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

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  262 ratings  ·  90 reviews
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 t...more
Paperback, 354 pages
Published August 15th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2010)
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Mark Bruce
Written by a naturalized Chinese American, this fascinating book tells the story of the real Chinese detective who worked for the Honolulu Police--as well as the development of the famed detective created by Earl Derr Biggs. The surprising conclusion the author comes to--while giving all sides a fresh hearing--is that Charlie Chan is not the racist figure he's cracked up to be. Instead, he is a canny and wise man, often offended by the racism of his times, who never lets the white man's world cl...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Yunte Huang was teaching in the English department at Harvard University when his new book was released and he was scheduled to do a book signing at the Harvard book store. With a title like Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature (yawn), it was a challenge to get a crowd to attend so the English department secretary made up a poster for the event and in an attempt to make it more appealing she included a photo of Char...more
Sketchbook
Another "best-seller" that always verges on being Interesting.
The Chinese-b. author, now a US professor, comingles his personal
odyssey with that of Chang Apana, the #1 Law & Order man (also
Chinese) who tackled opium gangs, gambling dens and assorted
thugs in Hawaii in the early 20thC. Costarring is Earl Derr
Biggers, the American who created the iconic Charlie Chan.
Biggers, who grew up in Ohio, began writing stories when weekly
zines w fiction flooded the US. He visited Hawaii once, then
alleged...more
Cheryl
This book was eye-opening on many levels. Not only does it cover the Hawaiian and Chinese American history generally, it brings those strands together with early twentieth century American literature and popular culture. While some reviewers have criticized the book for being broken into sections, the final impression is one of amazing connections among all these aspects of the character "Charlie Chan," and how truth and fiction weave together. The life of Chang Apana, the Chinese detective, is...more
Read1000books
This book was such a disappointment. For those unfamiliar with Charlie Chan, he is a fictional Chinese detective, created by Earl Derr Biggers in 1925, who was featured in six best-selling original novels and, in the 1930's & 40's, forty-seven movies (sorry, Mr. Bond). The premise of this book by Yunte Huang, at first glance, appears to be that Chan was based on a real person and that the reader will find out all about him and lots of fun facts about the fictional Chan too. Sadly this was no...more
Tommy Bat-Blog Brookshire
This extremely well researched & well written book was a total joy to read. I've always liked Charlie Chan movies but never really knew that much about the character. This book tells the story about Charlie Chan in a very unique way, from many different angles. First, there's "Charlie Chan" as he existed inside a Fictional Book. Then, the "Movie persona". There's a lot of information about him but also covers the real-life story of the Hawaiian Police Detective that inspired the Author. It a...more
Erik
p.296 ...his name in Chinese, (Zheng Ping in Mandarin or Chang Pung in the Cantonese pronunciation). For a long time, I had wondered what kind of name “Apana” was. Now I can be certain that “Apana” is a Polynesian variation of the Cantonese “Pung.” The first A derives from the Chinese custom of adding “Ah” to a given name as a casual way of addressing someone. The last A is a Polynesian addition, because in that langauge, as Herman Melville reminded us in his first book, Typee, all words end wit...more
The Library Lady
This is immensely readable and the material is fascinating. I knew about Chang Apana because he appeared in a novel I'd read last year--Honolulu, I think--but Huang fleshed him out more fully,and the material about Biggers and about the movies was terrific.
The problem with this--and the reason I am giving it 3 rather than 4 (think about 3.75) is that in his eagerness to fully cover his multiple topics, Huang meanders over everything from his relationship with his own child to conditions in 19th...more
Bernard Norcott-mahany
I thought this was an outstanding work of a personal quest and of the intersection of history, legend and pop culture. The author, himself Chinese, having escaped from China following the Tienanmen Square incident, worked hard to become part of America, where he now teaches literature in an American University, just as Chang Apana, the Hawaiian police officer who served as the inspiration for Charlie Chan, also worked hard as he rose from worker to cowboy to police officer in turn of the century...more
Kathryn
I wasn't too sure I'd like a book about a B actor, but this book came highly recommended by Bookmarks. And I always enjoy the books they highly recommend! This book was much more than the story of the actor and the movies I remembered. This book looked at the Chinese who came to this country, why and how they came, and what affect they had on the history of the US. The character of Charlie Chan was based on a real dectective in the early 20th century in Honolulu. The book examined this dectectiv...more
dusty.rhodes
...good book to read while traveling in Hawaii.
Not a great book elsewise, but definitely interesting.
The pace, setting and characters of the book shift all over... this is not to say that the book would be better with a smaller scope, but rather with broader connections between concepts. Or, better large-picture ways to order the information.

