Project Description

Hawaii, US: Charlie and Apana


640px-Charliechan060640Charlie Chan was a legendary detective in the Honolulu police force. He fought crime and solved mysteries, aided solely by his sharp eye, brilliant logic, and his loyal bullwhip. While he was a fictional character, Charlie Chan was based on a real police officer named Chang Apana.

Chang Apana
Chang was born in Hawaii around 1871 in Waipio, a village outside Honolulu. Chinese had been settling in Hawaii since the 1770s and Chang’s mother was born on the island. His father had moved over from Guangdong several years before Chang’s birth and was one of the 46,000 Chinese laborers that emigrated to Hawaii in the second half of the 19th century. The island badly needed laborers for its sugar plantations and Chinese were known as hard workers.

As a young boy, Chang never learned to read. Nevertheless, he managed to join the Honolulu Police Department in 1898, the only Chinese in the force. Chang started working on opium-smuggling and illegal gambling, and due to his fluency in several languages, his extensive network of informants, and his shrewd judgment, he became a famous detective and local hero. One of the many stories tells how, armed with nothing but his bullwhip, he once captured 40 gamblers and marched all of them back to the police station.

Chang Apana died in 1933, a year after he retired and a day after his leg was amputated due to gangrene. He is buried at the Manoa Chinese cemetery in Honolulu.

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