Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Conundrum of Charlie Chan

A mystery, Eunice.  You know how I like a good mystery.  What mystery, you ask?  Why . . . the mystery about Charlie Chan, of course.

Charlie Chan, you ask.  What so mysterious about a Chinese detective from Hawaii?

This is the mystery, ole' girl.  The mystery is--how does a stalwart, upright, forward minded, honest Chinese cop like Charlie Chan become so reviled and so deeply held in contempt by his fellow Chinese today?  I mean, the fictional cop is like a Typhoid Mary to a whole group of people.  People who should be looking at Chan with admiration--along with the writer who cooked up the character in the first place, Earl Derr Biggers.

I mean---think about it, Eunice.  Biggers comes out with the first Charlie Chan novel, The House Without a Key, in 1925.  Now I know you think I'm ancient, Eunice.  But I ain't that old.  So I can't say I've had first-hand experience in the blatant racism Americans had for the Chinese in that era.  And that's the mystery, love.  Biggers--already an accomplished, and acclaimed, American writer--goes out of his way to create a police detective, a Chinese police detective living in Hawaii, that is just the opposite of the racial stereotypes most Americans had at that time.

Charlie Chan is intelligent, loyal, honest, astute.  And a damn good cop.  So good, in fact, his boss--a white American--thinks Chan is the best detective on the force.  If you read all six Chan novels you quickly notice two facts.  One, most whites look at Chan, in the beginning, as almost less than human.  They are skeptical a Chinese detective can solve a major case.  But the second thing you notice is--Chan's talent wins over his white peers.  His talent, and his infinite patience at confronting racism aimed in his direction with quite, soft--yet unquenchable determination to prove himself to one and all.

And this is the mystery to me.  Chinese-Americans should--we all should, for that matter--applaud and admire a character like this.  We should admire a writer like Biggers who took on racism head on and unflinchingly.  But most people don't.  Thet think of Chan as a stereotype.  A laughable clown.

And that's sad, Eunice.  Just said.  Charlie Chan . . . and his creator, Earl Derr Biggers . . . deserve better than that. 

1 comment:

  1. I respect anyone who fights racism hate it very much so. And I applaud with great respect in all acounts.