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Sleuthing Out "Charlie Chan"

Reexaming the silver screen detective Charlie Chan. A new book looks at the caricature and the real-life man he was based on.

At left, Charlie Chan played by Warner Oland (Fox Home Entertainment)

Hollywood’s Chinese caricature detective Charlie Chan was a big hit in the 1930s – with his “ah-so” aphorisms – and reviled a generation later as Exhibit A of anti-Asian racism on the big screen. A kind Stepin Fetchit in yellowface.

Now, a mainland China-born, Chinese scholar immigrant to the USA is looking back at Charlie Chan and saying hold on, this guy’s kind of cool. And giving us the whole history of the Charlie Chan story.

Some big Chinese Americans are not buying it. We’ll hear that, too. We’re looking again at the “honorable detective,” Charlie Chan.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Yunte Huang, professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His new book is “Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History.” You can read an excerpt.

Frank Chin, Chinese-American author and playwright. He is considered one of the pioneers in Asian American theatre. His play “The Chickencoop Chinaman” was the first by an Asian-American to be produced on a major New York stage. He’s author of “Gunga Din Highway” and “Donald Duk.”

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