Fu Manchu refrigerator magnet PIN

Fu Manchu Forever

God save Fu Manchu  Ray Davies, "The Village Green Preservation Society"

"Petrie, I have traveled from Burma not in the interests of the British Government merely, but in the interests of the entire white race, and I honestly believe - Though I pray I may be wrong - that its survival depends largely upon the success of my mission" - Commissioner Nayland Smith

First edition cover of the first Fu Manchu bookDr Fu Manchu was the star of a series of really good English detective/spy novels by Sax Rohmer, eventually resulting in several movies.  The most famous film version was The Mask of Fu Manchu, made in 1932 and starring Boris Karloff as the evil Chinese genius.  That movie was pretty good and right interesting, but inevitably substantially changed and dumbed way down from the complexities of the novel.  If you want to get into Fu Manchu, you should definitely start with the first full book, The Return of Dr Fu-Manchu, first published in 1916.  This was the first proper book after The Mystery of Dr Dr Fu Manchu aka The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu, which was published in 1913 based on a series of short stories published serially in Colliers. Rohmer wrote a total of 13 Fu Manchu books, counting the Colliers compilation.

Fu Manchu was essentially a political operative, a spy type character subverting the English empire and setting the world up for Eastern domination.  The stories were set primarily in London's Chinatown.  At least in the first novel, Fu Manchu didn't really seem to be doing too much subverting - he was mostly hustling to stay ahead of the dogged pursuit of our hero Nayland Smith, a British commissioner and his best friend Dr Petrie - the narrator of the first three books.

In terms of literary influence, the Fu Manchu stories would definitely be an early progenitor of spy novels and James Bond, with the agent given special powers, a "license to kill" for 007 - or the letter of commission that Smith carried around that routinely immediately intimidated any Englishman into unquestioning co-operation.  Plus, the evil genius super-villain set on world domination with all the gadgetry and baroque special custom poisons and such.

Also, Fu Manchu would have to be a major precursor to The Manchurian Candidate.  Indeed, eventually the evil yellow genius set on world domination got around to setting up a patsy candidate in President Fu Manchu in 1936. Sax Rohmer's character also already had a lot of the same themes of brainwashing and mind control.  Pity poor Karamaneh like you would Raymond Shaw.  The Manchurian Candidate put the brainwashing in modern scientific terms ie "The Pavlov Institute."  Rohmer put the brainwashing into a frame of ancient texts of Chinese black science - which seems more interesting and mysterious.

In the day, Fu Manchu was one of the most popular characters in all of English language literature. There were bunches of radio and movie serial versions of the character, comic strips and comic books, and all kinds of stuff.  Today, the books and movies and the whole idea of Fu Manchu are largely regarded as discredited and wicked on grounds of being "racist" - as if that would be a compelling reason to shun a work of art.  In fact, this is really all the more reason now to read the books to see the exact nature of the racial offenses and for insight into the thinking of that time in history.  We'll get into this in much more detail in the notes on the book and the movie, but for starters here is the very first description of the Fu Manchu character from the first Colliers story, repeated in the opening of The Return of Fu Manchu.

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, highshouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green.  Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government - which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence.  Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.

Mostly, Rohmer stayed out of the specific politics of the day.  If it is any mitigation of his sins though, Fu Manchu in the later novels was apparently actively opposing Mao's communist revolution. 

As to the Chinese seeking dominance over the United States in particular, you don't really need conspiracy theories and spy novels.  Just watch them buying the bonds to finance US trillion dollar deficit spending, buying great influence over US quite openly and legally.  Evil yellow bastards!  But really, who you going to blame for this situation - them or US Obama voters selling ourselves out.   I'm just saying.

Boris Karloff as Dr Fu Manchu in 1932

The Return of Dr Fu-Manchu  Notes on the first full novel, from 1916

The Mask of Fu Manchu  Notes on the 1932 Boris Karloff film



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