Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: Charlie Chan by Yunte Huang

This is the story of the infamous fictional character Charlie Chan-who inspired him and how he made his way from books to the screen to the hearts of millions of people.  Also, how changing viewpoints on race and racism made Chan less likeable to many over the last few decades.

I don't know about you guys, but I love Charlie Chan.  I grew up watching the movies with my family, so when I saw this book I had to get it.  I love how it was written by a Chinese immigrant.  Huang does a great job telling the history of Charlie Chan from a much different perspective than myself.

I know that Charlie Chan has a bad rap for being racist and stereotypical.  But the books and movies are products of their time.  I was actually surprised when Huang explained how he first came across Charlie Chan when he stumbled upon one of the books, and how he fell in love with the character.  I have to say, I was expecting a different point of view.  As Huang puts it quite a few times in the book (which I'll reiterate in my own words), Charlie Chan may be a stereotypical Asian, talking with Confucious-esque riddles and whatnot, but he's also a very smart, intelligent, and likeable character.  Which looking back on the years of Charlie Chan's invention, was so different from the usual negative stereotypes.

My absolute favorite part of the book wasn't about Charlie Chan the character, it was actually getting to read about the man who inspired Earl Derr Biggers to write the first Charlie Chan novel-Chang Apana.  He was a real detective for the Hawaii police in the early 1900s.  And let's just say that police had a tough job back then (and still do of course, but nowadays what they do kind of pales in comparison.  I mean, you don't read nowadays about cops having to find an infected leper who is armed and dangerous, and risking getting leprosy, to take him down.).  Apana's story was so fascinating.  I wouldn't have minded if the entire book had centered around him.

This is a great look into Charlie Chan-how he evolved from an idea to a book to movies.  And how US culture affected his "career" in the mainstream.  I'm planning on watching some Charlie Chan movies soon with the boyfriend.  As it turns out, he's never seen one!

Have you read this book or seen any Charlie Chan films?  Opinions?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Title: Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History
Author: Yunte Huang
Date of Publication: 2010
Number of Pages: 354
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Personal Copy


  1. I know next to nothing about Charlie Chan -- I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie -- but love that he was inspired by a real life detective -- his story sounds fascinating!!

    1. It definitely was! I wouldn't have minded if the entire book was only about the real life detective! Such an interesting life.