73 pages 2 hours read

Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese

Fiction | Graphic Novel/Book | Middle Grade | Published in 2006

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Symbols & Motifs

Shoes, Clothes, and Hairstyles

Throughout American Born Chinese, external markers of identity like shoes, clothes, and hairstyles communicate something important about each main character. The Monkey King’s decision to start wearing shoes and to require his followers to wear shoes demonstrates his insecurity after being rejected by the deities at the dinner party. The Monkey King’s sense of inferiority is so powerful that he insists on the shoes even when wearing them proves to be dangerous, as the monkeys can no longer grip the tree branches on which they climb.

Both Chin-Kee and Wei-Chen wear clothes that denote their otherness upon their arrival to the United States. Wei-Chen’s spectacles are oversized, drawing attention to this symbol of intelligence that contributes to Asian stereotypes, and his clothes appear foreign, unlike Jin’s stereotypically American T-shirts and jeans. Chin-Kee’s clothing and shoes resemble traditional Chinese clothing; combined with his heavily accented and broken English, his eye shape, and his protruding front teeth, Chin-Kee appears as the physical epitome of racist Chinese stereotypes.

In middle school, Jin attempts to change his hairstyle in order to blend in with the other students and become more attractive to Amelia. Wei-Chen is so shocked by Jin’s decision to perm his hair, he calls it a “broccoli,” comparing Jin to the vegetable once out of his friend’s earshot.

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By Gene Luen Yang

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