Cross-Cultural Detectives

– The mutual cultural fascination in early 20th century Chinese and Western crime fiction

Presented at the ‘Popular Cultures in and of and out of Asia‘ panel at the 6th annual International Asian Dynamics Initiative Conference. University of Copenhagen: 22-­24 October 2014.

During the first half of the 20th century, Chinese writers of detective stories have been inspired by a growing familiarity with European and American crime fiction. Thus Cheng Xiaoqing has been called ‘the Chinese Conan Doyle’ and Sun Liaohong’s gentleman detective Lu Ping is directly inspired by Arséne Lupin.

Curiously the same period boasts a rise in the number of Western authors incorporating Chinese environments and characters into their crime novels: Earl Derr Biggers’ Chinese detective Charlie Chan, Sax Rohmer’s Chinese super villain Fu Manchu and the Chinese sidekick in Edgar Wallace’s The Daffodil Mystery to mention a few.

This paper investigates the socio-historical conditions which made such exchange possible, as well as the literary consequences and cultural images produced by this cross-cultural fascination.

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