Dr Fu Manchu is a fictional villain who was introduced in a series of novels by the English author Sax Rohmer during the first half of the 20th century. The character was also extensively featured in cinema, television, radio, comic strips and comic books for over 90 years and he has also become an archetype of the evil criminal genius and mad scientist, while lending his name to the Fu Manchu mustache.
Rohmer wrote 14 novels concerning the villain. The image of "Orientals" invading Western nations became the foundation of Rohmer's commercial success, being able to sell 20 million copies in his lifetime.
Supervillain Dr Fu Manchu's murderous plots are marked by the extensive use of arcane methods; he disdains guns or explosives, preferring dacoits, Thugs and members of other secret societies as his agents (usually armed with knives) or using "pythons and cobras ... fungi and my tiny allies, the bacilli ... my black spiders" and other peculiar animals or natural chemical weapons. He has a great respect for the truth (in fact, his word is his bond), and uses torture and other gruesome tactics to dispose of his enemies.
Dr Fu Manchu is described as a mysterious villain because he seldom appears on the scene. He always sends his minions to commit crimes for him. In the novel The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu, he sends a beautiful young girl to the crime scene to see that the victim is dead. He also sends a dacoit to attack Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie.
In the novel Fu Manchu's Bride (1933), Dr Fu Manchu claims to hold doctorates from four Western universities, while in Emperor Fu Manchu (1959), he states that he attended Heidelberg University, the Sorbonne and the University of Edinburgh (in the film The Mask of Fu Manchu, however, he states proudly that "I am a doctor of philosophy from Edinburgh, a doctor of law from Christ's College, a doctor of medicine from Harvard. My friends, out of courtesy, call me 'Doctor'".). At the time of their first encounter (1911) Dr Petrie believed that Dr Fu Manchu was more than 70 years old. That would mean that he studied for his first doctorate in the 1860s or 1870s.
According to Cay Van Ash, Rohmer's biographer and former assistant who became the first author to continue the series after Rohmer's death, "Fu Manchu" was a title of honor, which referred to "the warlike Manchu". Van Ash speculates that Dr Fu Manchu was a member of the imperial family of China who backed the losing side in the Boxer Rebellion. In the early books (1913–1917) Dr Fu Manchu is an agent of a Chinese tong, known as the Si-Fan and acts as the mastermind behind a wave of assassinations targeting Westerners living in China. In the later books, (1931–1959) he has gained control of the Si-Fan, which has been changed from a mere Chinese tong into an international criminal organization under his leadership. In addition to attempting to take over the world and restore China to its former glory (Dr Fu Manchu's main goals right from the beginning), the Si-Fan now also tries to eliminate fascist dictators and halt the spread of communism around the globe for its leader's own selfish reasons. Dr Fu Manchu knows that both fascism and communism present major obstacles to his plans for world domination. The Si-Fan is largely funded through criminal activities, particularly the drug trade and human trafficking. Dr Fu Manchu has extended his already considerable lifespan by use of the elixir of life, a formula that he has spent decades trying to perfect.
Opposing Dr Fu Manchu in the stories are Sir Denis Nayland Smith and, in the first three books, Dr Petrie. Petrie narrates the first three novels (the later novels are narrated by various other characters allied with Smith right up to the end of the series). Smith carries on the fight, combating Dr Fu Manchu more by sheer luck and dogged determination than intellectual brilliance except in extremis. Smith and Dr Fu Manchu share a grudging respect for one another, as each believes that a man must keep his word, even to an enemy.
In the first three books, Smith serves in the Indian Imperial Police as a police commissioner in Burma who has been granted a roving commission, allowing him to exercise authorities over any group who can help him in his mission. When Rohmer revived the series in 1931, Smith, who has been knighted for his efforts to defeat Fu Manchu, is an ex-Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard. He later accepts a position with MI6. Several books have him placed on special assignment with the FBI.
Prominent among Dr Fu Manchu's agents is the "seductively lovely" Kâramanèh. Her real name is unknown. She was sold to the Si-Fan by Egyptian slave traders while she was still a child. Kâramanèh falls in love with Dr Petrie, the narrator of the first three books in the series, and rescues Petrie and Nayland Smith many times. Eventually the couple are united and she wins her freedom. They marry and have a daughter, Fleurette, who figures in two later novels, Fu Manchu's Bride (1933) and its sequel, The Trail of Fu Manchu (1934). Lin Carter later created a son for Dr Petrie and Kâramanèh.
