Creative research


Professor HUANG Yunte


Professor Huang Yun-te, Lingnan’s Tong Tin Sun Chair Professor of English, was born and grew up on the Mainland, and moved to the United States to pursue his postgrad studies. Over the years, as his academic career developed in the States, the concept of transpacific literature became central to his personal and intellectual interests.


“The transpacific idea started out as a personal reflection,” he explains. “I wanted to bring China and North America together in a form of dialogue.”


Along with the papers he’s written for a more academic readership, and the anthology, the Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature, he has had published, Professor Huang has also been something of a trailblazer in the field of transpacific creative non-fiction. His widely acclaimed books Inseparable and Charlie Chan were inspired by his desire to tell Asian-American stories. Both were published by W W Norton and both were intended for the general reader.


“I was interested in the role Asian-Americans have played in the making of American culture,” he explains. 


Inseparable tells the story of conjoined, or ‘Siamese’, twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who were brought to America in 1829 as a form of freakish exhibit. The twins went on, however, to become financially savvy showmen who married two white sisters, fathered twenty-one children, and owned slaves.


Charlie Chan traces the evolution of the bullwhip-wielding Hawaiian detective into a literary sleuth and Hollywood film icon. In his telling of the story, Professor Huang portrays the ‘honorable detective’ as an embodiment of America’s rich cultural diversity.


Though creative non-fiction has been authored, more typically, by the likes of journalists and politicians, Professor Huang doesn’t see the writing of Inseparable or Charlie Chan as separate from his academic research work. He believes when scholars write creative non-fiction they bring their honed research skills to the endeavour.


“It’s a professional obligation. Because of my background as a researcher, I dig deeply into things and then turn that research into a literary product using creative and literary language. And I feel kind of comfortable and at home, writing in this genre.” He cites Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as his touchstone for his work in this form.


Whether he’s writing creative non-fiction, or a paper for an academic journal, Professor Huang’s research methods remain the same. He always visits archives to read original manuscripts, and for the two books he visited the cemeteries where Charlie Chan and the Bunker twins are buried. “If you look at the epilogues both of them are about my visits to their graves,” he points out. “You don’t get any specific questions answered, but you do get something valuable but intangible.”


He sees the creation of works such as Charlie Chan and Inseparable as an important part of his job as an English scholar. “While academic papers might be read by hundreds of scholars, a creative non-fiction book can reach tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people.”


To know more about Professor Huang Yun-te research projects, please click Lingnan Scholars