THE BIRTH OF FU MANCHU
By Sax Rohmer
Which I wish to remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,
Which the same I would rise to
THE Chinese are an honest race. This is why Western people
regard them Mysterious.
Few Chinese know anything about China; you and I know nothing.
Men who have lived in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong tell tales of
Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.
But China has an area of more than 4,000,000 square miles.
Men on Eastern stations (for an exception see Rudyard Kipling) as a rule are
unsympathetic to their environment.
Soldiers and civil servants marooned in an ocean of alien culture rarely try
to learn anything more than the dry facts necessary to their job.
They make a little Great Britain in the tiny island of their banishment, with
a miniature St. James's, a miniature Ascot, and even a baby Court,
This has seemed pathetic to outside critics of the British Empire. Actually,
it is what has made the British Empire.
But it has done nothing to enlarge our knowledge or the Eastern races.
The Beads of
I disagree entirely with Bret Harte's conclusions.
An Illustration of Chinese honesty occurs to me. At one time I had a mixed
gang of Chinese and Burmans working under a foreman whom we will call Ah Sin, since Ah Sin
was the "heathen Chinee" stigmatised by Bret Harte.
Ah Sin made his calculations on a thing like a small harp with beads attached
to the strings.
His accounts were painted with a brush dipped in Indian ink, upon pakapu papers.
On a foully wet night, rain descending as though the Yellow River had gone up
in a waterspout and was coming down again to drown its children, he presented himself at
the office. The wages of the 30 labourers were checked and passed and the various the
various amounts paid out in cash.
Ah Sin departed.
He had to carry his pay-roll a mile and a half through the rain, and my
secretary and myself were on the point of closing the office when there came a rap upon
the door. We opened.
Ah Sin entered. He looked like a water rat coming ashore.
"What then. Ah Sin?"
"One mistake. Sir."
"You want more money?"
"No. no. One too much."
He produced a dauby chit (it resembled the tracks left by a fly which has
been nearly drowned in an inkpot) and pointed.
"I make one mistake. see? I say one too much for Wu Chow."
Solemnly he returned a sum worth roughly sevenpence-half-penny. He had two
miles to walk home.
Except that he was restrained with difficulty from murdering his wife some
months later, I never found anything but admirable qualities in Ah Sin.
Crash of the
THE colour bar in Australia has resulted in children of the Flowery Land being smuggled
ashore at remote points.
I could tell some queer stories of this traffic. The Yellow Trail, by which,
paying their way by labour, the Chinese work along to the particular town in which they
have relatives, is now a beaten road that the authorities cannot patrol.
Those frightful privations which a yellow immigrant is prepared to suffer are
almost beyond belief.
A lorry ladden with Chinese coffins crashed in a street of New York
not so long ago, and the occupants, many of them nearly dead (for every coffin
contained a smuggled Chinee) were hauled out by the police.
Western inability to distinguish one Yellow man from another, unless he have
some visible scar, enables the patient Celestial, regardless of laws to the contrary, to
join his prosperous relatives.
In jobs demanding the will to work, John Chinaman can always make good.
The modern foible of debunking (an artifice of the Anarchist) has obscured
the reality of the East.
As an old lady on a world cruise, who had had a glimpse of the Great Wall of
China, confided to me: "Its dreadfully out of repair!"
But mystery has always walled the East.
Despite desperate attacks by movies and missionaries, that wall remains.
Women have tried to break through--heaven knows why!
I remember a steeply sloping street, dusty, unpaved, shadow-patched by a
sickle moon lying low beyond ramshackle buildings; not a light to be seen, and no sound
audible except the tramp of feet as three intruders plod upwards from darkness into
moonlight and from moonlight into shadows again . . .
Knife Scene In
Suddenly a cellar door below one of the apparently-untenanted houses bursts open. A
spear of light pierces a shadow patch.
From an unsuspected turning not ten paces beyond, a pair-horse carriage
dashes into view!
Two women hurry up the cellar steps, one supporting the other, who staggers.
Both are European and wear fashionable evening frocks, but that of one
hangs in tatters from her waist; blood is streaming down her bare back.
Her friend assists her into the carriage as a little Yellow man, knife
in hand, springs up the steps in pursuit.
Two Chinese, hot on his heels, seize his arms and hold him, struggling but
silent. The driver lashes the horses.
The wounded woman has collapsed, and the other bends over her.
The would-be assassin is hauled backward down the cellar steps by his
companions. The door closes; darkness and silence . . .
The cracks of the whip, clatter of hooves, die away.
The curtain has fallen on one act of a drama of East and West
The Sword Of
FOR some years I had a curious Chinese sword in my possession.
It fitted perfectly into its green scabbard; a curved, beautiful weapon with
a razor-keen blade.
I have it no longer. Women are inherently superstitious. But that's another
It was a treasure of my old friend Fang Wah, adorning a wall of his small and
stuffy sanctum at the back of a store which he owned or managed for someone else: I never
Fong must be introduced. He ran a restaurant for some time In Grant-avenue,
This failed, presumably, and he turned up in Nanking-road, Shanghai, as a storekeeper.
His third manifestation was in Canal-street, New York. Here he conducted a
His appearances and disappearances were most intriguing.
