Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

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

As a hater of Charlie Chan, I went into this book knowing that I'd be reading a lot about Earl Biggers' inspiration for his series, the actual detective Chang Apana, and the historical/social forces that went into and surrounded the book at the time. I really enjoyed Huang's easy-to-understand, interesting analysis of Charlie Chan in Shanghai and other Chan films, in addition to the books and characters. I found his comparison sections between Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan especially intriguing, because I myself have been contemplating that relationship and Huang's analysis was even more eye-opening in terms of my studies here. The most interesting and thought-provoking part of the book was (for me) the section where Huang, an admirer of Charlie Chan, cites Frank Chin's essay on Charlie Chan, which clearly illustrates Chin's distaste for the character. The contrast between the two viewpoints and the surprising connections between the two really shocked me (in a good way) and it made for an even more in-depth but easy-to-understand read. However, I wasn't expecting some of the autobiographical things that managed to slip themselves into the book at all. In fact, I found them rather unnecessary and a little distracting to either the storyline about Chang Apana's life or the cultural impacts of Charlie Chan. Overall this was a great book and I'd recommend it to anyone.


  1. Frank Chin's essay on Charlie Chan was one of the first from the Asian American community to really come out and bash the whole concept of the character, and articulate the harm.

    This is something that would be awesome for you to start to address as well, as we are starting to get to to the end of the semester, believe it or not. Some might say, "Yeah, but it's just a movie, or a character, or a tv show. I know it's not real, and it doesn't affect how I see or treat Asian Americans." What would you say to that?

  2. People said the exact same thing about The Last Airbender and that the characters were cartoons and could be played be anyone. What's upsetting is that nowadays and probably even back then people were sticklers for accuracy - how can you call a white person playing a clearly Asian character accurate? Hypocrisy!! And either way, it will affect how one sees Asian Americans - this whole subconscious thing we were talking about - the caricatures that one sees will ultimately shape one's perceptions of somebody who has very minimal ties with that character.