Comic Book: American Born Chinese

Welcome to America, Jin.
Written and drawn by Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese is a Graphic Novel dealing with the trials and tribulations of Asians attempting to integrate into American culture.

The story begins by following three characters:

  • The first is The Monkey King (Great Sage Equal of Heaven), who is shamed after being kicked out of a celestial dinner party for being a monkey (and not wearing shoes). He becomes obsessed with earning the respect of the Heavenly Hosts as a result.
  • The second is Jin Wang, a second-generation immigrant from China heavily influenced by Chinese culture. After moving from San Francisco to a new city, he awkwardly tries to integrate with the all-white students and staff at school, despite their stereotypical view of Asians.
  • The third is a white American boy named Danny, who is burdened by annual visits of his cousin Chin-Kee, an embodiment of every negative Chinese stereotype ever. Chin-Kee's behavior has forced Danny to change schools in the past to escape association with him.

While each story arc works well on its own and appear to be independent, by the end all three cleverly converge into a climax that affirm the need to embrace one's heritage and Be Yourself.

Released in 2006, it was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Awards (becoming the first graphic novel recognized by the National Book Foundation) and won the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award.

This book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Actual Pacifist: The monk Wong Lai-Tsao, who won't even defend himself when attacked by monsters who want to eat him.
  • All-Loving Hero: The monk Wong Lai-Tsao, who puts up with three asshole peasants demanding something out of him, and doesn't complain once. This is the reason why he's chosen for the journey to the west.
  • Anachronic Order: Switches between the Monkey King story, set thousands of years ago, and two storylines set in modern times.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Wei Chen Sun and Chin-Kee.
  • Asian Buck Teeth: One of the negative stereotypes embodied by Chin-Kee.
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: Banged-up Heavenly Hosts, anyway.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The Monkey King's "Giant Form" kung fu skill.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: How the Monkey King tries to assert himself over the Heavenly Hosts.
  • Battle Aura: Appears when the Monkey King uses his kung fu.
  • Be Yourself: The main Aesop of the book.
  • Big Brother Instinct: When Jin starts to date his classmate Amelia Harris, an Anglo friend strongly urges him to stop, saying he wants her to "make good choices."
  • Big Brother Mentor: Jin Wang is this to Wei Chen Sun.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Spoofed when Chin-Kee attacks Danny; his attacks are named after Chinese dishes.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Chin-Kee knows kung-fu. Because he's Asian... and a monkey God.
  • Deal with the Devil: Used metaphorically; Jin is told by an old herbalist that he can be anything he wants if he sells his soul...
  • Did You Get a New Haircut?: After the Monkey King uses his shapeshifting powers to look more like a man, one of his monkey subjects remarks that he looks different somehow, and asks if it's a new haircut.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Monkey King beats up the Hosts of Heaven on a regular basis.
  • The Ditz: The monkeys of Flower-Fruit-Island are adorably idiotic.
    "Would your majesty like a banana?"
  • Double Consciousness: Played with through the graphic novel medium. The story begins with separate plot threads for Chinese Jin and American Danny. When Jin wishes to become Americanized, he turns into Danny, casting Danny's earlier exploits in a new light.
  • Double Entendre:
    • At the celestial dinner party:
      "Your peaches are looking especially plump today!"
    • And in Jin's story:
      Timmy: (after Amelia raises her hand) What for, Amelia? You can pet my lizard any time you want.
      Greg: I don't know, Timmy. You do a pretty good job of that yourself.
  • Ethnic Scrappy: In-universe: Chin-Kee.
  • Et Tu, Brute?
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Jin gets a perm to appear more Americanized.
    Wei Chen: Why is his hair a broccoli?
  • The Faceless: Jin and Danny's parents always have their faces partially or completely hidden. Subverted when Danny tells his parents that Chin-Kee has left and their faces are finally shown, revealing that Danny's parents are Jin's parents (since Danny and Jin are the same person).
  • Forceful Kiss: Jin plants one on Suzy, Wei-Chen's girlfriend.
  • Foreign Queasine: Chin-Kee eats fried cats' gizzards. It's also a veiled Take That against Pat Oliphant (see below).
  • Foreshadowing: The monkey in the biology lab is very fond of Wei-Chen, who can tell at once it's a male and not a female. You could also interpret the Monkey King's urination this way.
  • Frame Break: When the Monkey King leaves the universe, flying "through the boundaries of reality itself", he breaks through the frame of the panel he's in. The story then switches to one illustration per page with no panel borders until he re-enters reality, at which point normal panels resume.
  • Funny Foreigner: Chin-Kee. Jin's friend Wei Chen Sun is also this to a smaller degree.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: During one of Jin's daydreams about Amelia, it's Amelia taking off her suspenders in front of him.
  • Gratuitous English: When Wei Chen first appears, he's wearing a shirt that reads "Robot Happy".
