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An interesting book on racial issues

Sep 12, 2008
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Chinese Author Yuente Huang wrote an interesting book on his personal interest in the book and movie character Charlie Chan. Yuente is a chinese immigrant and discovered Chan by accident, and dug far deeper than the material warrants into the life of the author and actors who portrayed Chan, and how all this information relates to US history, racial animosities and Yuente's own experiences as an American minority immigrant.

There is a lot of background to Charlie Chan. He is based on a real life Hawaiian police detective who was famous for courage and probity when the Hawaiian police were mostly notorious for lacking either. The author of the book was on vacation in Hawaii and wrote a novel that used material he gathered there, including the famous chinese detective.

The books author was engaged in a bit of a "Take that" at normal detective fiction of the time, where having a chinese villan was a convenient cop out, because then questions of motivation could be hand waved away. Chinese were just villainous. QED.

The Charlie Chan books were serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, which was engaged in an anti Chinese jihad when the first book was published. The huge degree of affection of the readers for Charlie Chan given the Post's editorial position is just one of many delicious ironies about the whole series.

Biggers, the author, wrote 6 more Charlie Chan books before he died. He also met up with the original detective who inspired the series several times. The detective enjoyed both the books and movies tremendously. The original detective had 11 kids, the fictional Chan had 13, most of whom shared first names with their real counterparts.

Chan was also very popular in China. He was portrayed in the books as a man of immense intelligence, honesty and courage and was treated with extravagant respect by white society because of it. He was, however, also a man stuck between two cultures. His english, like that of Hercule Poirot was always pathetic, but how much of it was a pose and how much was real is impossible to guess. He was also very old fashioned in his personal life, but his children were very modern and very American, while he himself was very much of the old country.

And while Chan was very much the outsider looking in, he was also a very sharp observer. Much of his conversation was in aphorisms that on first glance look very deferential, but on later contemplation have a great deal of sting.

Anyway, it is an interesting book on racial matters with a very honest assessment from the author of both the subject and himself. Well worth reading.

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