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    July 12, 2012


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    I read Yunte Huang's book and reviewed it on my blog, Les. A very enjoyable and informative read - tons of stuff I hadn't known or hadn't thought about. I got the impression from Professor Huang that he wasn't all that opposed to the idea of Warner Oland or Sidney Toler playing a Chinese man. He sees the reasonableness of it. He also points out that as a stereotype, Charlie Chan was a rather good one. He was usually the smartest man in the room. Not much wrong with that.

    I even heard from Professor Huang on the blog which was very nice of him.

    I know I've read all the Charlie Chan books over the years, but I think it's time for another re-read. You know how much I love the movies. :)

    Les Blatt

    Yes, Huang's book is excellent - engrossing and entertaining, too. As for Charlie Chan, he was deliberately conceived as a character who would run against the really awful stereotypes of Oriental characters that were so popular at the time. At one point in "The Chinese Parrot," when Inspector Chan is masquerading as a cook, he must disguise himself by speaking that unpleasant "Chinese pidgin English" that was frequently used at the time. He observes to one of the other characters, "silly talk like that hard business for me…Chinese without accustomed dignity is like man without clothes – naked, and ashamed." I think that sums it up prety well.


    The typical complaints against the Chan movies are always centered on the fact that a white man played the role. Of course a white man played the starring role - studios demanded a reliable, known name for movies and there were no Chinese actors who were known and could carry a film. The fact that this reflects the racism of the greater society was hardly the studio's problem - they were in it to make money, not to do social engineering to satisfy the interests of those living half a century in the future.

    Of course Charlie was not only ALWAYS the smartest man in the room, he was also always shown as respected by any police chiefs/commissioners appearing in the story. And any time a character - usually a low level policeman - shows any anti-Chinese prejudice, it is made perfectly clear that he is being shown as a buffoon.

    And then we have the various actors who played the sons, who WERE Chinese-American, who were so popular that they were always included, and who frequently got second billing right under the actor playing the lead role. I should add that Mantan Moreland also got second billing in many movies with the actor playing the son. In both cases, these minority actors probably got the best roles and credits of their careers in these roles. And this series is criticized? It should be celebrated.

    /rant off.

    Les Blatt

    Mark, I think you raise some interesting and valid points. It's worth noting that the original books, as well, always showed Charlie as a person honored by his peers - and, when he was not, as you say, the character making disparaging remarks was always a buffoon.

    I think the problem today comes with that question of satisfying "the interests of those living half a century in the future." There are some who are extremely sensitive to certain words and phrases, even if they made sense considered in the context and time period in which they were used. Think, for example, of the people who have tried to get Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" banned from schoolrooms and libraries.

    Personally, I hate censorship of any kind (except spam blocking, thank you!), as I believe censorship often has the opposite effect from that desired by the would-be censors. I do feel, as a reviewer, that I owe it to my readers to point out potentially offensive material in my reviews. I generally note that, if you believe you can't enjoy a fine book because of occasional words used in context, then it's your loss.

    You might enjoy reading a recent post by novelist Margot Kinberg on her "Confessions of a Mystery Novelist" blog where she addressed this question - and touched off some very interesting comments from other readers. You'll find it at

    Thanks again for a thought-provoking comment.

    Colin Welsh

    Why haven't other writers chosen to write newer Chan novels?

    Les Blatt

    There are a number of potentially good reasons, I suspect, Colin. Continuing a series requires working out an arrangement with the author's estate, publisher and literary agent, if they can be found. Some authors and their heirs would actively discourage that kind of continuation. Most authors, I suspect, would rather write new mysteries with their own characters rather than try to imitate the style of another writer. We're left with just the six Chan novels - and, of course, all the movies.

    The comments to this entry are closed.

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