Cultural Indifference Literary Analysis of the Graphic Novel American Born Chinese

Jun 5 17:06 2020 William West I Manuel Print This Article

We as a planetary family are suffering from cultural indifference. We all inhabit this planet as a whole. We can coinhabit peacefully. 

     Chinese are Mongolian people that live in Asia. The country that the Chinese people inhabit is China. China has over 2 billion people living in its borders and many Chinese are relocating to the United States to live because of the overcrowding issues of China. This novel is based on this relocation of Chinese men or women,Guest Posting and children to the United States. This novel also focuses on spiritual practices of the Chinese, and lessons of everyday living. This novel focuses on many experiences of indifference; also how people, as well as different species are treated, because of indifference. I will analyze this novel using the theory of cultural studies; and will prove that cultural literature affects every day living.    

   What is culture? According to the Webster’s dictionary it means “The beliefs, customs, and arts of a particular group, society, place or time.” The Chinese have a rich culture, and their culture is different in many ways comparison to the American way of life. For example in the novel the boy called Jin spoke of a statement that his mother had told him about their culture he said,” My mother once explained to me why she chose to marry my father. Of all the Ph.D. students at the university, he had the thickest glasses. The thick glasses meant long hours of studying. Long hours of studying meant a strong work ethic. A strong work ethic meant a high salary. A high salary meant a good husband.”      

 We in America mostly marry for love not high salary. Many Americans treat Chinese immigrants badly, because of their culture; so therefore, the Chinese that relocate to America try to introduce some of their culture by starting businesses, and starting teaching careers as well as martial art schools. But a child growing up in the American environment that treats them unfairly, because of indifference is very dramatic.      

 According to Publisher’s Weekly,” The book American Born Chinese is a fable for every kid born into a body, and a life they wished they could escape.”        At the early stage of child development the brain function is in heavy activity. This is the time a child starts to read. The child reads often as well as learn from what is read, and applies this to his or her life.    

   According to Live Science the amount of mentally stimulating materials around the home such as the number of books that are in the home may predict the structure of the brain later in life.        

According to researcher Brian Avant an associate professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania the time a child spends at home with their parents before they reach the age to attend school will affect the child for the rest of their lives.    

   So a child learns the bad behavior of treating people unfairly, because of indifference at an early age by the actions of their parents. These are some examples of children in school treating other children unfairly, because of indifference in this novel. These are the following: The child Jin Wang is being introduced to the class by the teacher, and one of the male students says,” My momma says Chinese people eat dogs.” Another incident in the book is a guard at the entrance to a party says to a king,” You may be a king, you may even be a deity, but you are still a monkey. Have a good day sir.”        

According to Gill Grozer who wrote the book “Youth in Education: The Necessity of Valuing Ethno-cultural Diversity” he states that a predominately all white school will cause a child of a different race, and culture to experience indifference on an everyday basis.        So the environment that we surround our children with cause some of the bad experiences that the child lives with every day until these acts of indifference is remedied. The parents have to acknowledge the child circumstances at school in order to remedy the problem.        

Mike Cadden is a professor of English, and director of childhood studies at Missouri Western State University. Mike teaches children literature. He wrote an article in 2014 writing criticism about the graphic novel "American Born Chinese". He states that Ramón Saldívar says that this novel is speculative realism. The author is trying to express revisions of realism and fantasy into speculative forms that intend to shape new narrative modes in contemporary fiction. Cadden states “That American Born Chinese graphic novel is an experiment in discussing minority racial identity through metaphor made possible through genre blending.” He states” That this novel intentional transformation for change is never a real option. It is a self- delusion.”    

   A critic by the name of Jonathan Doughty says,” That the novel reminds us of a paradox. Is identity one’s possession or one’s possessor? How do we possess are identities, and how do they possess us.” Mr. Cadden concludes by saying,” Yang’s book provides a vague sense of resolution for which the reader is simultaneously grateful, and unsure about how it actually works as a resolution. It does not bear up to scrutiny. While the narrative implies that racial denial is simply unacceptable, and makes a case to move forward. It does not show us what moving forward looks like.”    

   Philip Smith of Lough Borough University writes a paper that critiques this graphic novel. He states, “That the character of the novel called Chan-Kee is a monstrously exaggerated concatenation of every popular cultural stereo-type of Asian, and Asian Americans over the last two centuries.” (Gardner, 2010, 139) Smith expresses the use of Asians in comics to inform the world about the Asian culture has been going on for the last two centuries. But the comics introduced always show the Asians in a bad light or bad persona.

The book American Born Chinese is just one of the books that display the Asian people in a negative way. Smith concludes by saying,” That Yang offers a postmodern critique of Asian, and Asian American stereotypes. He involves the reader with subtle forms of racism at work in the American society. He challenges concepts of monolithic Asian culture, and invites readers to consider the various cultural forces which create, and proliferate stereotypes. In doing so, he joins with other voices working in American comics which seek to reinvent Asian American identities in American media.”    