Dr Fu Manchu's daughter, Fah Lo Suee, is a devious mastermind in her own right, frequently plotting to usurp her father's position in the Si-Fan and aiding his enemies both within and outside the organization. Her real name is unknown; Fah Lo Suee was a childhood term of endearment. She is introduced anonymously while still a teenager in the third book in the series and plays a larger role in several of the titles of the 1930s and 1940s. She is known for a time as Koreani after being brainwashed by her father, but her memory is later restored. Like her father, she takes on false identities, among them Madame Ingomar, Queen Mamaloi and Mrs van Roorden. In films she has been portrayed by numerous actresses over the years. Her character is usually renamed in film adaptations because of difficulties with the pronunciation of her name. Anna May Wong played Ling Moy in Daughter of the Dragon (1931). Myrna Loy portrayed the similarly named Fah Lo See in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Gloria Franklin had the role of Fah Lo Suee in Drums of Fu Manchu (1940). Laurette Luez played Karamaneh in The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956), but the character owed more to Fah Lo Suee than to Rohmer's depiction of Kâramanèh. Tsai Chin portrayed Dr Fu Manchu's daughter Lin Tang in the five Christopher Lee films of the 1960s.
The stories of Dr Fu Manchu, both in print and on screen, have sparked numerous accusations of racism and orientalism, from his fiendish design to his nonsensical Chinese name. After the release of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's film adaptation of The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), which featured the Chinese villain telling his followers that they must "kill the white man and take his women", the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, issued a formal complaint against the film.
Following the release of Republic Pictures' serial adaptation of Drums of Fu Manchu (1940) the U.S. State Department requested that the studio make no further films about the character, as China was an ally against Japan during the Second World War. Likewise, Rohmer's publisher, Doubleday, refused to publish additions to the best-selling series for the duration of the Second World War once the United States entered the conflict. BBC Radio and Broadway investors subsequently rejected Rohmer's proposals for an original Fu Manchu radio serial and stage show during the 1940s.
The re-release of The Mask of Fu Manchu in 1972 was met with protests from the Japanese American Citizens League, which stated that "the movie was offensive and demeaning to Asian Americans". CBS Television decided to cancel a showing of The Vengeance of Fu Manchu. Los Angeles TV station KTLA shared similar sentiments, but ultimately decided to run The Brides of Fu Manchu with the disclaimer: "This feature is presented as fictional entertainment and is not intended to reflect adversely on any race, creed or national origin."
Rohmer responded to charges that his work demonized Asians in Master of Villainy, an autobiography co-written by his wife:
Of course, not the whole Chinese population of Limehouse was criminal. But it contained a large number of persons who had left their own country for the most urgent of reasons. These people knew no way of making a living other than the criminal activities that had made China too hot for them. They brought their crimes with them.
It was Rohmer's contention that he based Dr Fu Manchu and other "Yellow Peril" mysteries on real Chinese criminals he met as a newspaper reporter covering Limehouse.
Characterizing Dr Fu Manchu as an overtly racist creation has been criticized in the book Lord of Strange Deaths: The Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer. In a review of the book in The Independent Dr Fu Manchu is contextualised: "These magnificently absurd books, glowing with a crazed exoticism, are really far less polar, less black and white, less white and yellow, than they first seem."
The style of facial hair associated with Fu Manchu in film adaptations has become known as the Fu Manchu mustache. The "Fu Manchu" mustache is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a "long, narrow moustache whose ends taper and droop down to the chin", although Rohmer's writings described the character as wearing no such adornment.
Before the creation of Fu Manchu, Chinese people were often portrayed in Western media as victims. Fu Manchu indicated a new phase in which Chinese people were portrayed as perpetrators of crime and threats to Western society as a whole.[page needed]
The character of Dr Fu Manchu became, for some, a stereotype embodying the "Yellow Peril". For others Fu Manchu became the most notorious personification of Western views of the Chinese,[page needed] and became the model for other villains in contemporary "Yellow Peril" thrillers: these villains often had characteristics consistent with xenophobic stereotypes which coincided with a significant increase in Chinese emigration to Western countries.
After the Second World War, the stereotype inspired by Fu Manchu increasingly became a subject of satire. Fred Fu Manchu, a "famous Chinese bamboo saxophonist", was a recurring character on The Goon Show, a 1950s British radio comedy programme. He was featured in the episode "The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu Manchu" in 1955 (announced as "Fred Fu Manchu and his Bamboo Saxophone"), and made minor appearances in other episodes (including "China Story", "The Siege of Fort Night", and in "The Lost Emperor" as "Doctor Fred Fu Manchu, Oriental tattooist"). The character was created and performed by the comedian Spike Milligan, who used it to mock the xenophobic attitudes which had led to the creation of the character. The character was also parodied in a later radio comedy, Round the Horne, as Dr Chu En Ginsberg MA (failed), portrayed by Kenneth Williams.
Dr Fu Manchu was parodied as Dr Wu in the action-comedy film Black Dynamite (2009), in which the executor of an evil plan against African Americans is an insidious, mustache-sporting kung fu master.
Dr Fu Manchu also makes appearances in the following non-Fu Manchu works:
Dr Fu Manchu first appeared on the big screen in the British silent film series The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu (1923) starring Harry Agar Lyons, a series of 15 short feature films, each running around 20 minutes. Lyons returned to the role in The Further Mysteries of Dr Fu Manchu (1924), which comprised eight additional short feature films.
