American Born Chinese

by Gene Luen Yang

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What is Jin Wang's internal conflict in American Born Chinese?

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Jin Wang’s internal conflict is derived from his inability to accept his identity as an Asian American in a majority white society. He wants to be accepted by his white peers, but at the same time, his desire for friends doesn’t include the other Asian students at his school. While the other Asian student Wei Chen wants to be friends with Jin, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with other Asians, as if separating himself from them would make his ethnicity less obvious. The character of Danny, the all-American white boy, intensifies our understanding of Jin’s insecurities over his identity. Danny has a Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee, who embodies every negative stereotype about Asians, such as being obnoxiously enthusiastic in school. We find out that Danny is Jin’s white alter-ego, and so Chin Kee is really a reflection of Jin’s greatest fear: that he will be teased and ultimately ostracized for being what he is, a boy of Chinese descent.

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American Born Chinese is a graphic novel that focuses on the themes of identity and self-acceptance through its three storylines. Jin Wang's internal struggle is wanting to fit in at his all-white suburban school while also wanting to be true to himself and accepted for who he is. This struggle is all-consuming for him, in a way that the other Asian American characters, Suzy Nakumura and Wei Chen, largely manage to avoid (perhaps because of their ability to find acceptance and validation in one another).

We see Jin at war with himself and his culture when he snubs Wei-Chen initially due to Wei-Chen's uncool appearance as well as when Jin curls his hair like Greg's to try to get Amelia's attention. Jin's internal conflict is most apparent, though, when it is revealed that Danny is actually Jin. Jin's loathing of his Chinese background and how it is viewed through American eyes has made him renounce himself completely and "become" a white American. In order to resolve this conflict, Jin needs to learn to accept himself as he is.   

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