   The most likely reader of this type of children literature is children from the age of 6 up to the young adult readers. Many of the children that read this book will think that it is funny to treat Chinese unfairly. The Chinese children that read this book will feel violated, and not welcomed in the American society. In the book the character Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative stereotype of Asians. In the story he is viewed as someone that eat cats, spit, is loud, and out spoken. He cannot speak English well, and he wears non-American attire. For a Chinese child to view this character in this book would be disastrous to his or her mentality. Yang’s idea of teaching racial identity for Asians through this book failed the Asian culture, because it’s more negative aspects of the story than it is positive. "It's easy to become anything you wish... so long as you are willing to forfeit your soul." (Gene Yang, American Born Chinese)

Many Chinese come to American, and does just that sell their soul. This is done by giving up their Chinese culture and adapt to the American culture. They wear American clothes, learn English, and eat American foods. They become Americanized, but children chose this way in order to fit in with their peers. School children can be very troublesome, and harsh to others outside of their culture as well as race.      

 Jin Wang dislikes himself so much he transforms himself into a white boy. He feels that is the only way he will be accepted. He evens disassociates his self from anything Chinese; therefore, his cousin Chin-Kee that comes to visit him every year is a thorn in Jim Wang’s foot. Jim Wang changes his name to Danny, and does not accept Chin-Kee as his cousin.      

 According to James Baumann of the University of Georgia the cognitive structure created when a child reads a story, and comprehends it is called story schema. The test that the first graders was involved in resulted in an interactive intervention by using story mapping was effective immediately than enhancing students comprehension of story elements. ( Baumann)    

   So Baumann concludes by saying his research has proved that children literature can affect a child in the later years if the child can comprehend the book, and if not the teacher has to explain the book to the child by instruction layering.    

   The monkey king’s story in the book adds some fantasy to the book. This addition draws the reader attraction to the book so that the reader will want to read further into the story. The Monkey King is a story about a monkey born from a rock that considers his self to be a god as well as a king. He rules a place called Flower Fruit Mountain, and has many subjects or monkeys that serve him. He wants to be accepted in heaven by the gods, and so he travels by cloud to heaven for a party. The monkey king is not accepted, because even though he is a god king he still is a monkey. He gets violent, and thrown out of heaven. The monkey king is very arrogant, and feels if he becomes more powerful in Kung Fu he can overcome the incident in heaven, and be accepted as a god king. He thinks this will allow him to visit the heaven to dwell among the gods. But there is a decree from heaven that the monkey king must die. The monkey by pass this decree by using his Kung Fu, and eventually has to be tested by god in order to become an emissary.      

This portion of the book gives the reader the chance to begin his or her development of imagination. Imagination for a child usually starts at the age of seven. So children literature does affect children in everyday life, but adults it does not because adult’s brains have already fully developed by the age of adulthood. Children literature helps grow the child’s brain, and stimulate brain activity. So more books that are positive needs to be written for children; therefore, the graphic novel The American Born Chinese is not a good choice for early child hood readers. This book has to many negative aspects that a child would consider accurate cultural Asian behavior, customs, and beliefs.      

 In conclusion all books can be used in a positive way, but there should be only certain books allowed to be read by early child hood readers. The brain of an early child hood reader is delicate, and too many negative ideas can cause the child to express his or her self in bad behavior as the child grows up in a diverse society. Yang’s idea of introducing Asian culture in an American format should have been more about the good things that America offers Chinese. Being that the book called American Born Chinese is for children it has the wrong target market, and should have a target for older teens that have already learned the right from wrong, and can determine how to treat other racial groups that have different cultures. More importantly the child should be focusing on fun facts, and not adult ideologies about racial identities as well as other cultures that are expressed in a negative way.

We all have to live in a world of indifference, but the children should not have to be a part of that world until they are ready mentally. If only mankind can accept what is different, and move pass petty inconstancies. The children can have a better future, and can change the world we live in.        

Acknowledge the youth before writing a National Book Award Finalist like the American Born Chinese. Children literature does affect our children in their lives and beyond; therefore, we have to inform authors like Gene Yang to tone it down for are early readers.  


Baumann, James. "Story Map Instruction Using Children's Literature: Effects on First Graders' Comprehension of Central Narrative Elements." Journal of Literacy Research. N.p., 17 July 1993. Web. 28 July 2016. Smith, Philip. "Postmodern Chinoiserie in Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese." MLA Commons Blog Posts RSS. N.p., 01 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 July 2016. Cadden, Mike. "The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature." "But You Are Still a Monkey": American Born Chinese and Racial Self-Acceptance. Alice Academy, 01 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 July 2016. Crozier, Gill. "Google Books." Google Books. N.p., 01 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 July 2016. Rettner, Racheal. "How Books at Home May Affect Child's Brain Later." LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 27 July 2016. Webster, Merriam. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.

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William West I Manuel
William West I Manuel

My life mission is to re-educate, and reform the thought process of humanity in order for them to reach divine enlightenment. 

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