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It is obvious that America and China are two very different cultures. Each has its own form of communication, government, style of living, etc. These are just a few of the many differences that separate the United States from China. Although these are very importance details, one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality (Brooks, Individualist vs. Collective Society). Collectivism is any philosophic, political, economic or social outlook that emphasizes the interdependence of every human in some collective group and the priority of group goals over individual goals. Collectivists usually focus on community, society, or nation. Collectivism has been widely used to refer to a number of different political and economic philosophies, ranging from communalism and democracy to totalitarian nationalism (Chakrabarty, S). Contrary to collectivism is individualism. Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses "the moral worth of the individual". In society, many times the moral worth of a person is not only based off of who they are, but whom they associate with. People are often judged for the group that they are friends with. Often, the actions of others in the group can be rubbed off onto each individual who associates with them. In the novel, Danny is a very popular, handsome student who is well liked by his peers. As soon as his cousin Chin-Kee, a stereotypical Asian student, visits everything is ruined. Danny tries to explain the situation to his friend Steve, "He comes for a week or two and follows me to school, talking his stupid talk and eating his stupid food. Embarrassing the crap out of me. By the time he leaves, no one knows me as Danny anymore. I'm Chin-Kee's cousin" (127). It is almost as if Danny fears being slightly unpopular, which leads into the next point of individualism. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so independence and self-reliance while opposing most external interference upon one's own interests, whether by society, family or any other group or institution. The United States of America has always been known as having a very individualistic culture that has a higher value placed on self-reliance. The ability to complete a task without assistance is somewhat of a reward in individual societies (China-Nafsa). Individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. Also, many individualist countries, such as America, place a high value on freedom from external constraints; much like the phrase "sticking it to the man." The story of the Monkey King in the novel does an excellent job of showing this idea. The Creator of all Things explains to the Monkey King that he created him and therefore rules over him. The Creator states, "I do not make mistakes little monkey. A monkey I intended you to be, a monkey you are. Please accept this and stop your foolishness" (81). The Monkey King's selfishness is shown again as he responds, "I don't care who you are old man I can still take you" (81). The Monkey King does anything in his power to defeat the Creator and escape his constraint, but fails. His failure, along with his stubbornness, leaves him in even more trouble under even more constraint. In opposition to America, many countries in Asia, such as China, are known for their more collective societies. In collective societies, group cooperation is valued much more, and individual modesty is considered normal. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty (Brooks, Individualist vs. Collective Society). They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts. It is no wonder why it might be very difficult for someone who's grown up in one society to adapt to an entirely new one. It can be a very difficult task for someone coming into a new setting to immediately feel comfortable in his or her own skin. Having this insecure feeling may lead someone to take the easy way out and adapt to what everyone else is doing instead of remaining the individual that they once were. Giving into the norm of society is not always the best option. The novel, American Born Chinese, shows this very well as it begins with a story about a Monkey King who wishes to join the rank of Gods, but is rejected by his companions. He is ridiculed by all of the other Kings, simply because he is a monkey. This type of behavior is linked to that of various cultures, and how being an outcast is seen as negative quality, rather than a unique trait.
When talking about the nature of different societies, the idea of a hierarchy cannot be left out. In society, a hierarchy is an order of people and how they rank in importance compared to others. It is very obvious that people from China prefer a hierarchy. They are much more comfortable talking to people of a higher rank, so that they can gain knowledge and wisdom. It is important in Chinese culture to know exactly where a person stands, and what they can do in order to gain rank. In America, the idea of social rank is still relevant, but is focused on much less. Also, citizens tend to feel more comfortable around people of the same social class. This concept is very noticeable in the novel, as the Monkey King desires to join the rank of Gods. He wants to feel a sense of accomplishment and acceptance from a higher rank. It appears again as Jin Wang attempts to gain friendship from the American students, but is rejected. It seems as if the students are only comfortable with their social group, and welcoming an "outsider" would make them feel slightly more insecure. As social rankings develop, so do friendships. Friendships exist in every type of culture, but to very different degrees. In China, friendships are composed of a small number of close, lifelong friends who feel deeply obligated to give each other whatever help might seem required (China-Nafsa). As the story progresses, Jin, Wei-Chen, and Suzy Nakamura become very close. It is obvious that the three would sacrifice whatever is necessary in order to help one another. In contrast to the friendships of Chinese culture, American friendships are composed of a large collection of "friends" and acquaintances, which changes over time and involves only limited mutual obligations (China-Nafsa). The word "friends" is sometimes an overstatement, as gossip, rumors, and lies are often linked with these so-called "friendships". Once Suzy and Wei-Chen start dating, it appears as if Jin fears being neglected. In response, he begins to stray away from his true friends; he changes his appearance and attitude, hoping to feel more Americanized. Finally, Jin appears to have abandoned his culture completely as he betrays his best friend Wei-Chen, and kisses Suzy Nakamura.
