Analysis and Stereotype on the WWW
Updated: December 22, 1998
Fu Manchu is discussed in a surprising number of articles, essays and papers that are
available on the web. The majority discuss Fu Manchu as a stereotype, but a few discuss
detective fiction as a genre. Each entry is followed by an excerpt. Print titles which
discuss Fu Manchu are found on the Related Titles page.
Ham, Paul S. "The Asian American Male
as Sex (-less) (-ist) (-ual) Symbol." Asian American Students in Action. Williams
(5 Sept. 1997).
Another popular perception of the Asian American male on TV was formed
with the recognition of Asian American involvement in crime, especially organized crime.
Because of this recognition, Asian Americans go through a "media-assisted
criminalization process ... on network television."
Ham, Paul S. Battling
Static: The Stifling of Dialogue by Intellectual Property Laws, Compared with the
Battle Over Misrepresentations of Native and Asian Americans in the American Mass Media.
Asian American Students in Action. Williams College. http://wso.williams.edu/orgs/aasia/papers/battling.static.html
(5 Sept. 1997).
Early on in the formation of the Asian American image, the predominant image for Asians
was as the merciless "yellow peril," villain to all mankind. British author Sax
Rohmer began to publish his Fu Manchu series in 1913, with the much mentioned but rarely
seen Dr. Fu Manchu, "the yellow peril incarnate in one man."
Ham, Paul S.. "The Tearing of the
Asian American Identity." HIST 332, 02.22.96, Paper
#1. Asian American Students in Action. Williams College. http://wso.williams.edu/orgs/aasia/papers/tearing.identity.html
(5 Sept. 1997).
Okihiro points out that they are not independent, polar opposites: there is "a
circular relationship that moves in either direction [between femininity and
masculinity]" (142). He then recalls from the past the characters of Fu Manchu and
Charlie Chan. These two media characters both are inherently combinations of the yellow
peril and the model minority. "Fu Manchu is masculine. He is a leader, speaks
impeccable English, and poses a martial threat to whites. Charlie Chan is feminine. He is
led by a white man, speaks with a broken tongue, and is docile and polite to a fault"
Ito, Robert B. "'A
Certain Slant,' A Brief History of Hollywood Yellowface." Bright Lights Film
Journal. Issue 18: Dark Hollywood. http://www.slip.net/~gmm/18_yellow.html
(11 August 1997).
During much of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, scores of actors,
big-name actors, had no moral qualms about taking roles that required them to
"slant" their eyes, do that funny walk, and practice their embarrassingly poor
"Oriental" accents. Although most actors did the yellowface thing as a one-shot
deal, a handful, like "Charlie Chan" actor Warner Oland and Siamese king Yul
Brynner, actually spent much of their careers unashamedly accepting such roles.
Kao, Eric. "19th
Century Images and Stereotypes of Chinese/Chinese-Americans in the United States: Media
Portrayal and Historical Basis." Asian American Studies 121. Berkeley. http://www.itp.berkeley.edu/~ekao/paper.html
(4 Dec. 1997).
Another study of adults in Chicago showed that many Americans
"feared the 'criminal appearance' of Chinese laundrymen, whom they believed 'did all
kinds of sinister and mysterious things in their back rooms', ate rats, and kidnapped
little boys in their laundry bags and hid them in rooms behind secret sliding
From such circumstances arose a number of stereotypes and misconceptions, such as the
character of Dr. Fu Manchu, created in 1913 by Sax Rohmer and eventually appearing in
thirteen novels and many films and radio programs. Fu Manchu was characterized by a long,
black mustache, long, flowing Chinese-style robes, and a sinister smile. He was immensely,
coldly intelligent yet seemingly possessed no soul or emotion. He was the embodiment of
evil, juxtaposed with the more human white protagonists.
Kashiwabara, Amy." Vanishing
Son: The Appearance, Disappearance, and Assimilation of the Asian-American Man in American
Mainstream Media." University of California, Berkeley. http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/Amydoc.html
(25 Sept. 1997).
Hollywood has often failed, however, to make a distinction between Asian-Americans and
Asians. Therefore, attitudes toward Asian-American men have been heavily influenced by
portrayals of Asian men. As Eugene Franklin Wong puts it, "the hand-me-down potential
of stereotypes, especially negative ones, can be activated by the presentation of motion
pictures that were made years earlier." Critics have also noted two distinct types
of representations of Asian men in American movies, iconized by the fictional characters
Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan.
