Will the REAL Charlie Chan please step forward.

Chang Apana’s grave site at the Manoa Chinese Cemetary

What’s that you ask, “a REAL Detective Chan?” Yes, there was actually a living, breathing person, who inspired Author Earl Derr Biggers and served as the “spark” for his fictional Detective Charlie Chan. Now I realize “most of you” reading this already knew that! However, take a glimpse at two special sites and see if you don’t pick-up a thing or two…or at least refresh your memory.

His name was, Chang Apana (1871-1933), known in Chinese circles as Chang Ah Ping (鄭阿平). And yep, he was a card-carrying detective on the Honolulu Police Department. He was also the first (of only a rare few) Chinese on the force in the primarily Caucasian and Hawaiian staffed Police Department, in the days before Hawaii statehood. He was different from most; the only officer on the HPD authorized to carry a “Bullwhip” instead of a gun, about 5 feet tall, and feared immensely by gamblers and opium agents. In 2005, during the City and County of Honolulu’s Centennial Anniversary, he was selected one of their top 100 noteworthy citizens of the century, Honolulu Magazine, and in 2008 was inducted into the Honolulu Police Department Hall of Fame. Probably because of exploits like his single-handed arrest of 40 gamblers: Disguised Apana Caught Gamblers (The Pacific commercial advertiser, July 13, 1904, Pg 8)

I won’t tax your patience and repeat each-and-every fact you’ll find more aptly discussed at the two sited below. But I will say you’ll find an unusual number of similarities between the fictional and real detective, too obvious to ignore, like: Their residence, occupation prior to the force, employers’ names, number of children and names, their culinary skills and more!

  • Charlie Chan’s Hawaii: Far as I can tell, this blog was started by “Gilbert” around 2008 (his last post–hopefully not final–would appear to be in June 2018.) He has some interesting blogs and pictures, about: his visit to Chang Apana’s gravesite in the Lin Yee Chung, Manoa Chinese Cemetery (pictured above), an interview with Apana’s cousin, a visit to the Honolulu Police Museum’s Chang Apana exhibit, and an 8-minute film “The Legend of Chang Apana” starring famed actor Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa as Chang Apana! His blog, July 22, 2010, is the best condensed summary (I’ve seen) of the similarities between the real and fictional detective. You will find that page here : http://www.charliechanshawaii.com/2010/07/detective-chang-apana.html
  • The Charlie Chan Family Home: Mr. Rush Glick first debuted his site online, October 3, 2001 (Chan Actor Warner Oland’s 122nd birthday!) It is hands-down the most all-inclusive collection of facts, trivia, and minutiae surrounding the detective, actors, films, theater, birthdays, books, comics, people and events, or anything else on the topic. There are several pages to investigate; however, I will direct you to The Study. Don’t worry! I won’t ask you to click on each one of the 260 panama hats inside to find our topic. Just click this link to an article from Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 19, 1955. And when you REALLY have time, you can investigate the other 259 topics. (P.S. Webmaster Rush Glick asked me to invite everyone to take the Charlie Chan monthly poll, featured on the his homepage.)

OK, all done? If you delved into the sites above, no doubt you’ll agree both the fictional and actual detectives have more than enough in common to dispel any doubt: Chang Apana (subliminally or consciously) piqued the author’s interest, instigating his famous creation Detective Charlie Chan.

And if you didn’t find time to visit them…well, you’ll just have to take my word for it!

But can you study swimming on a carpet? No–you must go where waters are deep

The Black Camel, 1929, Chapter 17

3 thoughts on “Will the REAL Charlie Chan please step forward.

  1. Lou, that image from the cemetery in Honolulu directing visitors to Chang Apana’s gravesite brings back memories of my visit there with Steve Fredrick some years ago! Well worth the effort to see for any Charlie Chan fan who happens to be on vacation on Oahu! Thank you…nice stuff…and “plugs” are always welcome…:)


    Liked by 1 person

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