Thursday, July 22, 2010

Detective Chang Apana

It is not well known that Detective Chang Apana, who lived in Hawaii, was the prototype for the fictional detective Charlie Chan, created by author Earl Derr Biggers. In 1982 I proved that this was true in a paper that I wrote for a class at the University of Hawaii. I later used that paper in 1990, as the seed for a masters’ thesis, called “Modern History of Hawaii”.

On August 22, 1982, Susan Yim, of the Honolulu Star Bulletin, wrote a full page and a half article about my Charlie Chan project: The article was called “In Search Of Charlie Chan”. The article was laid out in art deco style: It was visually stunning, and beautifully written.

I’m now completing a book that I wrote called “Charlie Chan’s Hawaii”, which will detail the life of Chang Apana, along with other information pertaining specifically to Charlie Chan and Hawaii. Included with the book will be a CD that contains recorded interviews that I made in 1982 with Chang Apana’s number one first cousin Walter Wan Chang, and Apana’s daughters, Rose Chang Murakami, Cecilia Landgraf, and Annie Robertina Apana. These recordings are very rare because Walter Wan Chang, and Chang Apana’s daughters are now deceased.

There a a number of items of items that appear in the Charlie Chan novels that can be linked directly, or indirectly with Chang Apana. In “The Black Camel” (1929), it is mentioned that Chan’s oldest daughter is named Rose. Chang Apana’s youngest daughter was named Rose. In the “House Without A Key” (1925), the captain of detectives is named Hallet. From 1923 to 1927, a man named Kellett was the Captain of Detectives of the Honolulu Police Department. In “The Black Camel” Charlie Chan laments “…there has been upheaval in local police department…”, as a result Chan gets promoted to the rank of inspector. On February 20, 1928, Chang Apana is promoted to Detective First Grade, after a major police scandal. Before becoming a policeman, Chan worked for a wealthy white family, the Jordans. The same can be said of Apana who worked for the Wilder family as a hostler. Both Chan and Apana were excellent cooks. Apana was chef in charge of a big luau that was given for the Prince of Wales when he visited Honolulu. Chan lived on Punchbowl hill, while in 1908, Apana lived on Punchbowl near Hotel Street. Chan worked very slowly and meticulously on cases…”I have never been demon for speed…” (“The Black Camel”). The same can be said of Apana. In their respective modus operandi on cases, both Chan and Apana worked alone. Chan spent most of his time running down gamblers; that was also Apana’s major job. In “The Black Camel”, it is mentioned that Chan has 27 years of service on the job; Apana by the time of the writing of “The Black Camel”, would have served approximately the same length of time.

Chan’s method of inquiry on a case was to investigate the human heart. Apana, too, was a keen student of the human heart and character. Neither Chan nor Apana drank alcoholic beverages. Both Chan and Apana resisted many and all attempts of bribery; as Chan says “All those years on the force, beset with temptations, but always honest, always irreproachable,” (“Keeper Of The Keys”).

In two Chan novels there appears an Inspector Duff: For many years Apana worked under a Chief of Detectives named McDuffie. In “The Keeper Of The Keys”, there is a Chinese servant named Ah Sing, who spoke in a high shrill voice and used broken English. Interestingly, Apana’s given first name was “Ah Ping”, and he too spoke broken English in a high shrill voice. In appearance, Chan was fat, but Apana was slim. The device of polarity is often used by authors to disguise the original that a character is based on (see above, Rose being Chan’s oldest daughter and in actuality Rose was Apana’s youngest daughter)

It is easy to see from the items mentioned above that the similarities between Chan and Apana are more than just cursory.

I will be posting items from time-to-time, about Chang Apana and Charlie Chan here. It is my hope that this blog will be an open forum to discuss things of interest concerning Detective Chang Apana and Charlie Chan.


  1. Hi, I came across your site while doing a little on Charlie Chan for my martial arts website, "Dojo Rat".
    Your comments in The New Yorker's video page is how I found you, and I linked to your website in my post, which is here:

    Thanks, fun and interesting stuff.
    John @ Dojo Rat

  2. No problem. I hope that you stop by again.