As mentioned before, America is a very independent country filled with endless pride. It is no wonder that as globalization rises, so does the fear of many students and workers. The most difficult part of globalization today is getting beyond the language barrier. In order to fix this problem, foreign language is being taught more and more in schools. In the United States, there are many people who know how to speak different languages because they emigrated from different countries. Language is the basis of any culture, so if you take away the language you take away the culture. It is this loss of language that has taken today's generations from their traditions and culture. Culture is the belief or behavior of a particular society and the way of life of its people (Stevens, Influence). In addition, culture also is the training, development, refinement of mind, tastes, manners, and all other products of human work and thought. How do you communicate with people who have different cultures? Culture and communications are always connected because if we understand the culture, it helps us to more easily communicate with the people. Therefore, the relationship between communications and culture is very important. Communication in China is a very delicate and important concept. When greeting someone it is very polite to bow to them, while in America a simple handshake is considered standard. Also, large hand movements and pointing is considered extremely rude and demoralizing (China-Nafsa). America's knowledge of other countries is expanding more each day. But as knowledge increases, so does insecurity. Although globalization is a wonderful idea and can lead to much worldwide economic success, many Americans fear the idea of globalization and are not ready for it to take over. They are worried that other countries will progress faster and more efficiently. By doing this, Americans will lose jobs and students will feel as if they are falling behind. This sense of becoming an option rather than a priority leaves many Americans feeling hopeless. The story of Chin-Kee and Danny explain a vast amount about this situation. Chin-Kee is a very intelligent and motivated student. As he sits in the classroom, he is able to answer all of the questions while the other students keep quiet. Many of the students at school make fun of Danny for being associated with Chin-Kee, who can almost be classified as an "Asian nerd." There is a strong possibility that the students make fun of Chin-Kee because, they do not understand what motivates him so much. They ridicule him to make him feel less important and take away his sense of power. The students do all of this with hope that Chin-Kee will feel embarrassed and begin to try and fit in with the rest of the kids. When all of these ideas are put together, the fear of globalization truly comes out. The students fear that they are inferior to Chin-Kee and students from other cultures.
It is clear that Yang's novel was not written purely for entertainment purposes. The characters and circumstances were chosen specifically to highlight relevant social issues related to American and Chinese cultures. Yang purposefully gives Chin-Kee collectivist tendencies, where as Danny is represented as an individual. The exaggerated "Asian tendencies" of Chin-Kee are written and illustrated to highlight common stereotypes assigned by ignorant Americans.
This ignorance is fueled by a fear of globalization and the advancement of Chinese culture. Perhaps the irony in this is the fact that Chin-Kee, a collectivist Asian, is forced to be singled out in America, while Danny takes the collectivist approach and tries to turn others against his cousin. As the story of the Monkey King progresses, it is obvious that Yang incorporates the concept of a hierarchical society; the Gods would not grant the Monkey King the same level of importance because of his physical appearance. Finally, Jin's desire to fit in is reflective of the issues many students in today's society face from day to day. It is no wonder that Yang's work is critically acclaimed, as he utilized a multi-echelon approach: an entertaining storyline, a cultural satire, and a commentary on popular social issues.