American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Racist Chinese Stereotypes in the Novel American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese is a graphic novel authored by Gene Luen Yang in 2006. In the same year, it would be nominated in the National Book Awards under the category of the Young People’s Literature. This novel may be viewed as mature in artistic design and extremely visually engaging, yet it has a narrative depth that makes it appealing to both young and mature readers. The writing style is beautiful in that it juxtaposes three different story lines; the book revolves around the themes of racial stereotypes and self re-definition.

The most conspicuous characters in this novel include the Monkey King, Danny, and Chin-Kee. The Monkey King plays a role of a deity who may be determined to prove to other deities that he may be more than just a monkey. Having been denied a chance to dine with other deities, he gets angry and indignant, and so he fights all the other deities in heaven. He later meditates on how to erase his monkey identity. Danny is the white American lad whose Chinese cousin causes him ignominy. In the end of the novel, he turns out to be Jin Wang in a new identity. The other significant Character is Chin-Kee, Danny’s cousin who displays unfashionable Chinese clothing and mannerisms (Yang, 2). These, among other characters, interact to give the audience a cheerful insight into the novel.

The book starts with a narration of the story of the Monkey King – a prominent mythic deity in the Chinese folklore. The second tale describes the life of a Chinese boy struggling to adjust to racism and exclusion in a predominantly white school. The third narrative describes the ignominious experiences of Danny, an American boy who would annually be visited by his naive Chinese cousin (Chin-Kee), whose mannerisms display overt racial stereotypes about Asian Americans. However, the book ends with an astounding merge of the three narratives (Yang, 3).

The novel contains strong themes of American stereotyping of China among other East Asian nations. Min Hyoung Song reveals Chin-Kee’s personification of the term “coolie”, which refers to a 19th century racial affront for unskillful Chinese workers (Min, 2010). Additionally, he may be depicted as one who switches “l” and “r” when speaking. According to Chaney (23), the term Monkey King may be viewed as a metaphor for minority races and ethnicities that shun their ethnic backgrounds to adapt to the majority culture. It signifies stereotyping in that he would be denied a royal dinner with other deities as a proof that he was inferior to them. Jin Wang’s move to America seems to be associated with racial struggles. When Wang goes to America for the first time, he is insulted by children. They associate him with “a culture that eats dogs” (Yang’ 112). These among other cases manifest the theme of racial stereotypes in the novel.

The visual elements in this novel may be called astounding. Yang maintains a basic visual style, yet he is able to move the reader from one thread of the story to another (Rosinsky 16). He depicts the characters in an attractive simple style; Yang’ draws them with clear, crisp lines. Rosinsky further observes that in this novel, there is as much care for the backgrounds against the characters as to the flow of the story (p. 17). The author seems to enjoy how he depicts the Monkey King sequences – that despite Kung Fu attacks and gigantic demons, he allows him to portray his creativity and imagination. In essence, the artwork in this book is too integral to the story that one cannot occur without the other (Chaney, 24).

The novel blends hilarious scenes with sad occasions around the lives of the stereotyped. The most intriguing aspect about the novel may be the plot. It has been enhanced by graphics to reveal a thrilling effect. Moreover, Yang develops three story lines to reveal a variety of themes like stereotypes, racism, and acceptance, then ties them together in the end. This style is extremely unique in the realm of graphic novels.

Chaney, Michael A. College Literature. 38 (3). 26 June 2007. Web. 26 April 2013.
Min, Hyoung. How Good It Is to Be a Monkey: A Song. 43 (1), 2010.
Rosinsky, Natalie M. Graphic Novel. Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books, 2009. Print.
Yang, Gene L., and Lark Pien. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2007. Print.