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Donald Duk

Donald Duk
First edition cover
Author Frank Chin
Cover artist Susan Nees
Country United States
Language English
Genre Young adult novel
Publisher Coffee House Press
Publication date
February 1991
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 172 pp (first edition, paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0-918273-83-8 (first edition, paperback)
OCLC 22887735
LC Class PZ7.C4423 Do 1991

Donald Duk is a coming-of-age novel written by Frank Chin and was first published in February 1991. It is about an eleven-year-old boy named Donald Duk dealing with the struggles of cultural identity as he learns to accept himself for who he is.


  • Plot introduction 1
  • Plot summary 2
  • Setting 3
  • Characters in "Donald Duk" 4
  • Major themes 5
  • Literary significance and reception 6
  • Allusions and References 7
    • Allusions to History 7.1
    • Allusions to Other Works 7.2
  • Awards and nominations 8
  • Publication history 9
  • Footnotes 10
    • References 10.1

Plot introduction

The plot deals with an eleven-year-old boy named Donald Duk, dealing with understanding and accepting his Chinese heritage. He is American born but has trouble finding the balance between accepting the American lifestyle and incorporating his Chinese heritage. Donald feels that his family completely oppresses American culture, and he finds that ironic because they are living in America. He wants to be American and to ignore his Chinese ethnicity. He often feels that Americans are prejudiced against Chinese yet at the same time, since he was born in America, he feels he is American and therefore must reject the Chinese also.

Plot summary

Donald Duk is an eleven-year-old Chinese-American, preparing to celebrate both his twelfth birthday and Chinese New Year. He is the son of a Chinese chef father named King Duk, and a Chinese mother named Daisy Duk. Donald has two older twin sisters named Penelope and Venus Duk. From the start of the book we are told how embarrassed Donald is of his name and of being introduced with his family.

The story begins with Donald comparing himself to Fred Astaire. Donald believes he dances as well as Fred and throughout the novel considers himself the real "Chinese Fred Astaire" (91). Donald immerses himself in old black-and-white movies, and especially admires Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. He envies the way "everyone" adores Fred when he dances. Donald wishes he could "live the late-night life in old black-and-white movies and talk with his feet like Fred Astaire, and smile Fred Astaire's sweet lemonade smile" (1).

Grant Avenue during Chinese New Year.

Donald Duk's father, King, feels Donald dreams too much in black-and-white, wanting to become as American as possible. Donald is ashamed of the way his family rejects American culture and that even when they watch television "they make everybody on the TV look Chinese!" (91). Donald does not want to be like them, he considers himself American because he was born in America. Donald's father tells him, "I think Donald Duk may be the very last American-born Chinese-American boy to believe you have to give up being Chinese to be an American" (42).

As Donald and his family welcome the Chinese New Year, Donald's best friend, Arnold Azalea, stays over at Donald's home in Chinatown in order to observe Chinese culture and celebrate the new year. On the first day of the New Year, Donald's family begins to talk about Chinese immigrants working on the Central Pacific Railroad end of the Transcontinental Railroad. Donald begins to have dreams of being a part of the Chinese men that built that railroad. Every night he dreams of the days getting closer to the Chinese men finishing and ending up at Promontory Summit. As these dreams progress, he is inspired to research the work the Chinese immigrants put into this track laying and found no credit had been given to the Chinese immigrants in American history books. Suddenly Donald finds himself claiming that white people are racists. Upon reaching this conclusion, King tells his son that not all white people are racist and that up to that point, Donald was the one that was ashamed of who he was. Donald realizes he can be American born and be influenced by his Chinese heritage.

Subplots include Donald stealing and destroying one of the model airplanes his family has been making for the festival; Donald and Arnold getting in trouble with the police for blowing up fireworks in traffic; Donald's annoyance at the misinformation given by his schoolteacher about Chinese Americans; and Donald's discomfort at learning that a man he was talking to when he was destroying the model plane has been incorrectly arrested for a murder that happened while he was with Donald.


The novel is set in Chinatown in the city of San Francisco. The locations Donald visits in the book such as his father's Chinese restaurant, his home, Larry Louie's Dance Studio, the Frog twins' home, are all set in Chinatown. The time period in the novel appears to be in the present time the novel was originally written, which was 1991. This appears evident because the narrator often makes references to famous stars of the 1930s and 1940s, to films, and to publications. The narrator seems to make these references from a modern, present-day point of view.

