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Serial Fu Manchu

The Chinese Supervillain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology

Ruth Mayer

Publication Year: 2013

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 Manchu provides 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 series Asian American History and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan, David Palumbo-Liu, Michael Omi, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ

Published by: Temple University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Like most other books, this one was not written in ingenious isolation. It took shape in conversations in offices and hallways, in coffee shops and wine bars, at dining tables and on sofas; it was fine-tuned at conferences and workshops, many of which included the same groups of people; ...

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Chapter 1. Going Serial: Fu Manchu, the Yellow Peril, and the Machinic Momentum of Ideology

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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; ...

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Chapter 2. Enter Fu Manchu: The Transatlantic Preriodical Press and the Circulation of Stories and Things

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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.). ...

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Chapter 3. Image Power: Seriality, Iconicity, and the Filmic Fu Manchus of the 1930s

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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, ...

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Chapter 4. Machinic Fu Manchu: Popular Seriality and the Logic of Spread

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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” with The 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. ...

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Chapter 5. Evil Chinamen: Yellow Peril Comics and the Ideological Work of Popular Seriality

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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. ...

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Chapter 6. The End of the Assembly Line: Seriality, Ideology, and Popular Culture

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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, ...


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pp. 175-194


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pp. 195-200

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About the Author, Further Reading

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pp. 214-217

Ruth Mayer holds the chair in American Studies at Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. She is the coeditor of Trans-Pacific Interactions: The United States and China, 1880–1950, and Chinatowns in a Transnational World: Myths and Realities of an Urban Phenomenon.

E-ISBN-13: 9781439910573
E-ISBN-10: 143991057X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439910566
Print-ISBN-10: 1439910561

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 2013