Chinese-American Dopers: Does Charley Chan Offend You?

The rason I sask is that Tom Wong (ofthe NY TIMES) recently wrote an editorial , against a TV Network’s decision to pull their Charley Chan-film marathonn recently. I find the Charley Chan films to be very dated…I mean, some of them are >60 years old. Wong pointed out that the portrayal of the Charley Chan character was actually pretty positive-Chan is portrayed as wise, patient, and kind.
Anyway, The seires was very popular-so much so that it spawned a copy cat series(“Mr. Moto”-the japanese detective).
I have no axe to grind-just wondering how Chinese -Americans feel about this rather dated series. And, I used to work with a lot of Chinese-Americans…nobody ever issued wise quotes from Confucious!

I’m not offended, but then again, I don’t usually get up in arms about such things. It was a different era.

I’m not offended, but I do think it’s an embarassing anachronism. Sorta like reading an old Reader’s Digest article about how women are “naturally” inclined to be homemakers and child-rearers (“A woman’s body has a lower center of gravity, which makes it more comfortable for her when kneeling over to scrub the floors and wash the laundry”).

I still think a modern-day remake/upgrade of “Charlie Chan” could be a fun movie idea, though. Think The Karate Kid as a detective movie, with more action and comedy tossed in.

The idea of an Asian (-American) detective is a good one. I hope someone takes it up.

Here’s an extended conversation we already had on the subject.

Was there an actual Reader’s Digest article that said that?! I started reding it in the mid-60’s. They once said “Man Gland” instead of “testicle” in the “I Am Joe’s Heart” health series. I felt that they were really going out on a limb when they dared to have the title “I Am Jane’s Breast”. Considering the Digest I do remember, it wouldn’t be too surprising, I guess.

True Blue Jack

The following quote is from the hoax Fellowship Baptist Creation Science Fair site (

It’s been making the rounds recently. Perhaps that’s the source of your memory.

I’ve heard that “low center of gravity” canard long before 2001, the apparent date that joke website went up. It’s been around for a while, although I don’t know if anyone ever advanced it as a serious hypothesis, or if it’s always been a joke.

Well I had a big ol’ post about the significance of everything in the whole wide world… But lucky for you I wised up and deleted it!

I will chime in long enough to say that Reader’s Digest has had some seriously messed up articles in its time. Go to any bookstore that specializes in old magazines and you’ll see stuff like “What to do about the Negros next door.” etc. Bleah and “ptui”!

I’m married to a (not Chinese but) Asian-American, so I guess that makes me about 1/4 qualified to speak on this.

It’s not so much that Charlie himself, or his thoroughly Americanized #1 son, were offensive. After all, Charlie was one step ahead, always right and no one even made fun of his accent.

However, every once in awhile something just sort of creeps in. I remember surfing through one movie a few weeks ago when one of the secondary detectives said something along the lines of “now wait a minute there, Chinaman” that woke me up real quick.

On the other hand, a lot of movies of the 30s and 40s treated minority characters in much the same way.

Speaking of “Mr. Moto”-these films arealmost impossible to find today. The Mr. Moto character was a bit strange-of course, the lead wasplayedby Peter Lorrie (who was a jewish hungarian!)
Anyway, these old films do show quite a bit of what Asian-Americans were up against. Still, both characters were portrayed in a very positive light.
I must admit, I always enjoyed Chan’s philosophical musings:
…“theory like fog on glasses,obscures facts”!

How does a character in a movie making a racist comment make the film as a whole racist? Then you might as well say that American History X is a racist film, or that Schindler’s List is Nazi-propaganda. I’ve never been a big fan of “political correctness” (mainly because it carries the implication that the minority being ‘protected’ is indeed a minority which needs the protective hand of the white/male majority because they can’t defend themselves), especially when it comes to retroactively putting the blame on things that were made decades ago with the best of intentions.

[bad joke] Apart from that, I would have assumed that women have a higher center of gravity than men. [/bad joke]

I didn’t say the films were racist. In fact, I said that the characters of Charlie and #1 son were not offensive. What I said ws “every once in awhile something just sort of creeps in.”

I’ve never been a big fan of “political correctness” . . .especially when it comes to retroactively putting the blame on things that were made decades ago with the best of intentions. **

I said “On the other hand, a lot of movies of the 30s and 40s treated minority characters in much the same way.” I didn’t “put blame” on anyone or anything.

I wasn’t attacking you directly, Kunilou: I apologize if it seemed that way. Especially the second part of my post was in no way meant as a response to your post.

I’m reminded of Peter Sellers’ parody version “Sydney Wang” in Murder by Death (1976), complete with the thick mock-Asian accent and mangled syntax. At one point in the movie, Dick Charleston (played by David Niven, in a parody of “Thin Man” detective Nick Charles) voices a theory about the murder of Lionel Twain (Truman Capote):

Wang: There one problem with theory, Charleston.
Charleston: And that is?
Wang: Is stupid. Is stupidest theory I ever heard. BWA-HAHAHA!

This never fails to crack me up.