Charlie Chan

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

By Yunte Huang
(W. W. Norton & Company, Hardcover, 9780393069624, 354pp.)

Publication Date: August 2010

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Description
So begins Charlie Chan, Yunte Huang's absorbing history of the legendary Cantonese detective, born in Hawaii around 1871, who inspired a series of fiction and movie doubles that long defined America's distorted perceptions of Asians and Asian Americans. In chronicling the real-life story and the fraught narrative of one of Hollywood's most iconic detectives, Huang has fashioned a historical drama where none was known to exist, creating a work that will, in the words of Jonathan Spence, permanently change the way we tell this troubled yet gripping story. Himself a literary sleuth, Huang has traced Charlie Chan's evolution from island legend to pop culture icon to vilified, postmodern symbol, ingeniously juxtaposing Apana's rough-and-tumble career against the larger backdrop of a territorial Hawaii torn apart by virulent racism. Apana's bravado prompted not only Earl Derr Biggers, a Harvard graduate turned author, to write six Charlie Chan mysteries but also Hollywood to manufacture over forty movies starring a grammatically challenged detective with a knack for turning Oriental wisdom into singsong Chinatown blues Examining hundreds of biographical, literary, and cinematic sources, in English and in his native Chinese, Huang has pursued the trail of Charlie Chan since the mid-1990s, searching for clues in places as improbable as Harvard Yard, an Ohio cornfield, a weathered Hawaiian cemetery, and the Shanghai Bund. His efforts to refashion the Charlie Chan legend became a personal mission, as if the answers he sought would reshape his own identity no longer a top Chinese student but an immigrant American eager to absorb the bewildering history of his adopted homeland With rare personal intensity and capacious intelligence, Huang has ascribed a starring role to the honorable detective, one far more enduring than any of his wisecracking movie parts. Huang presents American history in a way that it has never been told before.



About the Author
Yunte Huang a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is the author of Transpacific Imaginations and Charlie Chan. Born in China, he lives in Santa Barbara, California.


NPR
Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010

The fictional, aphorism-spouting Chinese detective is best known today as a stereotypical relic from a less sensitive time. Yunte Huang tells the story of the real man who inspired the caricature in Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History. More at NPR.org

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NPR
Wednesday, Aug 18, 2010

The fictional Chinese detective Charlie Chan, who starred in a series of novels and movies between the 1920s and the 1950s, is often dismissed as a "Yellow Uncle Tom." But in the fascinating, sometimes maddening history Charlie Chan, Yunte Huang argues that Charlie is much more than a stereotype. More at NPR.org

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