools. Steve reassures him that isn’t going to happen at this school; people here are nicer, and don’t tease him about his weight. Steve offers to buy Danny a coke. Danny gets angry and says what, so I can pee in it? Steve realizes Chin-Kee peed in his coke and goes to vomit in a trash can as Danny walks away looking vengeful.


The return to Jin’s storyline sees the protagonist entering adolescence. Though he has known Amelia since they were children, it is only once they both hit puberty that Jin realizes he is profoundly attracted to her. Her presence haunts him, distracting him from engaging with the oblivious and innocent life he had known.

Wei-Chen finds Jin’s transformation in attitude amusing. The themes of racial discrimination and the social pressure to assimilate arise again as Jin reprimands Wei-Chen for acting like he is “fresh off the boat.” Jin’s desire to integrate with the mainstream culture at his school causes him to tell Wei-Chen that he acts too much like a non-American, something Wei-Chen has no power to control and, in an ideal society, should not feel the pressure to conceal.

The theme carries forward with Timmy’s casual racism against Jin, Wei-Chen, and Suzy. To emphasize the destabilizing and deeply hurtful impact of Timmy’s flippant remarks, Yang uses visual imagery to show the shame on the characters’ faces and auditory imagery to contrast their silence with the laughter they were enjoying a moment earlier.

Transformation and assimilation are also present in Jin’s decision to curl his hair. Wishing to look more like Greg and adopt the culturally idealized beauty standard he represents, Jin perms his hair, as if the change will help him assimilate into the social sphere of the popular kids. But despite how silly he looks to everyone else, Amelia is willing to go on a date with him nonetheless. It is not his looks she’s interested in; significantly, she becomes interested in Jin after Wei-Chen tells her what a good and caring friend he is.

In the Chin-Kee storyline, Danny’s discomfort with his cousin grows more intense when he reluctantly brings him to school. Chin-Kee continues his obnoxious and absurd stereotypical behavior, urinating in Steve’s Coke can and eating chunks of dead cat in the school lunchroom.

Meanwhile, Danny’s crush tells him she would rather remain friends. Danny grows incensed, believing she isn’t interested in him because of his cousin. However, she says it has nothing to do with Chin-Kee. The scene’s significance reveals itself when we consider that Danny is in fact Jin. It is possible to imagine the same scene playing out in which Jin is rejected by a crush and mistakenly assumes it is because of his Chinese identity, of which he has grown ashamed and wishes to live separate from.