Major, John S. "Asia Through a Glass Darkly:
Stereotypes of Asians in Western Literature." Asia Society's Focus on Asian
Studies, Vol. V, No. 3, Contemporary Literature, pp. 4-8, Spring 1986. Copyright AskAsia,
(14 July 1997).
To add to the ambivalence, in the 1940's the "New China" of
Chiang Kai-shek became our stalwart wartime ally. Other images of China from this time are
of sufficiently recent memory to be familiar. Everyone has heard of Fu Manchu, a
descendant of the heathen Chinee of the 19th century, by the '40's a stock figure in
popular literature. Sinister, threatening, violent, he also has other avatars: Emperor
Ming of Mongo in "Flash Gordon," the Dragon Lady in "Terry and the
Mathewson, Nick. "A
Morpholology of the Detective Story." Interactive and Nonlinear Fiction. M.I.T. http://www.mit.edu/people/nickm/Propp/
(9 Aug. 1997).
It is important to note that there are many so-called "detective stories"
that are not stories of investigation. A tale of a hard-boiled detective who drinks
himself to death; those 1940's Sherlock Holmes movies in which Holmes abandoned detection
in favor of infiltrating Nazi lines; the Sax Romer's Fu Manchu novels (wherein the
villian's identity was known to reader and detective alike as early as the title page):
these do not concern investigation, and are therefore not detective stories as defined
Moon H. Jo and Daniel D. Mast. Changing
Images of Asian Americans. International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society,
VoL 6, No.3, 1993.
The stereotype of the incredibly devious and treacherous Chinese, so firmly etched in
the popular mind in the 1870s and 1880s, in spite of the efforts of writers and artists,
such as Mark Twain and Thomas Nast, to defend the Chinese, has continued well into the
twentieth century in some of America's best-selling mystery and suspense fiction. Sax
Rohmer, the pen name of Arthur Sarsfield Ward, made his fortune writing about the evil and
cunning Chinese. In 1913, he introduced his infamous Dr. FuManchu, a brilliant but
diabolically evil master criminal bent on taking over the world. Although the character's
prototype was invented in a climate of hysteria over the threat that the Chinese workers
posed to native labor, it thrilled readers for over four decades.
Morefield, David. "Bond and the Pulps." Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! The Web Magazine of
the Ian Fleming Foundation. http://www.ianfleming.org/mkkbb/pulps.htm
(22 Sept. 1997).
Nowhere is the influence of the pulps more pronounced than in "Dr.
No," a novel featuring a deformed and depraved Oriental mastermind (in the pulps we
knew Dr. No as Dr. Yen-Sin, Fu Manchu or Shiwan Khan) living on a forbidden island
("The Fantastic Island" and many others) protected by a machine that plays on
the superstitions of the gullible (here its the "Dragon" tank -- in Doc
Savage adventures it was mechanized "sea serpents" and "flying
saucers"). The villain likes to torture good guys, puts naked women in bizarre death
traps for a giggle, and makes a pet out of a giant squid! If Fleming wasnt
influenced by the pulps, little else short of LSD can account for this book!
Nepstad, Peter. "Inscrutable
Oriental plots World Domination." The Illuminated Lantern: Revealing
the Heart of Asian Cinema.
The writer, Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, known to the world by
his pen name, Sax Rohmer, was an irishman living in London, and had no secret
political agenda. Rather, he was simply able to encapsulate and reflect the
uncertainties and fears the working class had against the foreigners in their
midst. England had long since caught the Yellow Peril paranoia wafting over
from America. Sax Rohmer would give a name to the peril, and export it back to
the states, where it would be a smashing success and provide him with a steady
cash flow. The final total of his earnings for the Fu Manchu books came to
around two million dollars. Later in life, he moved closer to his fans, to New
York, where he continued to write stories of Fu Manchu until his death in
Nevins, Jess. "On
Yellow Peril Thrillers." Violet Books.
