Study Guide

American Born Chinese Appearances

Advertisement - Guide continues below



We feel for the Monkey King. First the guard won't let him in because he doesn't have shoes, and then the guard admits that he won't let Monkey in because Monkey is a monkey. It also makes us think of those posh restaurants that have dress codes. Who are they really trying to exclude? Is it really about wearing a tie or is it about something more?


We're not afraid to admit that we love Wei-Chen. On his first day at school, he shows up in a buttoned-up shirt that says Robot Happy on it and high-water pants, with Pee Wee Herman hair and glasses. This is a guy who's clearly not ever going to be in the cool crowd. But who cares? He's a nice guy and he's got cool toys. What else matters in life?

[Chapter 3]

Chin-Kee's appearance in Chapter 3 just throws everything off in the book—all of a sudden, you've got a narrative that doesn't make sense. How can Danny, a white suburban teenager, be related to Chin-Kee, a thoroughly Chinese-ified character, down to the yellow skin, slanted eyes, and buckteeth? It's confusing, right? But Yang is a clever author because finding an answer to that last question pushes us to keep reading the book.


Okay—we know this isn't the most important panel. All it shows is the Monkey King telling one of his subjects that the shoes on his ears actually belong on his feet. But it brings up two things: (1) the Monkey King's rigidity, and (2) the silliness of the Monkey King's request. Why should it matter where the little monkey wears his shoes? Monkeys don't wear shoes.


This is one of those moments when you can tell the author's making a subtle political statement. The biology teacher introduces the class to a couple of animals that have been donated by Babelene Cosmetics, Inc. The animals have makeup on them—a clear reference to the makeup industry's use of animals for product experimentation. Plus, Mabel—the daughter of the company's exec—happens to be a student in Mr. Graham's class… and what does she look like? Completely ridiculous, with Botoxed, lipsticked lips and tacky eye makeup. Here's a wild guess: we don't think Yang's exactly in favor of the makeup industry…


Jin can't stop obsessing over the possibility that Amelia might like blond, curly-haired Greg, so what does he do? He changes his hairstyle and goes to school the next day with curly hair just like Greg's (only not blond). The effect? Totally ridiculous of course. But we're not laughing—it's kind of a sad moment because it's so clear that Jin's trying to be someone he's not.


Danny's on his way back from detention when he bumps into Melanie; he asks her out on a date, but Melanie rejects him. She says it's because she doesn't want to ruin their friendship and it has nothing to do with Chin-Kee, but we're not so sure because she also mentions that Danny's "teeth kind of buck out a little." Is Melanie avoiding a romantic thing with Danny because she doesn't want to appear uncool? Hrm…


Wong Lao-Tsai's an awesome monk. He's humble, generous and kind, but that doesn't stop Tze-Yo-Tzuh from testing him. He sends three of his emissaries down in the guise of humans, who try to taunt Wong Lao-Tsai into being a jerk. But it doesn't work. Wong Lao-Tsai is steadfast in his virtues, which is why the emissaries reveal their true form and mission to Wong Lao-Tsai—they know he's a true follower of Tze-Yo-Tzuh. The whole scene is an example of how sometimes a deceptive appearance might be necessary. If Wong Lao-Tsai weren't as solidly awesome as he is, he might have failed the test. Another way to look at is like this: the emissaries are like Tze-Yo-Tzuh's undercover cops. They go around and check to make sure Tze-Yo-Tzuh's peeps are under control. Sure, what they're doing is deceptive, but maybe sometimes we need deceptive appearances if they result in a greater truth?


Danny's fight with Chin-Kee results in their return to their true forms: Jin and the Monkey King. What's neat about their final reveal is how simple the panels look once they return to their original forms. The fight makes them larger-than-life characters, literally: Danny and Chin-Kee both look huge and their violent body parts extend outside of the panel frames. But once they become Monkey and Jin, the picture immediately becomes subdued: it's just a little monkey and a teenaged boy facing each other. Kind of a relief after all the visual zaniness…


We know what you're thinking when you look at these panels: "That is so not Wei-Chen." Wei-Chen isn't hard—he's the sweet geek who plays with robot monkeys, not a smoker or a bling-bling type of guy. And where did that rice rocket come from anyway? Isn't he in junior high? Point is, we know that Wei-Chen's faking his real self and so does Jin. Which is why, when Jin tells Wei-Chen he just talked to the Monkey King, the next panel shows Wei-Chen, in grey-scale, as a surprised little monkey. That's the real Wei-Chen; everything else is just a bad front.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...