Interior Chinatown


Charles Yu

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Interior Chinatown can help.
Themes and Colors
Immigration Theme Icon
Performance and Identity  Theme Icon
Stereotypes Theme Icon
Family and Ambition Theme Icon
The System Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Interior Chinatown, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Though set in modern times, Interior Chinatown features extended flashbacks to Willis’s immigrant parents’ pasts, portraying their respective journeys to the U.S.—and their experiences after they arrived—in an unromanticized light, highlighting the hardships that many Asian immigrants have endured to make a life for themselves in the United States. Willis’s mother, Dorothy, grew up in Taipei, one of ten children. When she was a child, she attended a screening of an American film…

read analysis of Immigration

Performance and Identity

Interior Chinatown alternates between Willis’s inner musings about what it means to be Asian in America and scripted scenes for Black and White, a perpetually in-production police procedural show in which Willis plays an array of generic, unimportant roles. Drawing on his experience acting on Black and White, Willis considers the overlap between the bit parts he plays on TV and the identity he performs in his life outside acting. What he finds…

read analysis of Performance and Identity


Interior Chinatown is predominantly written in the form of a TV script. Accordingly, it casts its Asian characters in stereotypical Asian roles commonly seen in movies and TV shows. In his work on the police procedural show Black and White, Willis plays characters like “Background Oriental Male,” “Dead Asian Man,” and even “Generic Asian Man Number One,” which is only a bit part in the grander scheme of mainstream (white) Hollywood but, according to…

read analysis of Stereotypes
Get the entire Interior Chinatown LitChart as a printable PDF.
Interior Chinatown PDF

Family and Ambition

Interior Chinatown examines the relationship between family and ambition. As an actor, Willis is mostly cast in bit parts and is lucky if he gets a speaking role. In his 20s at the novel’s present, Willis feels that he hasn’t lived up to his full potential and is running out of time to redeem himself in his parents’ eyes. Sifu is now poor and increasingly senile, and though Willis dutifully visits him to bring him…

read analysis of Family and Ambition

The System

In Interior Chinatown, Willis’s experiences highlight the difficulty of breaking out of oppressive systems. Willis longs to rise above his present circumstances and achieve wealth and success: he wants his career to take off so he can stop playing the dull, unimportant role of Generic Asian Man, and he wants to make enough money to move out of his decrepit room above the Golden Palace Chinese Restaurant. But the problem is, the only way…

read analysis of The System