China Boy Essay Example

  • Category: Books, Literature,
  • Words: 1073 Pages: 4
  • Published: 05 August 2020
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The book China Boy accurately portrays the hardships like racial harassment and segregation experienced by Chinese Americans during the 20th century. When immigrants first arrived in the late 1800s, hostilities towards them were intense. Many laws were passed that limited their freedom, barred them from many things like jobs, and slowed their immigration into America. Even without laws, the streets were always filled with anti-chinese sentiment, and this did not improve until the late 20th century.

In the book, a young boy named Kai Ting is born to Chinese immigrant parents in the 1930s and is forced to live a life where is he is completely dumbfound to American culture and is a punching bag everyday. Gradually, as he makes a few friends and even enrolls in the YMCA, he begins to become accustomed to San Francisco and able to fend for himself. His life is marred with many hard and often painful challenges and it is an accurate prime example of anti-chinese sentiment during the 20th century.

Chinese Americans were constantly harassed by many people for their unique appearance and accents. People would constantly try to undermine Chinese culture and make sure that white people stayed superior: “A national movement sought to use the law to eliminate Chinese restaurants from the United States. These efforts, described as a“war,”1 are largely unknown. 2 Chinese restaurants were considered “a serious menace to society”” (Chin).

This is accurately portrayed in China Boy through Kai’s numerous occasions of being harrassed and bullied on the street while he is being called racist names and getting beat up at the same time. ““China Boy,” Said one tiredly. “Don be buttin in, fool. Don hurt yo mouf when ya”ll don know shit”” (Lee 90). Instead of living a happy life that every child desires, Kai’s childhood is full of stress, constantly watching out for bullies who pick on him and insult his chinese nature..

Chinese Americans often had a hard time dealing with the harassment because they were so different. Few had any knowledge of American culture and were therefore made even easier targets for many Americans. Chinese often were powerless and had no way of fighting to gain their places as equals in American society. “In racially segregated basketball leagues, Chinese American women basketball players rarely socialized with players of other races and thus reinforced the idea of appropriately separate spaces for different races” (Yep).

This is portrayed perfectly when Kai Ting has no clue about nearly anything in American culture. He always responds dumbfounded and often has nothing to say as his bullies close in on him whenever he questions who the Yankees were. “It took little time to discover that I was in a new category. I was the kid who knew nothing, played like a goat, had no fighting spirit and less ability” (Lee 91). This shows that many other kids on the street quickly took notice of Kai’s ignorance and Chinese face and spread rumors about him, and this is a direct reflection of what happened to many Chinese American children in real life during that time period.

In order to adjust to life in America, Chinese Americans had no choice but to adapt to American culture. Any other choice would lead to a life without any connections to anyone except other Chinese Americans. “The separation of Chinese from whites was a product of ideas—some codified—about Chinese racial, cultural, and religious differentness and other influences that colored twentieth century real estate practices and policies” (Camarillo). In the book, this aspect of life is reflected in the treatment of Kai by his stepmother Edna. The protagonist never got used to an American household, and combined with the harsh nature of Edna, is constantly forced to obey her every command and adapt to her lifestyle. “The sound of the Chinese language had become Edna’s talisman for poverty, exclusion, isolation” (Lee 71). The constant struggles that Kai has in terms of dealing with his American stepmother and his surroundings accurately reflects how Chinese Americans had to go from peaceful scholars to tough street dudes in a matter of weeks upon entering the western world. 

As discrimination against Chinese Americans increased, Chinese culture began disappearing, and it was slowly replaced by more modern American culture. “In 1931, the California Supreme Court upheld the condemnation of Chinatown and much of Chinatown was demolished within two years before Union Station was built” (Mary). The stripping of Chinese culture was even more present at the government level. Laws were passed that barred them from many things and destroyed physically and spiritually many Chinese ideas and institutions. This is especially apparent when Kai’s mother died and his stepmother Edna came in. Kai began to slowly morph into an American kid and struggles more and more with embracing his old Chinese ways. In China, you respected your mother. When Edna came in, Kai instead “brought my guard up while presenting my profile” (Lee 322). This shows how Kai morphed from a timid and kind Chinese kid to a tough American kid who can fend for himself on the bustling streets of San Francisco.

Even though the Chinese faced many hardships, some still say they benefited more than they suffered. America was able to provide asylum for many Chinese, and some even began doing better financially in the 20th century. These material gains however, cannot compensate for the lack of freedom that Chinese Americans faced. Even if you have a roof over your head and some money, if the law prevents you from doing anything, you aren’t exactly living the life you should be getting. Freedom is priceless and it is more valuable than what little money or food it can afford you. If you had to choose between having nothing but living free or having some stuff but living the life of a prisoner, freedom is always the correct choice unless your very life depended on it.

In conclusion, China Boy is a very accurate piece when portraying the discrimination and other hardships that Chinese Americans faced in the 20th century. Many of these problems still exist today, and we can really expand our views and knowledge by reading this wonderful book. It really sheds light on the American experience from Chinese perspectives and I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in social issues of both the past and present. 

Works Cited

CHIN, GABRIEL J., and JOHN ORMONDE. “The War against Chinese Restaurants.” Duke Law Journal, vol. 67, no. 4, Jan. 2018, pp. 681–741. EBSCOhost,

YEP, KATHLEEN S. “Playing Rough and Tough.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 31, no. 1, Mar. 2010, pp. 123–141. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5250/fronjwomestud.31.1.123.

Camarillo, Albert M. “Navigating Segregated Life in America’s Racial Borderhoods, 1910s–1950s.” Journal of American History, vol. 100, no. 3, Dec. 2013, pp. 645–662. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/jahist/jat450.

SZTO, MARY. “From Exclusion to Exclusivity: Chinese American Property Ownership and Discrimination in Historical Perspective.” Journal of Transnational Law & Policy, vol. 25, Jan. 2015, pp. 33–99. EBSCOhost,

Lee, Gus. China Boy. Lodi: Marco Book Company, 1991. Print.



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