American Born Chinese’s satire fails to get the message across

Quinn Luong ’22

     While Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese attempts to use satire and overt racism to dismantle stereotypes about Asians, it is entirely ineffective and problematic. 

     The book not only utilizes common stereotypes about Chinese people, but it also introduces toxic and offensive stereotypes to English classes that we, as a group of Third Formers, had never even encountered.

     The story simplifies Chin-Kee’s entire personality into a Chinese racist caricature, which is difficult to read and wildly uncomfortable for Pan Asian-American students. 

     Although the purpose of the novel was to utilize stereotypes and racist tropes to dismantle them and educate us on assimilation, pairing these elements with outrageous illustrations normalizes racism towards Asians. 

     Finding alternative graphic novels educating on Asian-American racial injustices and identity would be more worthwhile and effective. 

     The novel feels like a Young Adult graphic novel, but the innuendos and jokes clearly do not match the audience age, detrimentally affecting students. 

Tyler Zimmer ’21

     While Yang incorporates an underlying message of assimilation and embracing one’s own identity toward the end of the novel, it does not negate the negative connotations of the whole novel. 

     The underlying symbols of identity and assimilation are not explicitly shown enough, making the novel dangerous as a graphic novel presented to students. As Third Formers read this novel, they may not pick up on the satirical aspects of Chin-Kee’s character in particular, and instead, only leave the novel with reaffirmed stereotypes and new racist jokes that they may never have learned.

     If the author had been more clear at the conclusion of the story about his intended message in regards to Chinese culture, the novel may have been passable. 

     Because it is not made abundantly clear, students and many faculty find its satire and racial commentary hard to both identify and learn from. 

     Asian-American students at Haverford have experienced discomfort and have taken offense when peers laugh and make ridiculing remarks about outrageous illustrations and derogatory comments, something only exacerbated by the fact that there are only a few Asian faculty to defend them.

     Several members of the English department think there are much better alternatives about the Asian-American experience than American Born Chinese. 

     We must also question why the English department, out of all the novels we read throughout high school, selected this novel as a part of the very few pieces of literature about the Asian-American experience within our curriculum. 

     Therefore, this book should not be taught to English I students, and the English Department Chair should remove American Born Chinese immediately. 

     Finding alternative graphic novels educating on Asian-American racial injustices and identity would be more worthwhile and effective. 

     Listed below are alternative recommendations: 

  1. Vietnamerica by G. B. Tran
  2. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and Harmony Becker
  3. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Author: Quinn Luong '22

Quinn Luong has contributed to The Index since 2019. He currently serves as News Editor, and he has also written features and campus opinions. Quinn won the Pennsylvania School Press Association (PSPA) Philadelphia-area Student Journalism Competition for Newspaper News Story Writing and will compete for the state title in the Spring of 2020. His article "Teachers prepare for Virtue Villagers" earned a Silver Key from the Philadelphia-area Scholastic Writing competition. Outside of The Index, Quinn is a member of the Diversity Alliance, the Pan-Asian Alliance, debate and speech, and Model UN. His favorite classes are English, Spanish, and Chinese.