That said, of course, there are some interesting facts in here, and a collection of worth comments on a particular facet of the pop-culture and regular-cu...more
Jc
This was a wonderful surprise. I expected a mildly interesting biography of the Hawaiian detective who inspired the fictional character, Charlie Chan. But, this was MUCH more. Too begin, the real story of Chang Apana is extremely interesting in itself. What a fascinating life story. Second, the Untold Story is a fun history of the literary and film career of the fictional Ch.Chan. Then there is the fascinating story of the actors who have been involved in Chan's movie life, especially that of Wa...more
Gwendolyn
A fascinating and worthy read.

Here's a link to a New Yorker Magazine Video blurb, Chan, The Man you may find interesting if you need help in considering whether or not to read this book.


'm reading an ARC, so I'll hold my review until after the book is in general circulation.
Lauren Albert
Huang's is a balanced examination of the history of Charlie Chan, his creator and the original detective which inspired him. Somewhat disjointed at times because of the author's attempt to cover all three subjects, it is still an enjoyable read. He shows why he thinks a knee-jerk rejection of Chan as a racist creation gives short shrift to his cleverness and capability.
Dan Petegorsky
In a relatively short book, Yunte Huang manages to use the fictional figure of Charlie Chan and his real life prototype to give a surprisingly wide ranging and insightful look into the dynamics of Chinese immigration, resurgent white nationalism, and US global expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as it played out in Hawai'i and the US mainland.
Gina
I loved the story of Chang Apana himself. There are things that are more problematic with the character of Charlie Chan, but this is a pretty solid overview of all of the major players, with the context of the history of Hawaii, some of the history of portrayals of people from Asia in literature and film, and the way perceptions changed later.

There are a few things that are distracting. One is the voice of the author. Sometimes there is a lilt in his voice that is almost reminiscent of Chan's pi...more
Jeff Hamilton
Reading Huang, it occurs to me that a basic tenet of postmodernism is the repudiation of the New Left's emphasis on secular American exceptionalism, a repudiation that could be summarized as: democracy is just another human value, not a final one -- as it was, for instance, in Whitman. What Huang shares with Tsinghua American Studies students, for example, might be said to be a fascination with a secularism that places democracy at its center, an attraction to ideas that decenter the privileging...more
Steve Reid
There's a book I read a while back called "Charlie Chan" by Yunte Huang, a naturalized US citizen born in China. Huang came over to the US for college, worked odd jobs to pay his way, and stumbled upon the persona of Charlie Chan. Huang's journeys across the country lead to his "discovering" Chan and Chan's creator and make for an entertaining spin. Once he gets into Chan and his predecessorFu Manchu as image of the Chinaman in the US, the reading gets drier, but still interesting, especially wh...more
Bob
Oct 09, 2010 Bob rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bob by: heard an author interview on NPR
Shelves: pacific
This was promoted, and libraries classed it, as a biography of Chang Apana, a Honolulu detective who worked in the first three decades of the 20th century, and Huang does provide a brief sketch of this remarkable man's career. The real theme of the book, though, is American racism, and Apana's career, the changing fortunes of Charlie Chan (book detective and film icon), a sensational Honolulu criminal trial, and the author's personal and research experiences are neatly woven together to illustr...more
Tony
CHARLIE CHAN: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History. (2010). Yunte Huang. ***.
What this book is really about is American xenophobia. Although the author does manage to get in chapters on Earl Derr Biggers and Sax Rohmer and other contemporary writers from the Golden Age of detective fiction, there’s a lot of filler in here too. A short history of Hawaii is provided in the early chapters. Then follows a history of the Chinese in Hawaii and in late 1...more
Brad Hodges
I have never read a Charlie Chan book or seen a Charlie Chan movie (except for the Neil Simon mystery spoof Murder By Death, in which the Chinese detective is played by Englishman Peter Sellers), but I was interested in reading Yunte Huang's comprehensive study of the fictional sleuth and his inspiration, a Honolulu policeman named Chang Apana.

