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How mass media serials featuring Fu Manchu reinforced the cultural notion of the Yellow Peril

Serial Fu Manchu

The Chinese Supervillain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology

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Ruth Mayer

"Before Osama Bin Laden there was Fu Manchu. Ruth Mayer brilliantly tracks the first ‘greatest villain ever’ across the terrain of print and visual culture from novel to magazine to feature film to TV. Mayer carefully shows how the serial form itself operated as a technology through which Orientalized terror was embedded in our brains."
Robert G. Lee, American Studies, Brown University, and author of Orientals: Asian Americans and Popular Culture

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.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"Serial Fu Manchu is impressive and substantive. With great nuance and great depth, Ruth Mayer persuasively argues that the serialized media production of Fu Manchu is a foundational and overlooked formal-structural feature of the racialized and ideological ‘other’. This book constitutes a major theoretical contribution to literary and media theory, propaganda and political culture studies, and ultimately to decolonizing studies of ‘Western civilization’."
John Kuo Wei Tchen, founder of the Museum of Chinese in America, and editor of Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear

"Much more than the definitive account of Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril myth, Mayer’s book revitalizes the seemingly well-trodden study of popular culture writ large. Mayer meticulously demonstrates that popular seriality is not modernity’s excess, but rather its essential modality for the ‘transmedial’ circulation of ideology and culture. Serial Fu Manchu is analytically rich, theoretically astute, and altogether exciting in its ground-clearing implications for further scholarly inquiry."
Glen Mimura, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies and Asian American Studies, University of California, Irvine

"Mayer's book is fascinating look at not only the concept of seriality but a reminder that when the character Fu Manchu debuted in 1912 in a story and began his life as a serial the following year, China was regarded by the West as a backward, troubled mess. Thus, this book is worth reading for those interested in popular culture and the intersection in fictional form of East and West.... This is a solid contribution to cultural studies."
Critical Margins

"Mayer argues perceptively and persuasively that the serial nature of the transmedia appearances of Sax Rohmer's iconic Chinese supervillain Fu Manchu not only informs and represents 20th-century Anglo-American fear of the racial and ideological Other (in the form of Asian, "yellow peril" for short), but is also constitutive of that fear, integral to the ideology of industrialization, modernization, and colonization.... Mayer's study is theoretically grounded and finds connections across popular culture to inform its arguments. Summing Up: Recommended."
Choice

"Meyer explores the pervasiveness of the Fu Manchu figure in twentieth-century American popular culture.... Serial Fu Manchu points to the importance of serialization in American popular culture and the common practice of creating and repackaging characters such as Fu Manchu within it. This practice reinforced Asian and Asian American stereotypes and affirmed American imperialist and nativist attitudes and policies in the twentieth century."
Pacific Historical Review

"Serial Fu Manchu demonstrates how the transmedial figure of Fu Manchu embodied different iterations of the logic of seriality’s 'spread' throughout the twentieth century.... Mayer offers far more than an authoritative study of Fu Manchu as a Yellow Peril stereotype.... Serial Fu Manchu makes an important contribution showing how media studies scholarship on serialization can contribute to our understanding of the spread, maintenance, and revision of ideology."
American Literary History

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Contents

Acknowledgments

1. Going Serial: Fu Manchu, the Yellow Peril, and the Machinic Momentum of Ideology
2. Enter Fu Manchu: The Transatlantic Periodical Press and the Circulation of Stories and Things
3. Image Power: Seriality, Iconicity, and the Filmic Fu Manchus of the 1930s
4. Machinic Fu Manchu: Popular Seriality and the Logic of Spread
5. Evil Chinamen: Yellow Peril Comics and the Ideological Work of Popular Seriality
6. The End of the Assembly Line: Seriality, Ideology, and Popular Culture

References
Index

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About the Author(s)

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

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies
Cultural Studies
Mass Media and Communications


In the series

Asian American History and Culture, edited by K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Vő, and Cathy Schlund-Vials.

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture, series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi and David Palumbo-Liu, series editors K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Vő, and Cathy Schlund-Vials continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.

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