Charlie Chan and Jack Kerouac

“Swedish actor Warner Oland poses as Charlie Chan in 1937” (web photo courtesy of

No week goes by without a mention of Lowell’s Jack Kerouac in the major media outlets. Yesterday, the new Time magazine arrived in the mail. On page 65, there’s a review of scholar Yunte Huang’s book about Charlie Chan, the Chinese detective invented by author Earl D. Biggers whose adventures in Hawaii played out  in books, films, and comics. The reviewer raves about the book, titled “Charlie Chan,” hailing it as “irrepressively spirited and entertaining” and  calling the author “a virtuoso of curiosity.” Here’s the Lowell link. In the middle of the full-page review is a large quote in bold black type pulled out of the body of the review. It reads,

For Huang, Charlie Chan is ‘as American as Jack Kerouac’ precisely because of his theatrical implausibility and his mixed-up origins.

I think Kerouac would have enjoyed the comparison. He was a big fan of pop culture and mass media, from radio serials and comic strips to the sports pages of newspapers and Hollywood movies. It’s telling that Yunte Huang, an immigrant from China who teaches college English in Santa Barbara, Calif., chose Kerouac to provide American cultural context for the Charlie Chan character—Kerouac, whose parents were born in Quebec, but who has become a quintessential national icon because of his vast, exuberant literary explorations of the American land and spiritual interior and deep mining of his own mixed identity.

Read Pico Iyer’s review here, and consider buying TIME if you appreciate the writing.

Jack Kerouac (web photo courtesty of St. Petersburg Times,

2 Responses to Charlie Chan and Jack Kerouac

  1. Kosta says:

    There was a great interview with Yunte Huang on On Point (WBUR) this past week. His comment on Kerouac there was about Kerouac being born 9at that time) into an outsider (forget what word he used) ethnicity, as were the Chinese in our country. Of course, the Chinese were more outsider than most — and, I”m just now thinking that no one is commenting about the ethnicity of the Kerouac character on the upcoming movie “On The Road”. Charlie Chan was played by a Swede and this point got a lot of commentary. Anyway, ON Point interviews are recorded and on the web. You’ll have to meander by yourself to find it (

  2. PaulM says:

    Don’t forget that in 1881 a high ranking labor official in Massachusetts described the French Canadian-Americans as “the Chinese of the Eastern states” because of their supposed refusal to assimilate and root themselves in the U.S. They were maligned as “industrial invaders, not a stream of stable settlers.” French Canadian-Americans in Worcester, Lowell, and others communities protested the language used by the labor official, Carroll Wright. In a subsequent report he refrained from using the characterization that had so disturbed the Franco-American community.

    There is a detailed account of this episode on the website of the Franco American Center at Assumption College in Worcester. Scroll down on the page and read about it here: