Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History

Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History

by Yunte Huang

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Winner of the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical Book and Shortlisted for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography: "An ingenious and absorbing book…It will permanently change the way we tell this troubled yet gripping story." —Jonathan Spence

Hailed as “irrepressibly spirited and entertaining” (Pico Iyer, Time) and “a fascinating cultural survey” (Paul Devlin, Daily Beast), this provocative first biography of Charlie Chan presents American history in a way that it has never been told before. Yunte Huang ingeniously traces Charlie Chan from his real beginnings as a bullwhip-wielding detective in territorial Hawaii to his reinvention as a literary sleuth and Hollywood film icon. Huang finally resurrects the “honorable detective” from the graveyard of detested postmodern symbols and reclaims him as the embodiment of America’s rich cultural diversity. The result is one of the most critically acclaimed books of the year and a “deeply personal . . . voyage into racial stereotyping and the humanizing force of story telling” (Donna Seaman, Los Angeles Times).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393079166
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 08/15/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 669,660
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Yunte Huang is a Guggenheim Fellow and a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Transpacific Imaginations and Charlie Chan, which won the 2011 Edgar Award and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography. Having come of age in China as a student in the time of Tiananmen, Huang now lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Introduction xv

Prologue 1

Part 1 The "Real" Charlie Chan

1 Sandalwood Mountains 7

2 Canton 22

3 Paniolo, the Hawaiian Cowboy 28

4 The Wilders of Waikiki 37

5 "Book 'em, Danno!" 44

6 Chinatown 54

7 The See Yup Man 61

8 Desperadoes 68

9 Double Murder 73

Part 2 Charlie Chan's Pop

10 The Other Canton 83

11 Lampoon 96

12 The Raconteur 102

13 The House Without a Key 108

Part 3 Charlie Chan, The Chinaman

14 The Heathen Chinee 117

15 Fu Manchu 136

16 Charlie Chan, the Chinaman 146

17 Kaimuki 161

18 Pasadena 171

19 A Meeting of East and West 181

Part 4 Charlie Chan at the Movies

20 Hollywood's Chinoiserie 189

21 Yellowface 198

22 Between the Real and the Reel 205

23 Rape in Paradise 211

24 The Black Camel 230

25 Racial Parables 238

Part 5 Charlie Chan Carries on

26 Charlie Chan in China 247

27 Charlie Chan Soldiers On 259

28 The Fu Manchurian Candidate 268

29 Will the Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up? 278

Epilogue 289

Appendix I A List of Charlie Chanisms 299

Appendix II A List of Charlie Chan Films 302

Acknowledgments 305

Notes 307

Selected Bibliography 329

Index 337

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan Spence

"An ingenious and absorbing book, that provides a convincing new mode for examining the Chinese experience through both Chinese and Western eyes. It will permanently change the way we tell this troubled yet gripping story."—Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China and Return to Dragon Mountain

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Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book tells you everything you always wanted to know about Charlie Chan and then some. The book is very informative, but also a fun read. You learn all about the fictional Chinese detective, the real Chinese detective, and the actors who played the Chinese detective in the movies. You also learn about Hawaii, California, China, the movie industry, and racial stereotypes, and about the author himself. The book moves along at a good pace and you never get bogged down in too many facts. The book conjures up memories of those old films and a different world. Don't miss this one.
PatrickZJD More than 1 year ago
Charlie Chan, especially his fine portrayal by Warner Oland, is one of the literary detective heroes of my youth, seen on countless Saturday night mystery movies on WKBS Channel 48 from Philadelphia and WSBK TV-38 from Boston in the halcyon days of cable in the 1980s. The notion of an Oriental detective who, despite his exotic face, nevertheless shared both the same deductive genius as Sherlock Holmes and the same passion for justice as Jules Maigret absolutely fascinated my growing mind. I had known about the inspiration of the character, Chang Apana of the early 20th Century Honolulu P.D., for a long time, but it was very difficult to find any information about him; indeed, finding any biographical information on Earl Derr Biggers, the creator of the Charlie Chan mysteries, was not much easier. Yunte Huang's biography, inspired by a chance finding of a Charlie Chan collection at an estate sale, is thus an important find for me. Unfortunately, especially in the latter half of the book, Huang's writing suffers, as most academicians' do, from an overarching sense of "The Importance of My Subject," wherein historical facts are analyzed in an exaggerated or distorted fashion to support or prove the author's point. Nowhere is this more evident in Huang's exploration of the "racist" context of the 1920s, where Charlie Chan was one of the few well-regarded examples of Chinese-American culture, and his subsequent writing of the vehement, absurd rejection of Charlie Chan by the Asian-American community as a caricature Chinaman inferior to whites by virtue of his idiosyncratic Confucian sayings and accent and/or his portrayal by non-Chinese actors. The book does indeed suffer from such pseudo-intellectual babble and thus becomes quite tiring at times. For me, a more interesting comparison could have been drawn between Chan and Robert Van Gulik's medieval Chinese detective, Judge Dee, Nevertheless, when Huang stays close to the purported reason for his writing, the exploration of Chang Apana's life and how greatly this served as fodder for the creation of Charlie Chan, Huang crafts a well-researched, compelling biography not only of one of the most important figures in early 20th Century American detective literature but also of a relatively little-known yet still fascinating Hawaiian detective. Look past the academic pretensions, then, and you find a good look behind the curtain (no pun intended) at the Charlie Chan mysteries, one of the most enjoyable series in the genre.
LJT on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book, written by an American born in China who immigrated to the US as a young adult and became a professor of English, uses the fictional story of detective Charlie Chan as a base for a rather scattered but fascinating exploration of the history Chinese in America and a discussion of whether Charlie Chan represents American bigotry or is instead an American hero. He provides biographies of the creator of Charlie Chan, of the Chinese-American police detective in Hawaii that was the inspiration for the fictional detective, of the Swedish actor who most performed the role in the movies, and the story of Hawaii itself. Interspersed are bits of his own history. The book reminds us that, within the lifetime of some of us, the "melting pot" had a "whites only" sign. Highly recommended.
aulsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As described in other reviews, the author tells the story of Chan in American culture using various strands of data: the life of the real Hawaiian detective, the life of the author of the Charlie Chan books, discussion of Chan in popular culture. He even diverges into the story of Sax Roamer, the creator of Fu Manchu.Although all the pieces were engagingly written, the book as a whole failed to hold my attention.
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