Yellow Peril figure has, without question, been a negative one in Western
culture. As recent events involving American spy planes have shown, anti-Asian
& anti-Chinese bias continues to remain close to the surface of the
American psyche, over 80 years after the introduction of the insidious Dr. Fu
Manchu. One of the most interesting examples of this bias is the Yellow
Peril/Fu Manchu figure, which has appeared in several forms over the decades.
What most people do not realize, however, is that the Yellow Peril figure
significantly predates Arthur "Sax Rohmer" Ward's writings; Fu
Manchu, while the most archetypal of the Yellow Perils, stands as the high
point for the stereotype, neither at the beginning nor at the end of the
Pan, Lincoln J. "The Confusion of the Race
Dialectic: A critique of Gary Okihiro's Margins and Mainstreams." Asian American
Students in Action. Williams College. http://wso.williams.edu/orgs/aasia/papers/crit.mass.html
(5 Sept. 1997).
In William Wei's Asian American Movement, the genesis of Asian American
identity comes with the "refutation of stereotypes, the reclaiming of history, and
the reconstruction of a culture." Wei argues that the movement of the 1960's was
to completely refute the stereo-types of Asians, whether those are the subhuman,
diabolical Fu Manchu or the obese, yet intellectual Charlie Chan. Wei calls stereotypes
"false images which obscure the diversity of Asian Americans."
Tracey, Grant. "Flash Gordon."
Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture. Issue 4. http://www.qni.com/~ijournal/issue04/infocus/flashgordon.htm
(24 Aug. 1997).
Ming, the alien outsider, and Aura, the desiring female, are both transgressive
figures, needing to be somehow contained by the texts racist and sexist ideology.
Ming is clearly Asian-coded in Alex Raymonds Sunday stripshis skin is colored
yellow; in the film, "Asian otherness" is implied through Mings appearance
(the mustache, the exoticized fingers, the squinting eyes, and the Fu Manchu mustache all
recall Sax Rohmers Asian mastermind bent on world domination), his stereotypical
manner (inscrutable and deadly), and the far-eastern sounds to the names that inform his
identity (Mongo, a diminutive for Mongolia; Ming, a reference to a series of imperial
dynasties in Chinas history). Mings desire for Dale and Auras desire for
Flash spins the narrative in dynamic directions, sometimes pitting daughter against
father, other times aligning them in their common lust.
Unmasking Fu Manchu. MGM Video
(12 December 1997).
Sax Rohmer's original pulp series, written early in the twentieth century, is the kind
of obvious racist stuff that is often glossed over as 'quaintly harmless' in these
supposedly more enlightened times. I personally feel that much of the staying power of
ugly attitudes can be attributed to the fact that our popular culture, in the name of
propriety, tries to correct that which is politically embarassing by hiding the offensive
books and films that used to be in circulation and pretending they never happened. New
generations come along, and with the truth suppressed, can easily believe that these old
ideas are quaint and harmless - instead of the living, powerful lies that they truly are.
In my book, censorship, for even the most benign purposes, always reveals itself as a
deeply malign force.
von Yvonne, Walter. "The
'Ayatollah of Asian America' versus the 'Woman Warrior': Remarks on the Chinese American
Literary War." Twin Peaks. http://www.uni-leipzig.de/~amerika/tp/tp_309.htm
(21 June 1997).
Chinese men have been portrayed as emasculated ever since they started appearing in
movies, newspapers, and on TV. They have not been represented building the railroad that
now connects the East and West Coast, working the Sacramento gold mines or fishing San
Francisco Bay. What we have seen is Hop Sing, the pigtailed cook with a high - feminine -
voice in Bonanza, the slow-speaking, sometimes stupid-looking David Carradine (who is not
even Asian!) in Kung Fu, the evil Fu Manchu with long, feminine fingernails or clumsy
Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N. "Time to Lay the
Ghost of Fu Manchu to Rest." Jinn. March 21, 1996. http://www.pacificnews.org/jinn/stories/2.06/960321-fu-manchu.html
(12 Sept. 1997).
For over a century, American news media have viewed China through the prism of our most
extreme hopes and fears. The Chinese themselves are rendered as one-dimensional figures --
either frightening Fu Manchu-like demons or people whose greatest hope is to become like
us. The time has come to lay the ghost of Fu Manchu to rest before it perpetuates another
century of distortions.
The Page of Fu Manchu