Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Chang Apana

Today is the 82nd anniversary of the death of Chang Apana, so here’s a picture.

Chang Apana, best remembered as the inspiration for Earl Biggers’s detective character Charlie Chan*, was a detective in Hawaii at the turn of the twentieth century, his beat the seediest part of the then-wild Honolulu waterfront.  A former cowboy**, Apana was a master of the bullwhip, and received special permission to exchange his gun (he hated ‘em) for a whip, which he used in his many battles with local gangsters and opium smugglers.  He was heavily and visibly scarred from his many encounters (his prominent eyebrow scar the result of a sickle wielded by a Japanese leper), but was dogged in his pursuit of the law, employing unconventional methods (including parkour to reach upper-floor hideouts) to catch crooks in the act.

His most famous exploit is probably when he busted up an illegal gambling ring, infiltrating it in disguise and, when recognized, subduing and arresting forty Chinatown gamblers.

*Biggers basically said that while Apana himself wasn’t the model, having read about his exploits was what spurred the idea of employing a Chinese-American detective in his mystery, a counter to the Yellow Peril types that were the stock representation of Asians in American genre fiction at the time.

**Hawaiian cowboys were called paniolos, and, like their American counterparts, received much of their method, vocabulary, and iconography from Mexican vaqueros, brought in to work cattle on the islands in the early 1830s.  It’s from these Mexican cowboys that Hawaii developed its guitar and ukulele culture.

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