Study Guide

American Born Chinese Violence

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We learn quite a bit about the Monkey King in these four panels. He's not actually a gentle ruler—though the narrator tells us he "ruled with a firm but gentle hand"—because he abuses his subjects if they don't "play nice." He also achieves immortality by mastering kung-fu moves that could seriously kill another being. In other words, the Monkey King's character is full of ironies and philosophical contradictions. Not exactly a stable character.


In case you can't tell by the harshly irregular and split panels, the Monkey King is an extreme personality who relies on his fists to resolve his anger. "Die!" is his response to the guard who bounces him out of the party, which seems a little extreme to us…


On Jin's first day at his new school, the teacher basically reaffirms Timmy's mean assertion that "'Chinese people eat dogs.'" Just an example of how teachers can support bullies through their ignorance of other cultures.


This scene shows perfectly the power dynamics of schoolyard bullying. You have Timmy, the big dolt, who bullies the new kid Jin. Then you've got Greg, who pops up as Jin's defender, and does so by sounding even meaner and tougher than Timmy. Greg becomes the head honcho for a second, but Timmy regains the upper hand. How? By including Greg in his group and shunning Jin. Greg, who almost became friend-material for Jin, becomes complicit in the bullying because he sticks with Timmy instead of with Jin. Complicated, right?


Immediately after the panels that show Timmy bullying Jin, we get a series of panels about the "friendship" between Peter Garbinsky and Jin. Peter is basically a bully too, but he offers Jin the reward of his companionship as long as Jin does whatever Peter tells him to do. We think it's pretty important that this scene follows the first bullying scene because it shows how bullying affects Jin. He becomes a weak character, who puts up with all sorts of abuse without any sort of fight.


The chain of bullying that starts with Timmy continues up to the point when Wei-Chen arrives at Jin's school. Since Wei-Chen is clearly not American (he's Taiwanese in fact), it prompts Jin the narrator to state that "Something made me want to beat [Wei-Chen] up." What exactly is that something though? Is Jin's trying to fit in by rejecting the person who looks most like him?


Wei-Chen and Suzy are teasing Jin about his crush on Amelia, which makes Jin feel bad. But all three of them really feel awful when Timmy passes by and says to his friend, "'Hey, I chink it's getting a little nippy out there'" and his friend responds, "'You're right! I'm getting' gook bumps!'" Really not cool of Timmy, but we already know that Timmy's a mean jerk. What's interesting is how the three friends—who were on the verge of bickering before—all end up having the same expressions and feelings: shame and sadness. Misery loves company, right?


After Greg tells Jin to leave Amelia alone, Jin daydreams in class about beating Greg up. But when it comes time to confront Greg outside of class, Jin can't follow through on his violent fantasy. What does he do instead? He tries to take Suzy away from Wei-Chen. So Jin's not exactly a class act; he's kind of a coward and a wimp. But here's a thought: Why Jin can't imagine any other solution to the Greg problem other than a violent one?


Because Jin does the awful thing of kissing Wei-Chen's girl, he gets punched twice: once by Suzy, another time by Wei-Chen. Which kind of shows how something like an unwanted kiss and violation of trust can be forms of violence too—one that results in a violent response.


This is the epic battle between Danny and Chin-Kee. We find out that Chin-Kee isn't just a stereotype of a sinister Fu Manchu—he's also a super kung-fu master who can beat Danny to a pulp. However, that doesn't stop Danny from getting the last punch in—the punch that knocks off Chin-Kee's head. What is this battle really about though? It's Danny literally beating the stereotypes that haunt him. Is all the violence necessary? We're kind of torn about that. On one hand, Danny's only able to arrive at the truth of the matter—Chin-Kee is the Monkey King, just like Danny is really Jin—after he beats these stereotypes up, so maybe the violence is needed, but on the other hand it seems really excessive, like a teenaged boy's kung-fu fantasy.

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