Choosing Identity - China Boy

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The novel China Boy by Gus Lee is the story of a timid and sheltered Chinese boy named Kai adapting the harsh, rugged life in the fifties’ San Francisco Panhandle following his protective mother’s death. Once he is so abruptly thrown into the reality of his environment, Kai struggles to find a new place in the strange world around him. Kai’s father becomes the voice of this dilemma when he tells Kai the following: “‘So. Pick one. Be American. Or Chinese. And never change your mind.’” (212). Although a boy of seven is probably not capable of comprehending the full meaning identity or culture, Kai understands the choice his father is putting before him perfectly. Kai chooses the YMCA. He instinctively knew it was the right choice for him, he didn’t even contemplate the others. Even though the impression created by what Kai’s father said is that there is in fact a choice between the identities, that is not true for Kai. The American and Chinese identities are simply illogical options, Kai solely recognizes the only logical option for himself in the context his father was presenting, the YMCA identity.

Even though Kai holds some Chinese ideologies such as Karma and familial obligation close to his heart, the reality is that the majority of the factors in his life are highly discouraging of the the Chinese identity. It has hardly anything in common with most aspects of his life, so much that becoming Chinese would threaten his safety. Edna would be even harsher to him if he were to choose the Chinese identity, since she is trying to erase all traces of Chinese culture from the house. It has been demonstrated in the novel multiple times that she will not hesitate to attempt to get Kai to behave by her standards by using violence on him. Those exact traits of her’s are portrayed in this passage, which followed the description of the first time Kai has been hit by Edna because of a failure to follow her rules: “Megan hinted that slapping children in the face was not...
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