Study Guide

Jin Wang in American Born Chinese

By Gene Luen Yang

Jin Wang

Your Average Teen

Jin's your average male teenager: he's insecure about how he looks, how he acts, how he sounds. Case in point, his date with Amelia. You'd think he'd be happy that, in the movie theater, Amelia has her head on his shoulder and he has his arm around her—and he is (you can't miss that grin on his face)—but instead of reveling in it afterward, he can't help worrying about the soap he put on his armpits. The fear overtakes him so much that he needs Wei-Chen to gauge Amelia's opinion of the date—now that's some serious insecurity.

There's a reason for all of that insecurity though. Yeah sure, some of it probably stems from being a teenager in junior high—you know, all those hormones and those changes and such—but Jin's insecurity really has to do with the fact that he's Chinese.

Being Chinese

Jin may sound like a typical American kid (he's nothing, for instance, like Chin-Kee, who mixes his ls with his rs, as in "'Harro Amellica!'" (3.17)), but he still looks like a Chinese person. And therein lie all his problems.

He's scared to be like Wei-Chen, who shows up to his first day of school in high-water pants, a shirt that says "Robot Happy" and Chinese-accented English—a total "F.O.B." (2.62-66) as far as Jin's concerned. But why is he scared?

Because Jin gets bullied for being Chinese. On his first day of school alone, his teacher introduces him as "Jing Jang," instead of his actual name, "Jin Wang" (2.29), and she corrects herself only after Jin reminds of her of his proper name. She also tells the class—incorrectly—that, "'He and his family recently moved all the way from China!'" (2.30).

Worse, she doesn't correct Timmy the class bully's false impression of Chinese people as dog-eaters, and instead she reaffirms it. "'Now be nice, Timmy!" she replies, which is all well and good, but then she goes on to say, "'I'm sure Jin doesn't do that! In fact, Jin's family probably stopped that sort of thing as soon as they came to the United States!'" (2.33-2.34).

Can you hear our collective groan?

What Jin's first day also shows is how much Jin's life at his new school depends on his teacher's introduction. Imagine how differently things could go for Jin if only he had a teacher who got his name and background right, and knew how to admonish and correct those who might bully a new kid. Sigh.

Friends

Jin has no real friends until Wei-Chen comes along. Sure, there's Peter Garbinsky, but it's hard to count Peter as a friend since Peter's idea of friendship involves threatening Jin into doing what Peter wants. For example, he tells Jin: "'Gimme yer sandwich and I'll be your best friend… Otherwise I'll kick your butt and make you eat my boogers'" (2.52-2.53). See what we mean?

So when Wei-Chen comes along, Jin is really primed to be friends with almost anyone decent. That's not to say that Wei-Chen has an easy time of befriending Jin though. Jin says the kind of stuff you'd expect from a xenophobe, stuff like: "'You're in America. Speak English'" (2.64). He also tells Wei-Chen: "'I have enough friends'" (2.67-2.68) twice, even though he clearly doesn't have any friends.

Why does he put Wei-Chen through the paces like this? Wei-Chen looks geeky and foreign—things Jin definitely doesn't want to be associated with. He's trying to distance himself from whatever he gets bullied for.

It's a good thing Wei-Chen is both persistent and resilient. And forgiving. Because even though they eventually become best friends, Jin continues to say some questionable things. For example, when Wei-Chen teases Jin about his crush on Amelia, Jin retorts "'This isn't Taiwan, you doof! Stop acting like such an F.O.B.!'" (5.10). Seems kind of mean right?

Point is, there are real consequences to being Chinese in a school that's predominantly white, and one of those consequences is a huge fear of seeming different.

"Fitting In"

Jin really just wants to fit in. Sure he finds a solid friend in Wei-Chen, but clearly that's not enough because he screws over Wei-Chen in the worst way possible: he kisses Suzy, Wei-Chen's girlfriend.

Not only that, but Jin also says some pretty nasty things to Wei-Chen after he kisses Suzy, things that sound a lot like the stuff Greg says to him about Amelia:

"Maybe I just don't think you're right for her, all right? Maybe I don't think you're worthy of her. Maybe I think she can do better than an F.O.B. like you." (8.122)

That's pretty bad, but Jin doesn't seem to feel much remorse about what he's done to Wei-Chen. Why? He's too intent on fitting in, and that means wishing/fantasizing/becoming Danny, a white boy at Oliphant High.

In fact, when Jin wakes up from his dream of changing into Danny, he toddles over to the bathroom and turns on the light. Once he sees himself in the mirror, Jin notices that he really has turned into Danny, but instead of freaking out like he's just encountered a body-snatcher, he smiles and instead concludes:

A new face deserved a new name. I decided to call myself Danny. (8.133)

Becoming Danny is Jin's dream come true, it's his key to fitting into white, mainstream America. What does fitting in really mean though? By the end of the book, it definitely doesn't mean being white—after all, being Danny is just a fantasy, not a real solution.

Fitting in also doesn't mean being with Amelia or being friends with the popular kids. It means learning to be comfortable in his own skin, and dealing with his own fears about being Chinese American. How does that happen?

At the end, Jin makes amends with Wei-Chen by apologizing to Wei-Chen for everything he's done. Jin also learns to chill out with Wei-Chen at a Chinese restaurant and appreciate something as Taiwanese as pearl milk tea—he even agrees to go with Wei-Chen to another Chinese place and try out more pearl milk tea (9.123-9.125).

Clearly Jin's learning how to be comfortable with Wei-Chen and doing Chinese things—a complete turnaround from the self-hating, wannabe-white boy from before.