CHANWhen I was a kid, television was not quite the bastion of low production original content that it is today. Which means that there was a lot of re-broadcasts of old content – like the ubiquitous reruns of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch and that ilk. Then there were the old movies that got extra attention. I remember local independent UHF channels that would run old movie series all the time – like a week of Sherlock Holmes or Andy Hardy films. One of my favorites of these vintage “franchise” film series were the films depicting the detective Charlie Chan.

As a kid I was entertained by Charlie Chan and always thought of the character as goof, not an accurate depiction of Chinese people or Asians in general. But I was quite evolved. At a time when Charlie Chan films were really the only depiction of Asians on western film screens, for better or worse, the character became an odd sort of cultural icon. This topic is explored in the wonderful book Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang.

About Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang: “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 to his reinvention as a literary sleuth and Hollywood film icon. Huang finally resurrects the ‘honorable detective’ from the graveyard of detested postmodern symbols and reclaims him as the embodiment of America’s rich cultural diversity. The result is one of the most critically acclaimed books of the year and a ‘deeply personal . . . voyage into racial stereotyping and the humanizing force of storytelling’ (Donna Seaman, Los Angeles Times). 35 black-and-white illustrations”

Part biography of a fictional character, part American pop culture history, this book is entertaining and informative – even for those who never heard of Charlie Chan before.

Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang is available from Amazon and other fine book retailers.