Dr Fu Manchu made his American film debut in Paramount Pictures' early talkie The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929) starring Warner Oland, soon to be known for his portrayal of Charlie Chan. Oland repeated the role in The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1930) and Daughter of the Dragon (1931) as well as in the short film Murder Will Out (part of the omnibus film Paramount on Parade) in which Dr. Fu Manchu confronts both Philo Vance and Sherlock Holmes.
The most controversial incarnation of the character was MGM's The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy. At the time of its first release the film was considered racist and offensive by representatives of the Chinese government. The film was suppressed for many years, but has been released on DVD uncut.
Dr Fu Manchu returned to the serial format in Republic Pictures' Drums of Fu Manchu (1940), a 15-episode serial considered to be one of the best the studio ever made. It was later edited and released as a feature film in 1943.
Other than an obscure, unauthorized Spanish spoof El Otro Fu Manchu (1946), the Devil Doctor was absent from the big screen for 25 years, until producer Harry Alan Towers began a series starring Christopher Lee in 1965. Towers and Lee made five Fu Manchu films: The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969).
The character's last authorised film appearance was in the Peter Sellers spoof The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980), with Sellers featured as both Dr Fu Manchu and Nayland Smith. The film bore little resemblance to any earlier film or the original books. Fu Manchu claims he was known as "Fred" at public school, a reference to the character in "The Terrible Revenge of Fred Fu Manchu", a 1955 episode of The Goon Show which had co-starred Sellers.
Jesús Franco, who directed The Blood of Fu Manchu and The Castle of Fu Manchu, also directed The Girl from Rio, the second of three Harry Alan Towers films based on Rohmer's Fu Manchu-like female character Sumuru. He later directed an unauthorized 1986 Spanish film featuring Dr Fu Manchu's daughter, Esclavas del Crimen.
A composite character of Fu Manchu and the Mandarin, based on the former character's depiction in Secret Wars in the identity of the latter, will appear in the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-wai. The character was previously referenced in the Iron Man trilogy and All Hail the King.
A half-hour pilot was produced in 1952 for NBC's consideration starring Cedric Hardwicke as Sir Denis Nayland Smith, John Carradine as Dr. Fu Manchu, and Reed Hadley as Dr. John Petrie. NBC turned it down without broadcasting it, but it has been screened at special events.
The television arm of Republic Pictures produced a 13-episode syndicated series, The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956), starring Glen Gordon as Dr. Fu Manchu, Lester Matthews as Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and Clark Howat as Dr. John Petrie. The title sequence depicted Smith and Dr. Fu Manchu in a game of chess as the announcer stated that "the devil is said to play for men's souls. So does Dr. Fu Manchu, evil incarnate." At the conclusion of each episode, after Nayland Smith and Petrie had foiled Dr. Fu Manchu's latest fiendish scheme, Dr. Fu Manchu would be seen breaking a black chess piece in a fit of frustration (black king's bishop, always the same scene, repeated) just before the closing credits rolled. It was directed by Franklin Adreon, as well as William Witney. Dr. Fu Manchu was never allowed to succeed in this TV series. Unlike the Holmes/Watson type relationship of the films, the series featured Smith as a law enforcement officer and Petrie as a staff member for the Surgeon-General.
Dr. Fu Manchu's earliest radio appearances were on The Collier Hour 1927–1931 on the Blue Network. This was a radio program designed to promote Collier's magazine and presented weekly dramatizations of the current issue's stories and serials. Dr. Fu Manchu was voiced by Arthur Hughes. A self-titled show on CBS followed in 1932–33. John C. Daly, and later Harold Huber, played Dr. Fu Manchu. In 2010, Fu Manchu's connections with the University of Edinburgh where he supposedly obtained a doctorate were investigated in a mockumentary by Miles Jupp for BBC Radio 4. Additionally, there were "pirate" broadcasts from the continent into Britain, from Radio Luxembourg and Radio Lyons in 1936 through 1937. Frank Cochrane voiced Dr. Fu Manchu. The BBC produced a competing series, The Peculiar Case of the Poppy Club, starting in 1939. That same year, The Shadow of Fu Manchu aired in the United States as a thrice-weekly serial dramatizing the first nine novels.[page needed]
Dr. Fu Manchu was first brought to newspaper comic strips in a black and white daily comic strip drawn by Leo O'Mealia (1884–1960) that ran from 1931 to 1933. The strips were adaptations of the first two Dr. Fu Manchu novels and part of the third. Unlike most other illustrators, O'Mealia drew Dr. Fu Manchu as a clean-shaven man with an abnormally large cranium. The strips were copyrighted by "Sax Rohmer and The Bell Syndicate, Inc." Two of the Dr. Fu Manchu comic strip storylines were reprinted in the 1989 book Fu Manchu: Two Complete Adventures.