Huang, a scholar born in China but now living and teaching in America, covers quite a few bases in his book. He starts with a brief biography of Apana, wh...more
Orion
Yunte Huang was born in China, came to the US in 1991, and is now an English professor at UC Santa Barbara. Charlie Chan is a fictional Chinese police detective created by the White American author Earl Derr Biggers, who wrote six popular Charlie Chan mystery novels. Biggers based Charlie Chan on a real Honolulu Chinese detective named Chang Apana who was a respected member of the department. Hollywood made 47 Charlie Chan movies with White actors in "yellowface" makeup playing the Chinese detec...more
Jasmine
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, be...more
Marie
There is a lot of fascinating stuff in this, but I wanted more detail... more about Chang Apana, the Hawaiian detective who inspired Earl Biggers to create the character of Charlie Chan. (A character that had little in common with Apana, aside from being Chinese, living in Hawaii, and being a police detective.) I'm lowering this to a 3 star rating largely because much of the book felt like filler, with details I don't think a reader needed, like reminding us when WWII started, or unintersting pe...more
Lee Miller
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, is by Yunte Huang, an English professor at UC-Santa Barbara. Born and raised in China, Huang protested on Tiananmen Square and immigrated to the US after the crackdown. He’s a poet and specialist in transpacific thought: how concepts and memes bounce around the Pacific Rim and back and forth between Asia and North America.

Huang attempts to give Chan a historical and literary perspective. The autho...more
George
INTERESTING, ABSORBING AND ENTERTAINING.

“The bill [the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882] was the first significant restriction on free immigration in U.S. history and the first immigration law to target a specific ethnic group”

“Most people who have been to Hawaii long to return”--Earl Derr Biggers, author/creator of Charlie Chan.

Not too many books can lure me away from my two to three hour addiction to daytime television/naptime—okay, maybe many could. ‘CHARLIE CHAN: The Untold Story of the Honora...more
Kay
Boy, am I ever fatigued by publishing hype. Granted, an examination of the Charlie Chan phenomenon certainly sounded like a great concept, and it’s buttressed by an attractive book cover and catchy subtitle, “The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History.” Who can resist a “rendezvous with American history?” Well, not me.

Alas, from the first pages, I detected the whiff of a reworked doctoral thesis -- and, in fact, at the end of the book the author reveals...more
Nancy
I liked this book overall, although 1) it did, indeed, meander a bit, as other reviewers have noted; and 2) it did not have as much about the real Charlie Chan as I would have liked (or photos). But it was readable, reasonably well-written, interesting, by an author who seemed invested in his tale.

I will note that I found a kind of interesting similarity in some of the rhetoric about immigrants and the Chinese as the illegal immigrant issues today. Maybe I am the only one who thought that...

I w...more
Ann
This fascinating book, which won the Edgar Award for Biography, is really multiple stories, all intertwined: the nearly unbelievable (yet historically documented) story of the real man on whom the fictional Charlie Chan was modeled; the story of the fictional Charlie Chan, in print and onscreen; the story of the man who wrote the Charlie Chan stories and the men who portrayed the legendary detective; the story of Charlie Chan as a cultural icon and avatar over time; the story of racism in the Am...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Described as a "heady mixture of scholarship, essay and memoir" (Washington Post), Charlie Chan energetically deconstructs the social and cultural milieu of the fictional detective as it examines the people and events that contributed to his popularity. Huang interweaves a vast number of historical and cultural topics in this sprawling work, including the class system of prestatehood Hawaii, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the "Yellow Peril," American literature, and Hollywood. Critics praised H...more
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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.
More about Yunte Huang...
Cribs Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature Transpacific Imaginations: History, Literature, Counterpoetics Shi: A Radical Reading of Chinese Poetry

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