Analysis of "American Born Chinese" Novel by Gene Luen Yang

Categories: Novel

Although for kids and young adults it seems to be significant to fit in, as these individuals mature and grow into adulthood, it is paramount for these people to embrace their culture and identity. Each person’s identity provides spiritual, intellectual, and emotional distinction from others. American Born Chinese, a graphic novel, written by Gene Luen Yang is trying to impart the message and main theme of obscuring one’s identity to fit in with others.

In Yang’s novel, three main characters, The Monkey King, Jin Wang, and Danny, conflict with the same issue of blending in with others in their society.

This novel not only shows how these issues were presented, but it also showed how it changed each of these characters and their views. In Yang’s novel American Born Chinese, Yang uses the characters’ desires for social acceptance and their experience of battling stereotypes to communicate the theme of concealing one’s identity to fit in a society.

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All three of the main characters want to achieve social acceptance in each of their environments. The Monkey King arrives at a ravishing dinner party for gods, goddesses, demons, and spirits, but the guard refused to allow The Monkey King to enter the party. Although The Monkey King persisted, the guard merely says, “you may be a king- you may even be a deity- but you are still a monkey” (Yang 15). Hearing these bleak words, The Monkey King “was so embarrassed, in fact, that he almost left without saying a word” (Yang 15).

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The Monkey King thrashes the party members and contemplates how he can get rid of the smell of monkey fur. In my own personal experience, I have battled my own share of striving for social acceptance, and I would strive to hide my Indian culture because I was embarrassed by what others have said to me. Looking at Yang’s description on how he said to “get rid of” the monkey fur, the reader can presume that it relates to the theme of getting rid of one’s identity. The Monkey King was so humiliated because he was different from others, and they teased him because he was a monkey.

The Monkey King started to wear shoes, which the author used as a symbol in the novel. The Monkey King was content with being bare foot, but the guard expresses, “you haven’t any shoes” (Yang 14). In that society or culture, it was common for the gods, goddesses, demons, and spirits to be wearing shoes. For that reason, The Monkey King was motivated to start wearing shoes, which not only changes his appearance but his identity as well. He changed for others because he desired that social acceptance from others in that certain community. In my experience and The Monkey King’s experience, the desire of social acceptance becomes more and more crucial.

Not only do all the three characters struggle through negative stereotypes, but these individuals change themselves completely because of it. Jin arrives at a new school, but his fellow classmates seem to mock him on negative Chinese stereotypes. The student says a negative stereotype by stating, “Chinese people eat dogs” (Yang 31). As Jin endures through these tough times, he eventually transforms to another boy named Danny, who is Caucasian and isn’t Asian. Although Jin is now able to fit in as Danny, he continues to struggle because his cousin, Chin-Kee, was Chinese who was packed with all sorts of negative stereotypes. Danny says Chin-Kee is ruining his life and says for Chin-Kee “to pack up and go back” (Yang 205).

In my personal experience, I had to ignore those who would say untrue negative stereotypes about Indian people, and I would be embarrassed if fellow classmates would mock and make fun of my culture. Another example of negative stereotypes is when Jin is being introduced to his new school and the teacher says, “welcome to your new friend and classmate Jing Jang!” (Yang 30). The teacher might be trying to be nice, but it all starts here where Jin’s battle of negative stereotypes begins.

On the same page, the teacher continues to possibly assume that Jin moved all the way from China, when, he actually came from San Francisco. Negative racial stereotypes affected Jin, Danny, and me, but The Monkey King suggests Danny that it is time to reveal his true form of Jin. At the end of the novel, Jin is peaceful and happy in his own true form rather than being Danny.

In my experience and all three of the main characters, social acceptance was something desired and clash of negative stereotypes change these individuals. Everyone should be able to embody their own identity and different background and culture. Each of us is rare and even though it may be hard to embrace our self because of the different environments we are in and the words people say which affects us, it is better to be your own identity rather than being someone else. The main characters desire for social acceptance and clash the negative stereotypes which communicate the theme of hiding one’s identity to fit in, but in the end, all the main characters and I feel comfortable in one’s own identity and skin.

Works cited

  1. Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. First Second, 2006.
  2. Huang, Sophia. "Cultural Identity and Social Acceptance: A Study of American Born Chinese." Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 12, no. 3, 2009, pp. 231-245.
  3. Chen, Hui. "Ethnic Identity Formation and Cultural Adaptation in American Born Chinese Adolescents." Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 44, no. 7, 2015, pp. 1369-1382.
  4. Lee, Chang-rae. Native Speaker. Riverhead Books, 1995.
  5. Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Temple University Press, 1982.
  6. Wang, Xueli. "Negotiating Cultural Identity in Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese." Studies in the Novel, vol. 45, no. 2, 2013, pp. 232-248.
  7. Lee, Stacey. Unraveling the "Model Minority" Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth. Teachers College Press, 2009.
  8. Liu, Catherine Y. "From Asian to Asian American: The Creation of a Panethnic Identity." In The Asian American Movement, edited by William Wei, Temple University Press, 1993, pp. 82-94.
  9. Chen, Wen-hua. "Hybridizing Comic and Ethnic Stereotypes: Chinese Americans' Re/Visions of Popular Cultural Images." Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 45, no. 5, 2012, pp. 1023-1043.
  10. Ocampo, Anthony Christian. The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race. Stanford University Press, 2016.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Analysis of "American Born Chinese" Novel by Gene Luen Yang. (2024, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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