Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

The Fiendish Plots of Dr. Fu Manchu in the Twenty-First Century: The Yellow Peril in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

The Fiendish Plots of Dr. Fu Manchu in the Twenty-First Century: The Yellow Peril in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy

Article excerpt

"This is Fu Manchu. Once again the world is at my mercy. I have conquered not only the mysteries of the continent but now of the oceans too. In the tropical waters of the south Atlantic my hand stretches out to turn water into ice - and to transform safety into the deadliest peril. In a few moments the proof of my mastery will be complete."

- Fu Manchu in The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

In the 1986 cult classic Big Trouble in Little China, starring Kurt Russell, San Francisco's Chinatown is stereotypically portrayed as a dark and exotic space where danger lurks around every corner and a two-thousand-year-old Chinese sorcerer named Lo Pan, played by legendary Asian-American actor James Hong, is a mystical, evil entity who has his underlings kidnap young women with green eyes, so he can become mortal once again. It is this trope of Asian-American evildoers intent on conquering the world, or at least San Francisco's Chinatown in this case, lurking in the shadows and disposing of anyone who gets in their way, that is a continuation of the Dr. Fu Manchu stereotype and still persists today. From his inception, the figure of Fu Manchu has survived and evolved in one form or another over the course of time. In Christopher Nolan's recently concluded Dark Knight trilogy, the memory of Fu Manchu is invoked and the Asian-American presence in the trilogy is similarly depicted as an evil and insidious "yellow peril" who threatens the Eurocentric world order and (white) society at large.

The term "yellow peril" initially referred to Chinese immigrants or "coolies" during the mid-nineteenth century and later to the Japanese in the early twentieth century after their defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and again during the 1980s with the rise of Japanese corporations in various industries. The term connoted the belief that Asian (mainly Chinese) immigration to the U.S., and later the military and economic expansion by the Japanese, threatened a Eurocentric worldview and standard of life. Anti-Asian sentiment was prevalent during these periods as Asians were lumped together under the banner of the monolithic moniker of the "yellow peril": "The newly constructed 'yellow peril' scare did not distinguish among Asian ethnicities - all of Asia collapsed into one yellow horde in the American imagination" (Moy 83). The anxiety over the perceived "invasions" manifested in discriminatory legislation meant to prevent naturalization (i.e., the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Act of 1917, etc.) as were viewed as undesirable, non-white immigrants who were a menace and threat to white society.

This hysteria over the invading yellow horde manifested itself and found its way into popular culture through the character of Dr. Fu Manchu who became the embodiment of the yellow peril and personified this anxiety over an Asian mob who threatened white wages and culture: "The Yellow Peril came in the form of immigrants who resided in the Chinatowns of the white world. This Yellow Peril as given a face and a body in Dr. Fu Manchu, the fiendish mastermind created in the novels of Sax Rohmer" (Lee 113). The character of Fu Manchu was widespread in various forms of media and millions of followers became acquainted with his misdeeds over the course of forty years: "In the forty years that spanned Fu Manchu's career in evil, millions read the books, listened to stories about him on the radio, watched him on film and television, and followed his crimes in the comics" (Lee 114). Consequently, the character of Dr. Fu Manchu unequivocally had an effect on society and influenced the popular opinion of Asian Americans as a dangerous, shifty group.

Fu Manchu has the unfortunate distinction of being the "first universally recognized Oriental and became the archetype of villainy" (Lee 114). Throughout the various incarnations of the character, Fu Manchu remains mostly hidden while his minions execute his evil plans and threaten the white world and Eurocentric ideals:

Indeed, like his predecessors, he mostly threatens while his underlings carry out his wishes, which in turn require his Anglo adversaries to respond with frantic actions bordering on hysteria. …

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