American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Chin-Kee (Symbol)

As an over-the-top racist caricature of Chinese stereotypes, Chin-Kee symbolizes everything Jin wishes to not be associated with. As Jin's desire to be accepted as an American grows, he develops the Danny fantasy persona, only to be visited yearly by Chin-Kee, the epitome of embarrassing and harmful tropes about Chinese people. In this way, Chin-Kee is an embodiment of how Jin has internalized anti-Chinese racism.

The Monkey King's Shoes (Symbol)

Shoes are symbolic of the Monkey King’s insecurities and his attempt to cover up his true identity. When mocked by the gatekeeper of heaven for not wearing shoes, the Monkey King decrees that his monkey subjects must wear shoes, even though it makes it difficult for them to use their feet to climb trees. As the Monkey King loses touch with the needs of his subjects and transforms himself into a fighting machine, he continues to wear shoes and walk on his hind legs, like a human. It is only once the Monkey King learns to accept himself that he removes his shoes and begins his journey to the West, in which he learns humility and restores his virtue.

Danny (Symbol)

Danny is Jin's fantasy alter-ego; a symbolic embodiment of Jin's desire to be accepted by his mostly white classmates. Danny lives his life with the ease Jin wishes he had: he is white, popular, and athletic. However, Chin-Kee's yearly visits jeopardize the reputation Danny establishes at every new school. This shows how, even in his fantasy, Jin can't escape the negative Chinese stereotypes from which he wishes to separate himself.

Casual Racism (Motif)

Throughout the novel, casually racist comments and taunts arise, usually delivered by Timmy, but sometimes by ignorant teachers. Jin, Wei-Chen, and Suzy usually do not respond to the comments, but they are nonetheless hurt by what they hear. This motif is significant because it contributes to an atmosphere of hostility and the theme of racial discrimination.

Jin's Father's Glasses (Symbol)

At the midpoint of the novel, Jin recounts how his mother said she chose to start seeing Jin's father because he had the thickest glasses of all the Ph.D. students. She associated thick glasses with long hours studying, extrapolating a strong work ethic that would result in a high salary, and thus—to her mind—a good husband. Therefore, Jin's father's thick glasses are a symbol of Jin's mother's no-nonsense approach to dating, in which the ability to provide for a family is prized above other forms of attraction.