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: 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 to bring the three gifts west.
  • Anachronic Order: Switches between the Monkey King story, set thousands of years ago, and two storylines set in modern times.
  • Angel Unaware: Wei-Chen is actually the Monkey King's son, and a divine being undergoing a trial on Earth. He falls from grace because of the emotional wounding he suffered at Jin's hands. Fortunately, the situation does seem to be resolving itself at the end.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Wei-Chen Sun has glasses and does pretty well in school. Chin-Kee is an exaggerated version, proving ludicrously accomplished in every possible area of human knowledge but properly accenting his English and using proper etiquette in public.
  • Asian Buck Teeth: One of the negative stereotypes embodied by Chin-Kee. After all, he's just a badly-made human disguise.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Chin-Kee, to a ludicrous degree. Wei-Chen averts it: he does have a thick accent, but it's an actual accent rather than a bizarre exaggeration.
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: Banged-up Heavenly Hosts, anyway, after the Monkey King is done venting on them after that disastrous dinner party.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The Monkey King's "Giant Form" kung fu discipline lets him increase in size to gigantic proportions.
  • Bait the Dog: Greg initially seems to be the one white boy at Jin's school who isn't a racist little shit. But, when Jin goes out with his crush Amelia, Greg is the one who strongly urges them to stop, wanting her to "make good life choices," directly leading to Jin's broken friendship with Wei-Chen and the events of the Chin-Kee plot.
  • Battle Aura: Appears whenever characters, including the Monkey King, use kung fu.
  • Be Yourself: The main Aesop of the book, illustrated in multiple ways.
  • 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: Jin's story, including the portions of it when he's Danny.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Chin-Kee knows kung-fu. Because he's Asian... and a monkey god famed for his mastery.
  • Deal with the Devil: Used metaphorically; Jin is told by an old herbalist that he can be anything he wants if he gives up his soul. After destroying Wei-Chen Sun's faith in humanity out of petty spite, he transforms into Danny.
  • 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: Danny hates Chin-Kee, who ruins his life so badly that he has to change schools every time he shows up.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Wei-Chen suffers this at the hands of Jin, who ruins their friendship by kissing his girl and insulting him. This has a number of tragic consequences.
  • 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.
    • The future Friar Sand appears at the heavenly dinner party the Monkey King tries to get into.
  • 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 Who Must Not Be Seen: In a deliberate invocation of sitcom tropes, Danny's parents are never shown on panel. At least, not until he's turned back into Jin, and there's no point in hiding them.
  • 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.
    • Also probably influenced by the author, who is himself a Christian that still values his Chinese heritage.
  • 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 engaged by their parents, even though she's Japanese-American, he's second-generation Chinese, and neither has met the other before.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: The Monkey King is a textbook example. He is simultaneously enraged at the mockery and bullying he suffers for being a monkey, lashing out at anyone who insults him with overwhelming force, and desperate to conceal his monkey-ness at every opportunity, whether trying to get the smell of fur out of his quarters, transforming into a humanoid shape, or constantly modifying his size to be the tallest person in the room.
  • 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, to a ludicrous extent. He inevitably reverses any "l"s and "r"s in anything he says, even within an individual word, or when actually saying "R" to solve an equation! When he drops it for a brief moment, it's right before Danny/Jin breaks through his disguise.
  • 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." While the insult visited on him in the opening was pretty poor form, he copes by becoming the biggest bully of all. But, as in the original tale, he gets better later.
    • Several Anglo characters behave in this way toward the Asian-American protagonists. Besides fellow students, just check out the page picture.
  • Magic Realism: The Jin story, which starts as a mostly-realistic, if exaggerated, story of growing up as a second-generation Chinese in America, but later includes physical transformation into a white kid, and a visit from the Monkey King to straighten the protagonist out.
  • 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 before becoming a better person, this fits him really well.
    • Danny is short for Daniel, which means “God is my judge”. Danny/Jin is taken down a several pegs by the Monkey King who is an 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: Danny's scenes are accompanied by one, in the style of an old sitcom, done as onomatopoeia. They are often at deliberately-uncomfortable moments.
  • Losing Your Head: The Monkey King continues to talk even after being beheaded while demonstrating his mastery of the kung-fu discipline of immunity to wounds.
  • The Magnificent: "Say it!" "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven!"
  • Never Live It Down: In-Universe, Danny finds he eventually has to change schools after bringing Chin-Kee with him for a week, so bad does the teasing and abuse get from all of his classmates and former friends who can only see him as Chin-Kee's cousin.
  • 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: Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Danny is a stereotypical All-American Boy. This is deliberate, since Jin chose to become him to fit in.
  • 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."
  • Race Fetish: Chin-Kee, in a deliberate invocation of every racist sterotype ever about foreigners "stealing our women," is always on the prowl for a "Amelican" girl so that he can, translated from the original accent, "bind [her] feet and bear Chin-Kee's children."
  • 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 Jin and Wei-Chen. The monk who sets out on the journey passes his by being kind even in the face of the abuse and ingratitude of those he's helping. Jin fails his, and ends up estranging Wei-Chen from humanity and becoming "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, and uses it to fuel his Inferiority Superiority Complex. Notably, he assumes a tall, human-like shape constantly and frequently increases its height in a pathological attempt to be bigger than everyone else. In a deliberate parallel that might or might not be purely symbolic, Jin also transforms into Danny after betraying Wei-Chan's trust, and resumes his original shape when Sun Wukong convinces him to.
  • 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.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: When Lai-Tsao asks the Monkey King to come out from under the mountain he's been buried under for five hundred years, the Monkey King angrily notes that the seal above him prevents him from using his powers to do so. Lai-Tsao points out that returing to his much-smaller true form would be a release of kung-fu, not the exercise of it. The Monkey King is struck speechless and angry by this (completely true) revelation, to the point of stubbornly refusing to do so even as the monk is about to die in front of him. Symbolically, it represents letting go of his desperate attempts to be respected and feared as something he's not, and learning to be secure in being a monkey.
  • 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: In the Monkey King's story, female monkeys look just like male monkeys except with pink bows on their heads. It's later 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: Urination is a plot point in all three stories at one point or another.
  • 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.
  • Trickster Mentor: The Monkey King, who disguises himself as the overly obnoxious Chin-Kee to teach Danny/Jin a lesson about not abandoning his heritage.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Danny and Jin. Chin-Kee and the Monkey King.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Jin gets to date Amelia in the first place because Wei-Chen managed to convince her he was a good person, and because he willingly lied to Jin's mother to let Jin sneak out. Jin repays him by kissing his girl, then lashing out at Wei-Chen to avoid admitting his own unwillingness to stand up for himself to Greg. It destroys Wei-Chen's faith in humanity, and very nearly has terrible cosmic consequences.
  • Unnamed Parent: Jin and Danny's parents are never actually named during the story. This is because they are the same people, and naming them would give that twist away.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: One of the Monkey King's powers, attained from his mastery of kung-fu.
  • 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.