American Born Chinese written by Gene Luen Yang, is about characters finding their true identity. This book uses three different parallel times in order to explain the story. Ultimately, all the three stories combined into one at the end of the book. Wong-Lai Tsao, a monk in American Born Chinese, receives “legendary” status. Through this character, Gene Luen Yang, tells readers that in order to receive “legendary” status you must have a heart to give to others. On page 135, Gene Yang shows that Wong-Lai Tsao could not meditate for more that twenty days, he couldn’t fast for more than half a day, and when he preached he did not make sense, but Wong-Lai Tsao is still very remarkable. What makes him remarkable is that he gathered fruit in a nearby orchard just to share it with the vagrants who lived outside of town. This really helped the people because they were always very hungry. He also fixed and changed people’s wounds which is a very kind thing for him to do. Wong-Lai Tsao really could not do anything that other monks could do, but what made him remarkable is the he helped others which is something different then other monks did. Wong-Lai Tsao was chosen by Tze-Yo-Tzuh in to go on a quest to help others. Wong-Lai Tsao helped the Monkey King find his true self. The author introduces the Monkey King as a self-proclaimed sage, but he is not. After, Wong-Lai Tsao helps the Monkey King find his true self, the Monkey King becomes enlightened and also become a true sage. All in all, you must have the heart to give to others in order to receive “legendary” status.
American Born Chinese, page 135
American Born Chinese, page 60
In the book American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, all three characters, The Monkey King, Jin, and Danny changed. All three of these characters wanted to be something other than what they really were. Through these characters, Gene Luen Yang warns readers that changing is good, but not always. When Jin changed, he was no longer himself. He tried to be more like the people around him. He had moved from Chinatown in San Francisco to a primarily white suburb. He did not like being an outcast, and he wanted to fit in. For instance, he changed his hair and got a perm to make it look more like the hair of the other kids. He tried so hard to change that he ended up changing into Danny. Danny was just a different version of Jin. Danny was everything that Jin wanted to be to fit in. It is possible to change but still be yourself, but that means you can’t change for anyone else. If change is natural and you are not changing for someone or something, you will always be yourself. If you are changing for someone or something, then you will no longer be yourself because you are trying to be what someone else wants and not what you are. For example, the monkey king changed himself to be considered a god and so he could go to parties with the other gods. He started wearing shoes and acting entitled. He became angrier, meaner, and disrespectful because he wanted to be a god. He was even mean to the monkeys who worshiped him. This was not what he was like at the beginning. Changing is good when it is natural, but when it is forced, nothing pleasant can come of it.
Gene Luen Yang tells the reader in his book American Born Chinese that it is wrong to change who you are to fit in and be acceptable. The Herbalist’s wife says “ It’s easy to become anything you wish, so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul,” page 29. This she means that you can do anything you want to do, so long as you’re willing to give up the things and people you love the most. Your soul is made up of all of your family, friends, important traditions, and your background culture. They are what make you who you are. It would be wrong to give up a part of your self to become something you’re not, just to impress others. For example, at the beginning of the book we see Jin eating dumplings, but soon changes to eating sandwiches. A person might give their soul up to do something that nobody else is okay with, or they might do it to make everybody happy. Another example being when the Monkey King changes himself to prove to the Gods he is worthy of their party. Jin loses his soul, his best friend Wei Chin when he transforms into Danny on page 198, but at the end of the book, the Monkey Kings brings his soul back by telling him where to find Wei Chen, on page 224.
American Born Chinese, Page 32
American Born Chinese, page 37
American Born Chinese, page 223
The message of not looking for outside sources of validation is a theme in Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese. The book follows three separate protagonists, Monkey King, Jin, and Danny, each struggle with their identity. One way Gene Luen Yang shows that acceptance in not gained through the validation of others, but instead through your strengths is in the Monkey King’s story. He is not pleased with just being a monkey and tries to prove himself as a god, which leads to him being stuck under rocks for 500 years. The Monkey King breaks out of the rocks on page 149, when Wong-Lai-Tsao, a monk sent on a journey to help others, asks if being a prisoner of rock is his destiny. Here, Monkey understands that his purpose is much more important than feeling sorry for himself for not being a monkey. The rocks symbolize everything that holds the Monkey King down, and when he breaks free, he accepts them, which leads him to go on and help others. The Monkey King also realizes that he is still a king, and that’s a strength that helps him aide others. Another example of having to recognize your identity in order to find true friendship is through Jin’s story. Jin is a boy who is ashamed of his Chinese heritage and tries to get rid of it by becoming a fully American boy. He tries to get rid of his rocks, his heritage, by perming his hair to look like the popular white boy, Greg. In the end, these changes end up doing more harm to Jin than good. Through a series of odd events, the Monkey King finally meets Jin and tells him how he had to wait 500 years under rocks instead of admitting that he was a monkey. It is this moment that Jin understands that he needs to break free of the fear of his heritage, so he can live his life and fulfill his purpose. Jin and the Monkey King become better people, with the Monkey King going on to help the world and Jin offering aid to Wei-Chen when they understand what is keeping them away from their goal. They see their rocks, their doubts, their fears, and don’t let them control their life. They choose what defines them, not letting what holds them back define them. They accept who they are, a king and a bicultural boy, and chose to take advantage of them in order to help others.