Study Guide

American Born Chinese Lies and Deceit

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Lies and Deceit


Jin's at the old Chinese herbalist's shop playing with his Transformer, when the old lady starts asking what he wants to be. He tells her that he wants to be Transformer but his mother thinks he's being silly. Which prompts the old lady to get really mysterious and drop the big truth in the novel: "'It's easy to become anything you wish… so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul'." We'd raise our eyebrows too, like Jin does, if we heard some old lady tell us that. Here's a question though: Isn't transformation sometimes a good and necessary thing? Do you think this book is kind of against transformations in general?

[Chapter 3]

This chapter introduces us to the biggest form of deception in the whole book: stereotypes of Chinese people. How does that deception come about? The author, at least, seems to want us to think about how American TV and pop culture has a hand in spreading these images around, which is why the first panel of the chapter—with the words "'Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee'"—is kind of like the introduction to a TV show. The title is pretty crafty too: everyone really does love Chin-Kee because without Chin-Kee, there wouldn't be a villain or a story. We can't do without Chin-Kee in this book.


Jin pressures Wei-Chen to cover for him so that he can go out on a date with Amelia, which Wei-Chen really doesn't want to do. But why is this such a big deal? Isn't that what friends do for each other once in a while? How else is Jin going to have a girlfriend unless he gets Wei-Chen to lie to his mom for him? Is it that big a lie?

[8.70-8.78; 8.92-8.96]

If these panels make you think Greg is a jerk, you're not alone. Greg tells Jin to back off of Amelia, but he does it in this faux-friendly way. We know he's really just faking his niceness because what he's asking Jin to do is the pits. Moreover, once Jin does exactly what Greg asks him to do—ignore Amelia—he talks smack behind Jin's back and calls him a geek. Do you think Greg secretly has a thing for Amelia? Does it matter?


We finally figure out in this section why Danny is white even though his cousin Chin-Kee is Chinese. Danny is actually Jin. So in other words, the author reveals to us that—up until this point—the book was lying to us. Why is this lie okay and other lies are not? Is story-telling fundamentally a big lie?


This is the part when Chin-Kee becomes the Monkey King and gets Danny to transform back into Jin. We're just wondering: why is it necessary for the Monkey King to front as Chin-Kee first in order to guide Danny back to his true self?


Because of Monkey, we know the story of who Wei-Chen really is and how he has been sent down from heaven to pass a test of virtue among mortals. But here's a question: how is Wei-Chen's test of virtue not also a lie or a form of deception? Isn't his big lie—pretending to be a human and not a monkey—really unfair to Jin, his best friend? Why is his lie okay and other lies are not?


Monkey's telling Jin about his last conversation with Wei-Chen. Wei-Chen reveals to Monkey that he told a lie to Jin's mom, which completely freaks Monkey out because that's a sin in the eyes of Tze-Yo-Tzuh. But Wei-Chen doesn't care anymore—he thinks humans are "petty, soulless creatures" and abandons his mission to become an emissary. However, we're not so convinced that Wei-Chen doesn't care anymore about his test of virtue. Why do we think this? If Wei-Chen really didn't care, would he be so angry and bitter? Wouldn't he just be indifferent?


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.

[The final panel]

Flip to the very end—and we mean very end—of the book: the page right before the back cover. You see that single panel of Jin and Wei-Chen wearing Houston Rockets jerseys and singing in full ham mode, on what looks like an internet/YouTube clip? Now that is real. They don't care what anyone thinks; they're celebrating what they love, which includes basketball (and ex-Rockets center Yao Ming) and singing. No deception going on here folks—these guys are waving their freak flag high and proud.

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