Jessica Hagedorn’s, Charlie Chan is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, remains a seminal collection of Asian American writing. Professor Yunte Huang’s new book examines the real-life story behind cinema’s most inscrutable detective.
Investigating The Real Detective Charlie Chan
Huang set out to give that honorable policeman, Chang Apana, the recognition he deserves. Apana “was a 5-foot-tall Cantonese cop in Honolulu in the early 20th century,” Huang explains. Originally, Apana had worked as a paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboy. In 1898 — the same year that the United States officially annexed Hawaii — he joined the police force.
“As a police officer, he worked almost the most dangerous beats in Chinatown, carrying a bullwhip in hand,” says Huang. “He never used a gun, and he was a master of disguise. One time, he single-handedly arrested 40 people without firing a shot” — apprehending a large group of Chinese gamblers using only his bullwhip.