Characters in "Donald Duk"

Donald Duk is a twelve-year-old Chinese American boy who lives with his family in Chinatown, San Francisco. "Donald Duk hates his name. He is not a duck. He is not a cartoon character" (1). Donald wishes he was Fred Astaire and aspires to be like him. He loves tap dancing and sometimes daydreams he is talking with Astaire. Donald is ashamed of being Chinese and wishes he was only American. He finds his culture stupid, boring and embarrassing. The story covers his search for identity and his path to accepting his culture.

Arnold Azalea is Donald’s best friend and attends the same school as Donald. He is white and is very fascinated by Donald’s culture. He stays with Donald for a couple weeks so he can spend Chinese New Year with Donald and his family. He can’t understand why Donald hates his culture and Chinese people so much. At one point, he and Donald get into a fight over Arnold's interest in the Chinese. It is also implied that he sometimes shares Donald's dreams about the railroad workers.

King Duk is Donald's father. King owns a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, of which he is the chef. He is recognized by his community as having the most authentic Chinese food. King is also the one who provides Donald with tough love rather than pity when Donald complains of the bullies in the neighborhood. King's response is, "You walk like a sad look like you want everyone to beat you up" (3). He is direct with Donald and refuses to allow him to linger in self-pity but rather provides him with insight to allow him to accept his heritage. King had assimilationist parents and learned about his Chinese heritage only after he ran away from home and studied Chinese opera overseas.

Daisy Duk is Donald's mother. She is the reasonable one in the family. Daisy keeps the balance within the family when Donald upsets his father with anti-Chinese remarks.

Penelope Duk is Donald's older sister. Penny has a twin sister named Venus. She is eccentric and likes to make pop culture references often when the mood is sour and in order to lighten it.

Venus Duk is Donald's other older sister. She is Penny's twin and with Penny, she discusses pop culture and both provide the book with a sense of humorous relief.

Uncle Donald Duk is Donald's uncle, a Chinese opera performer touring with his troupe. He provides a lighter tone when issues arise between Donald and his father. He provides Donald with insight into his heritage and helps him understand the accomplishments of his race in America. He is also especially the one to tell Donald of the work Chinese immigrants put into building the Central Pacific Railroad.

Larry Louie is Donald's dance instructor. He is also known as "The Chinese Fred Astaire." He keeps himself looking very thin in order to physically resemble Astaire. Larry Louie enjoys tap dance but he also enjoys flamenco and because of this, Donald feels he is the true "Chinese Fred Astaire." Donald doesn't think that Astaire enjoyed flamenco and therefore Larry Louie shouldn't either.

The Frog Twins are local residents who used to be Hollywood actresses. Late in the novel, they have a conversation that illustrates some of the difficulties of being an Asian or Asian-American actress at the time.

American Cong is a Vietnam veteran that Donald meets early in the novel. He is Chinese American, but talks about himself as white, since he grew up in Iowa. He is arrested for murder, but Donald's testimony that they were together at the time of the murder (coupled with corroboration from the Frog Twins) gets him released.

Major themes

Concept of Identity

This story deals with the issue of cultural identity. Donald Duk is ashamed of being Chinese and ridicules a lot of things about his culture in the beginning of the novel. As the novel progresses, however, he begins to accept who he is and embrace his culture.

Concept of Racism

This novel also deals with the issues with racism. As Donald Duk accepts his culture more and more, he begins to see the racism around him more and more. He sees the racism in school with the way his teacher, Mr. Meanwright, portrays Asians as passive and noncompetitive. He sees it in the country's history, which doesn’t acknowledge the help of Chinese workers to build the Central Pacific Railroad. He also sees it in himself. “What’s wrong with racists, anyway?" Mom asks. ‘We have been living with them for over a hundred years now, and we get along with them fine.” (p. 150) As time moves on this consciousness of racism allows him to appreciate the famous figures who tried to change this view and he learns to be proud of who he is.

Literary significance and reception

Although Donald Duk hasn’t won a book award, it is recognized by many critics as "a small masterpiece" (novelist Tom Robbins, back cover of book). The novel has been described as a “wonderful zany coming-of-age journey that deals with the interpenetration of Chinese Myth and American popular culture” (Kirkus Reviews, back of book). Donald Duk has also become required reading at many schools, “having sold 45,000 copies, many through college course adoptions”.[1]

