Introduction On Racism Epigraphs A History of the Pulps A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Glossary and Character Taxonomy Breakdown by Country of Origin Bibliography Table of Contents The Best of the Encyclopedia
Wong, James Lee. James Lee Wong was created by Hugh Wiley (Jim Sin, Wildcat (I)) and appeared in sixteen short stories in Collier’s, Blue Book, and Saint Detective Magazine and twelve movies from 1930 to 1955, beginning with “In Chinatown” (Colliers, June 14, 1930); twelve of the stories were collected in Murder by the Dozen (1951). Wong was one of the first thoroughly Americanized Chinese-American protagonists and represents a significant break from and rebuke to the Yellow Peril tradition.
James Lee Wong is a Chinese-American agent for the State Department. He was educated at Yale and is erudite, knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects (not just those having to do with his job), speaks perfect English (another departure for Asian characters of the 1930s), is an expert on Chinese history and culture, and has a thorough knowledge of and familiarity with criminology and scientific methods. Wong operates undercover for the State Department from an apartment in San Francisco's Chinatown.
He is described by a former classmate as "six feet tall...after the first drag at his cigarette he let a cloud of smoke drift through the thin nostrils of his aquiline nose...his face was suddenly the face of a foreign devil–a ‘Yankee.'" Wong is well-respected by both whites and Chinese-Americans, and works easily in both communities. (Another departure from tradition was how the Chinese in the Wong stories spoke: they used proper English, rather than pidgin). Wong is also respected by the State Department and does not encounter any overt prejudice the way Charlie Chan did. Wong's cases often have an international flavor, with him solving the murder of a Russian woman (from Japanese agents) in one story and stopping the U.S. from being dragged into a war against France and Japan in another story. During the 1950s he takes on Communist spies.
* I'm including James Lee Wong in the Best of the Encyclopedia list because of his historical importance. As stated above, Wong was one of first real Americanized Chinese-American protagonists. There was nothing stereotypical about him--neither the descriptions of his looks nor his dialogue indulged in any of the racisms so common to the pulps. He was competent, he was smooth, and he was well-informed on everything he needed to be. Wong isn't an idealized character, which would be another kind of racism; he's just very good at his job. This was all a major departure from the Yellow Peril tradition, one of the first in the pulps or the slicks.
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