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Chin-Kee is quite the misogynist.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: In the tale of the Monkey King, all the Buddhist elements are replaced by Christian equivalents.details  Though not really in an unpleasant way. Done deliberately to show the blending of cultures that produces Jin and which he needs to accept.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Occurs in a sickening way when two kids drop a number of Asian ethnic slurs on the playground.
    "Hey, I chink it's getting a little nippy out here."
    "You're right! I'm getting gook bumps!"
  • I Drank What?: One of Chin-Kee's pranks.
    "Me Chinese, me play joke! Me go pee-pee in his coke!"
  • Identical-Looking Asians: Several elementary school students think Suzy and Jin are related, even though she's Japanese-American and he's of Chinese descent.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Jin's well-meaning third-grade teacher, as the page picture shows.
  • Insistent Terminology: The Monkey King, Great Sage Equal of Heaven.
  • Ironic Echo: The Monkey King is barred from a celestial party for not wearing shoes (and being a monkey). When he becomes the disciple of the monk Wong Lai-Tsao, he is told that they do not wear shoes for their journey.
  • It Was with You All Along: The Monkey King frees himself from being trapped under a mountain of rock by releasing his shape-shifting kung fu and reverting to his original (smaller) monkey form.
  • Japanese Ranguage: Chin-Kee talks like this all the time.
  • Jerkass:
    • The ungrateful vagrants treated by Wong Lai-Tsao, who insulted him even as he fed them and tended to them every day. They're actually emissaries of Tze-Yo-Tzuh, as part of a Secret Test of Character.
    • To an extent the Monkey King, or as he likes to be called, the "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven".
    • Several Anglo characters behave in this way toward the Asian-American protagonists. Besides fellow students, just check out the page picture.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • While we don’t see it in the story, the Chinese character that is most likely used for Jin’s name is this 仁, which means “humaneness or kindness”. The character, 仁, is drawn to represent a man connected heaven and earth. Considering that Jin makes a connection with the monkey king and his son and the overall growth Jin has in the story this fits him really well.
    • Danny who is actually Jin, his name means “God is my judge”. Danny/Jin is taken down a several pegs by the monkey king who is the Emissary of Tze-Yo-Tzuh
    • Wei-Chen Sun is actually the son of the monkey king. What’s the monkey king’s name in Chinese? Sun Wukong.
  • Laugh Track: Chin-Kee's appearances are accompanied by a Laugh Track, done as onomatopoeia.
  • Losing Your Head: The Monkey King continues to talk even after being beheaded.
  • The Magnificent: "Say it!" "Great Sage Equal of Heaven!"
  • Nobody Poops: Averted; after flying across all of existence and passing the bounds of reality, the Monkey King relieves himself by urinating on one of the Five Golden Pillars which turn out to be the fingers of Tze-Yo-Tzuh.
  • Offhand Backhand: Chin-Kee/The Monkey King does this during the fight scene near the end.
  • Phenotype Stereotype: Danny is an All-American boy.
  • Physical God: The Monkey King, Great Sage Equal of Heaven. Tze-Yo-Tzuh also puts in an appearance.
  • Punny Name: "Chin-Kee" is a pun on the Chinese slur "chink."
  • The Reveal: Happens three times: Danny is actually Jin, Chin-Kee is actually the Monkey King, and Wei Chen Sun is the Monkey King's son.
  • Secret Test of Character: Both in the retelling of the Journey to the West and in the present, with Danny.
  • Self-Duplication: The Monkey King learns the "Hair-Into-Clones" kung fu discipline.
  • Shape Shifter: The Monkey King learns a kung fu discipline to do this.
  • Shout-Out: To Transformers. At one point, Jin as a kid wants to be one when he grows up, which prompts an old woman to use them to illustrate a point: anyone can change into something they aren't, but at the cost of losing what they are in the first place.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Chin-Kee, who is a perpetual source of embarrassment for Danny, and has caused him to switch schools out of embarrassment several times before. It is, of course, all an act to get Danny to accept his race.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: The Monkey King acquires numerous abilities through the mastery of various kung fu disciplines.
  • Take That: Danny attends Oliphant High School, a reference to Pat Oliphant for a racist political cartoon he drew in April 2001. See Foreign Queasine, above.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Female monkeys look just like male monkeys except with pink bows on their heads.
    • Then subverted with the monkey in Jin and Wei-Chen's class - it has long eyelashes and big pink lips (due to being a former test subject for a makeup company), but is male.
  • Toilet Humor
  • Tomato Surprise: With some shades of Tomato in the Mirror and Two Aliases, One Character.
  • Translation Convention: In the sections with Jin, when someone is speaking in Mandarin it's translated in English but marked with angled brackets.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Danny and Jin. Chin-Kee and the Monkey King.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Unnamed Parent
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: One of the Monkey King's powers
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The Monkey King is barred from a celestial party because he is a monkey (and for not wearing shoes).
  • Yawn and Reach: Jin tries this on Amelia at the movies.