American Born Chinese | Study Guide

Gene Luen Yang

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American Born Chinese | Chapter 7 | Summary



Wong Lai-Tsao (Wong Lai-Zao) is a legendary—but mostly unremarkable—monk. He's terrible at fasting, meditating, and preaching so he spends his days feeding and tending to the medical needs of the vagrants who live just outside of town. They treat him poorly but he comes back "day after day, year after year." When questioned about his motives, he says he's no more worthy of love than anyone else, yet "Tze-Yo-Tzuh loves [him] deeply and faithfully, providing for [his] daily needs." The least he can do is extend that aid to someone else. Suddenly, the vagrants transform into three of Tze-Yo-Tzuh's (Ziyōuzhē's) emissaries. They explain that Wong Lai-Tsao has been chosen for a dangerous journey. He and three disciples, whom he will pick up along the way, must deliver three packages to the West.

The first disciple Wong Lai-Tsao encounters is the Monkey King, who is still trapped underneath the mountain. Monkey insults Wong Lai-Tsao and asserts that he's too great and powerful to be a disciple. He remarks that Tze-Yo-Tzuh's seal on the mountain prevents him freeing himself even if he were "willing to suffer the company of an ignoramus such as [Wong Lai-Tsao.]" Wong Lai-Tsao says that the Monkey King needs to abandon kung fu and go back to his "true form" and then "[he] shall be freed." As they argue, two demons approach and stab Wong Lai-Tsao. The Monkey King finally shrinks back to his normal size, slips from under the mountain, and rescues Wong Lai-Tsao—who is about to be roasted on a spit. The Monkey King then uses all manner of tricks to defeat the demons. When he's done, he calls Wong Lai-Tsao "Master" and helps him to his feet. As they embark on their journey to the West, Wong Lai-Tsao tells the Monkey King to leave his shoes behind.


The inspiration for Wong Lai-Tsao is Hsüan-tsang (Xuanzang), a major character in Wu Ch'êng-ên's The Journey to the West. More commonly known as Tripitaka, Hsüan-tsang is tasked with bringing sacred Buddhist scrolls from India to China. That character was based on a real seventh-century monk of the same name who made such a pilgrimage to India to study Buddhist scriptures. The real Hsüan-tsang was smarter and braver than his namesake in The Journey to the West—a passive and fearful foil to the courageous and witty Monkey King. American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang's depiction of Wong Lai-Tsao appears to be rooted in the fictional version of Hsüan-tsang. Wong Lai-Tsao is also a hapless but kind monk who helps the Monkey King find the metaphorical—and literal—path to enlightenment.

The Monkey King hasn't changed much in the 500 years since Tze-Yo-Tzuh imprisoned him under a mountain of rubble. He remains angry—perhaps more than ever before—and he still insists that his accomplishments make him better than everyone else. However, Wong Lai-Tsao points out that the Monkey King's accomplishments are what got him trapped in the mountain in the first place. Once he let goes of them, he will regain his original form and break free. The Monkey King's stature as a master of kung fu represents the enormity of his ego. When he lets go of his pride, he resumes his normal diminutive size and easily escapes his mountain prison. It was the Monkey King's ego that kept him imprisoned.

The Monkey King's powers aren't at all hindered by resuming his normal height. He easily takes on a demon that's 10 times his size, knocks out two others, and saves Wong Lai-Tsao's life. He can do everything that he did in his larger form, perhaps even more effectively because foes don't expect him to be such a capable and intelligent fighter. When he abandons his shoes in the last panel of the chapter, the Monkey King effectively leaves behind his desire to fit in with deities and demons. He finally accepts himself for who and what he is.

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