Allusions and References

Allusions to History

The novel mentions the Union Pacific Railroad and sets the “legendary Kwan Kung as foreman of the Chinese laborers building the Central Pacific Railroad” in the 1860s.[2] The book deals with the issue that these Chinese laborers didn’t get the credit they deserved for building the railroad. Although Kwan Kung, who is a famous general of “the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of China,” (quoted from Kwan Kung's WorldHeritage entry) wasn’t actually there when the railroad was built, the building of the railroad by Chinese workers did take place. It also references the lives and treatment of Chinese Americans who lived in Chinatown during the mid/late 20th century. This book altogether deals with “racist U.S. exclusion laws, the nineteenth century exploitation of Chinese laborers, the distortion of classic Chinese philosophy and literature, the erasure of Chinese-American history, [and] the emasculating stereotypes of Chinese in the American media”.[3]

Allusions to Other Works

Historical figures
Film/TV Shows
Literary Characters

Awards and nominations

Although Frank Chin is an American Book Award-winning author, this novel hasn’t received any awards.

Publication history

1991, United States; Coffee House Press ISBN 0-918273-83-8 ; Pub date Feb 1991; Paperback/Second Edition


  1. ^ Feldman, Gayle. "Independent Presses and "Little" Magazines in American Culture: A Forty-Year Retrospective". Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  2. ^ Goldstein-Shirley, David. The Dragon Is a Lantern": Frank Chin's Counter-Hegemonic Donald Duk""". 49th Parallel: An Interdisciplinary Journal of North American Studies. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Richardson, Susan B. (1999). "The Lessons of Donald Duk". MELUS 24 (4): 57. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 


As of March 2008, there were 14 published articles on the novel listed at the MLA database:

  1. The Deployment of Chinese Classics by Frank Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston By: King-Kok Cheung. IN: Wang, Querying the Genealogy: Comparative and Transnational Studies in Chinese American Literature. Shanghai, China: Shanghai yi wen chu ban she; 2006. pp. 217–30
  2. Hua Mei wen hua de chuan cheng yu bian yi-Tou shi Hua yi Meiguo nan zuo jia bi xia de 'fu yu zi' mu ti By: Ruoqian Pu. IN: Wang, Querying the Genealogy: Comparative and Transnational Studies in Chinese American Literature. Shanghai, China: Shanghai yi wen chu ban she; 2006. pp. 450–64
  3. Dreaming as Cultural Work in Donald Duk and Dreaming in Cuban By: Suzanne Leonard; MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 2004 Summer; 29 (2): 181-203.
  4. English as a Postcolonial Tool By: Eugene Chen Eoyang,; English Today: The International Review of the English Language, 2003 Oct; 19 (4 [76]): 23-29.
  5. 'Adding On,' Not 'Giving Up': Ceremonies of Self in Frank Chin's Donald Duk By: Gordon O. Taylor. IN: Davis and Ludwig, Asian American Literature in the International Context: Readings on Fiction, Poetry, and Performance. Hamburg, Germany: Lit; 2002. pp. 57–66
  6. Authentic Reproductions: The Making and Re-Making of More Asian Americans in Donald Duk, Bone, and Native Speaker By: Vivian Fumiko Chin; Dissertation, U of California, Berkeley, 2001.
  7. 'To Eat the Flesh of His Dead Mother': Hunger, Masculinity, and Nationalism in Frank Chin's Donald Duk By: Eileen Chia-Ching Fung. IN: Counihan, Food in the USA: A Reader. New York, NY: Routledge; 2002. pp. 263–76 ALSO IN: Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, 1999 Dec; 10 (3): 255-74.
  8. 'The Dragon Is a Lantern': Frank Chin's Counter-Hegemonic Donald Duk By: David Goldstein-Shirley; 49th Parallel: An Interdisciplinary Journal of North American Studies, 2000 Autumn; 6: (no pagination).
  9. The Remasculinization of Chinese America: Race, Violence, and the Novel By: Viet Thanh Nguyen; American Literary History, 2000 Spring-Summer; 12 (1-2): 130-57.
  10. The Lessons of Donald Duk By: Susan B. Richardson; MELUS, 1999 Winter; 24 (4): 57-76.
  11. Some Other Country's History By: Carole Scott; Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, 1999 Aug; 9 (2): 21-30.
  12. How to Do Things with Things (A Toy Story) By: Bill Brown,; Critical Inquiry, 1998 Summer; 24 (4): 935-64.
  13. Past and Repast: Food as Historiography in Fae Myenne Ng's Bone and Frank Chin's Donald Duk By: Nicole Waller; Amerikastudien/American Studies, 1996; 40 (3): 485-502.
  14. Affirmations: Speaking the Self into Being By: Manini Samarth; Parnassus: Poetry in Review, 1992; 17 (1): 88-101.
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