English novelist Sax Rohmer stated he requested a Ouija board how he would make his fortune and it spelled out: ‘Chinaman.’
Rohmer had by no means been to China and thus relied upon early nineteenth century cliches of the ‘yellow fever’ hysteria which cast the Chinese as a malevolent, expansionist foe which threatened white Western hegemony.
In 1913, his first novel within the sequence was revealed, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
So reads the character’s first introduction to the reader:
‘Imagine an individual, tall, lean, and feline, excessive shouldered, with a forehead like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven cranium, and lengthy, magnetic eyes … Invest him with all of the merciless crafty of a whole Eastern race, amassed in a single big mind, with all of the resources of science previous and current … Imagine that terrible being, and you’ve got an image of Dr. Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in a single man.’
Christopher Lee in The Brides of Fu Manchu – 1966
Christopher Lee and Tsai Chin in ‘The Face of Fu Manchu’, 1965 (left); and Peter Sellers and Helen Mirren in The Fiendish Plot Of Dr Fu Manchu, 1980
Fu Manchu grew to become a pulp fiction, penny dreadful hit and, though Rohmer would kill the character off on a number of events, he was all the time pressured into bringing him again to life.
In complete there have been 13 Fu Manchu novels by Rohmer and the character impressed a number of spin-offs on stage, display screen, in radio serials and comedian books.
The mustachioed prison mastermind was portrayed by white Britons resembling Boris Karloff, Peter Sellers and Christopher Lee.
He influenced James Bond villain Dr No and Flash Gordon’s Ming the Merciless.
By the mid-Twentieth century the character was so entrenched in widespread tradition that Marvel author Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin have been impressed to create Shang-Chi in 1972.
Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu, 1930, (left) and Peter Sellers in The Fiendish Plot Of Dr Fu Manchu, 1980
Rohmer’s creation influenced Ming the Merciless within the 1980 movie, Flash Gordon
Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu, 1930
Fu Manchu was Sang-Chi’s evil father within the long-running comedian guide, Master of Kung Fu, which ran from 1973 to 1983.
He was portrayed in a way largely according to Rohmer’s novels: an excellent and calculating grasp villain who aspires to rule the world.
From 1983 onwards, Shang-Chi – launched because the son of Fu Manchu by Marvel – had his personal comedian guide sequence.