American Born Chinese

by Gene Luen Yang

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Discussion Topic

The characters and heroes of American Born Chinese and their significance


American Born Chinese features three main characters: Jin Wang, the Monkey King, and Danny. Jin Wang struggles with his Chinese-American identity, the Monkey King symbolizes the rejection of one's true self, and Danny represents Jin's internal conflict. Their interconnected stories highlight themes of self-acceptance and cultural assimilation.

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Who are the characters in American Born Chinese?

American Born Chinese is a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang that was published in 2006. I am going to present the five most important characters of the story here.

Firstly, one has to mention the Monkey King. He has been rejected by the other gods and goddesses. This upsets him, and in order to combat the resulting feeling of inferiority, the Monkey King goes on a rampage, full of anger. However, with the help of the monk Wong Lai-Tsao, he begins to realize who he truly is and that there is no point in trying to fight that or in trying to be somebody else. So eventually, he begins to accept this.

Jin Wang is the protagonist of the story. He is an insecure teenager who struggles with the fact that people see him as an immigrant. Jin tries very hard to fit in with the white Americans, and he wants to be one of them. He even dreams of living as a white boy, called Danny. In the end, however, Jin realizes that he needs to be proud of his roots rather than trying to be someone that he is not.

Amelia is the girl that Jin Wan is in love with, and Jin wants nothing more than being able to go on a date with her. They end up going on a date, but Jin does not pursue her any further, as Greg talks him out of it: Greg tells him that he is not good enough for Amelia given his immigrant background.

Another important character is Wei-Chen, who becomes Jin’s best friend. In stark contrast to Jin, Wei-Chen is not trying hard at all to fit in with the white Americans. Nevertheless, Wei-Chen and Jin become friends, and Wei-Chen even tries to help Jin to go on a date with Amelia. However, their friendship suffers when Jin kisses Wei-Chen's girlfriend, Suzy. Only at the end of the novel do they make up again.

Greg is a white American boy who could be seen as the antagonist in the story. He is clearly jealous of Jin fancying Amelia. It is because of Greg’s meddling that Jin does not end up being in a relationship with Amelia.

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Who are the heroes in American Born Chinese and why?

Although not explicitly stated, the protagonist of American Born Chinese, Jin Wang, is a hero. Like many heroes, he is on a journey. Jin is on the journey toward self-acceptance, and he faces many obstacles on his way. He has to confront racial stereotyping and internalized racism, and he even departs his life and becomes his idealized self, Danny. But he is still not free of his struggles in Danny’s world, as the stereotypes that his cousin Chin-Kee embodies still get to him. When Chin-Kee reveals himself to be the Monkey King, Jin learns about the importance of being one's authentic self. So, like lots of heroes on their hero’s journey, Jin returns to his familiar world. There, he begins to apply what he’s learned and befriend Wei-Chen again.

The character of the Monkey King is also a hero of sorts, and not only because he has led an adventurous existence. By disguising himself as Chin-Kee, the Monkey King watches out for Jin, and in the end, he is the one who pushes Jin to accept his true self. In this way, he saves Jin from internalizing the racism he’s experienced in society. Like many heroes, the Monkey King is honest, inspirational, and determined to complete what he set out to do.

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