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Serial Fu Manchu

Serial Fu Manchu: The Chinese Supervillain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology

Ruth Mayer
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    Serial Fu Manchu
    Book Description:

    The evil mastermind-and master of disguise-Fu Manchu has long threatened to take over the world. In the past century, his dastardly plans have driven serialized novels, comic books, films, and TV. Yet this sinister Oriental character represents more than an invincible criminal in pop culture; Fu Manchu became the embodiment of the Yellow Peril.

    Serial Fu Manchuprovides a savvy cultural, historical, and media-based analysis that shows how Fu Manchu's irrepressibility gives shape to-and reinforces-the persistent Yellow Peril myth. Ruth Mayer argues that seriality is not merely a commercial strategy but essential to the spread of European and American fears of Asian expansion.

    Tracing Fu Manchu through transnational serials in varied media from 1913 to the 1970s, Mayer shows how the icon evolved. She pays particular attention to the figure's literary foundations, the impact of media changes on his dissemination, and his legacy.In the seriesAsian American History and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan, David Palumbo-Liu, Michael Omi, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-1057-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 Going Serial: Fu Manchu, the Yellow Peril, and the Machinic Momentum of Ideology
    (pp. 1-26)

    There was a time when Fu Manchu was everywhere and everybody seemed to know him. those days are over. Today, the Chinese master criminal who emblematized the yellow peril from 1913 to the 1970s is almost forgotten. Like his popular cultural counterpart Charlie Chan, the embarrassingly harmless Chinese detective, Fu Manchu lost his powerful position in transatlantic popular culture; at best, people recall the mustache. Some may have vague memories of Christopher Lee reruns on TV, and film buffs sometimes remember Boris Karloff and his oriental gear, but mostly the figure of Fu Manchu seems to have disappeared without much...

  5. 2 Enter Fu Manchu: The Transatlantic Periodical Press and the Circulation of Stories and Things
    (pp. 27-58)

    Fu Manchu enters the world of literature without making an actual appearance. The stand-alone story “The Zayat Kiss” (The Story-Teller, 1912;Collier’s, 1913) counts as the first Fu Manchu story, and indeed there is much talk in it of the mysterious Chinese doctor who poses a threat to the survival “of the entire white race” (Stedman, n.d.). The story also contains arguably the most popular passage Sax Rohmer ever wrote, conjuring up the villain’s superhuman capacities (“Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan”) and identifying him as “the...

  6. 3 Image Power: Seriality, Iconicity, and the Filmic Fu Manchus of the 1930s
    (pp. 59-90)

    In 1930, after twelve years of abstinence from the Fu Manchu storyline, Sax Rohmer resuscitated his serial figure. The decision may have had to do with the fact that Rohmer had financial problems throughout the 1920s and that in 1929 the first sound film featuring Fu Manchu (The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu) had appeared and had done very well at the box office, attesting to an unabated public demand for yellow peril fare. It may also have been related to the fact that control over the figure was slipping from the writer’s hand; the serial figure obviously had gained a...

  7. 4 Machinic Fu Manchu: Popular Seriality and the Logic of Spread
    (pp. 91-118)

    In the 1910s and 1920s, the serial figure of Fu Manchu established itself. In the early 1930s, it became iconic when Hollywood forged Fu Manchu’s definitive “look” withThe Mask of Fu Manchu. And between the 1930s and the 1970s, in what I call the figure’s classical phase, its serial spread increased exponentially. The dynamics of this development manifest themselves particularly forcefully when read against later enactments of the figure, around the turn of the twenty-first century. In 2009, Gary Indiana published his Fu Manchu novelThe Shanghai Gesture, a highly eccentric adaptation of the subject matter, which reads in...

  8. 5 Evil Chinamen: Yellow Peril Comics and the Ideological Work of Popular Seriality
    (pp. 119-154)

    Perhaps no medium is better suited to the dispersal and dissemination of the serial figure than the comic. The 1930s brought the medium into its own, because new modes of production and distribution allowed for new narratives and new formats that were no longer conceived as mere sideshows or complementary add-ons but now constituted the main attraction. In its so-called Golden Age, between the 1930s and the 1940s, the comic strip went serial. At the same time, the comics fully appropriated the serialized narrative formulae, plot conventions, and character constellations of adventure fiction, which then transmuted into the formal and...

  9. 6 The End of the Assembly Line: Seriality, Ideology, and Popular Culture
    (pp. 155-174)

    Fu Manchu is multiply serial, a figure of spread and sprawl that has fanned out into so many variants that the figure’s many actualizations could not possibly all cohabit the same fictional universe or draw on the same committing story logic. The figure made its way through the twentieth century by latching on to whatever medium was most up-to-date at any given time, crossing over and branching out wherever a point of entry opened up or a pathway revealed itself. It gained its serial momentum in the first place because it was never made out as unique and singular but...

  10. References
    (pp. 175-194)
  11. Index
    (pp. 195-200)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-204)