Fu Manchu

Arthur Henry Ward (February 15, 1883 – June 1, 1959) is better known to the realm of fantastic fiction as Sax Rohmer, British author of the long-running series featuring the iconic character Dr. Fu Manchu.

Dr. Fu Manchu was introduced to British readers in 1913 in the novel The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu, first serialized in a British magazine then published as a hardcover. The novel was later retitled The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. The next two books in the series were published in 1916 and 1917. Then Ward went on to write a number of unrelated adventures and mysteries before a successful series of 1920s films based on Fu Manchu kindled the public’s interest in more tales of the Asian super-villain genius. The fourth book in the series, Daughter of Fu Manchu, was published in 1931, fourteen years after Ward hoped to be done with the character’s adventures.

Due to the popularity of the series and numerous film adaptations, the character soon became a topic of controversy. Many felt the character established a negative stereotype of Asians. Wikipedia reports that the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a formal complaint against MGM’s film adaptation The Mask of Fu Manchu in 1932. In the 1940s, the release of The Drums of Fu Manchu prompted a request from the U.S. Department of State that no more Fu Manchu films be made since China was an ally against Japan in 1940. Doubleday refused to publish new titles in the series for the duration of World War II. Circumstances also led to the rejection of proposals for stage shows and a Fu Manchu radio serial. Such protests extended to the early 1970s, when the Japanese American Citizens league spoke out against the tone of the stories and the demeaning stereotype they embodied. As recently as 2013, an advertisement for GM vehicles was canceled because it contained a reference to Fu Manchu.

Despite the outcry, the is no denying that Fu Manchu is embedded in American and British cultures, having attained an iconic status in the pulp character pantheon.

Many Sax Rohmer works are available in free electronic formats from Amazon.

These scans are from the library of Christopher Fulbright.

Leave a Reply