I learned. later, that he was an official of the Hip Sing Tong, and the
policy of this powerful organisation may have had something to do with his erratic
Fong dealt in strange delicacies: Chinese oysters, bamboo shoots. sharks'
fins. noodles and water chestnuts.
He sold Bombay duck. lily roots and edible seaweed: eggs buried for twenty
years or more and preserved in a coating of earth: birds' nests, soya, Canton sausages,
black mushrooms, and several varieties at Chinese wine, including the rare Peach Blossom .
. . this was sealed in really beautiful jars and was reputedly of great age.
Assuming it to be no older than the choicier pickled eggs, I worked it out as
a pretty mature vintage.
Fong, at the time to which I refer, was a powerfully built man of fifty-odd
years of age or so, I supposed. He would have been a good-looker of his type but for the
presence of a large wart above his left eyebrow.
He was apparently prosperous, much respected by his neighbours, but in more ways than
one, as I have indicated. something of a mystery.
He was a person of considerable culture; a philosopher who regarded life as a
feast to be enjoyed while digestion remained good, but otherwise not a serious business.
Following an unusually long interval, more than a year I think, I called one
evening upon Fong Wah.
It was late and the lights in the shop were extinguished.
In response to my ringing, Fong presently appeared from the rear of the
shadowy place, turning up one lamp to guide him to the door. He was peering suspiciously
and I could not avoid noticing that the shelves looked bare. Recognising me, he raised his
The street was deserted--silent. Dimly, I heard him whistle . . .
For a moment I failed to understand. I saw Fong peering about into the
shadow--and again I heard his whistle. Then, comprehension came.
Where a European storekeeper pins his faith to a cat, his Chinese
opposite-number goes in for a mongoose.
No rat will remain in the hunting ground of a mongoose. More-over, mongoose will
unhesitatingly attack anything on four feet or on two if he feels so disposed; and he
enjoys nothing more than a rough house with a big snake. Poor snake!
I saw Fong's pet mongoose spring on his shoulder and crouch there, watching
me with wicked, beady eyes.
Fang unbolted the door.
"Always welcome, sir, but never more welcome than to-night."
He kept a twenty-year-old Myers Jamaica rum for
his friends, and as soon as we had entered the stuffy little room behind the shop,
ceremoniously he prepared me a drink, pressing the juice of a fresh lime into the glass
and adding three lumps of ice.
The place was characterised by a smell of loss sticks, stale fish and
Two facts presently developed: the first, that he had sold his business: the
second. that Minnie (his English wife) had left him.
Sympathy would have been out of place; but he expressed his opinion or
the missing lady in language which., while it was undeniably poetic, I hesitate to
The only complaint I had heard hitherto about his wife had been that she
talked too freely. "Woman acquired the power of speech so much later than man that it
is still her favourite toy..."
"And so you are moving again, Fong?"
"Yes, I have saved some money, and now that there is nothing to stay for
I shall return to Hankow."
"You were born in Hankow?"
"No--but I have pleasant memories of Hankow."
"You will find it much changed?"
He nodded gravely; he was prepared for these changes.
I smelt news in the air; I had come at a fortunate hour.
And presently Fong, regarding whose real age I changed my mind as the tale
was told, painted for me a picture of Hankow under the old regime which, if true, would
account for any revolution.
He spoke of an illustrious Mandarin Governor in the Province, in a manner
which told me that even now he retained something resembling veneration for that official.
Apparently there had been a plague of river pirates at this time and Fong described
with graphic detail how their heads were chopped off in the courtyard of the prison.
Further, he gave particulars of the treatment handed out to the leaders of
The "Six Steps of Wisdom," in which a man was exposed in an iron
cage in the market place, his head locked in a collar at the top, his feet resting on
three stones; one of these stones was removed every day.
The "Way of All Penetrating Truth" (upon which I will not enlarge).
The horrifying "Wire Jacket"wherein the executioners
sword played an important part.
"You know, honourable friend, that my countrymen do not fear death.
Other unpleasent misfortunes must threaten the criminal.
"These lessons in correct behaviour, under the direction of the
Mandarin, were carried out by the Public Executioner.
"In the West, such a person is looked upon with scorn; in Hankow, the
Hankow I remember, he was a highly-respected public officer . . ."
He referred no more to his wife, but when later, I stood up to take my
departure, he unhooked the curved sword from the wall, and insisted upon my accepting
it as a present.
I dont know when the fact dawned upon menot, I believe,
until several days laterthat Fong Wah had been telling me his own story; that HE
had been the Public Executioner of Hankow; and that the weapon which he had insisted upon
my accepting had a truly bloody history!
I have sometimes wondered what really became of Minnie. I dont
know if Fong went back to Hankow; but I do know that he turned up some seven years later
in New York.
The Chinese have codes of their own.
BEFORE the great San Francisco earthquake, the Chinese underworld of that city was an
One could go down from floor to floor far below street level and find shops,
restaurants, houses of entertainment, temples, and even private residences.
The loss of life in those yellow warrens is unknown to this day.
Until comparatively recent times, New York's Chinatown, which centres around
Pell-street (a more extensive colony than that in London), possessed many of these
features, but on a smaller scale.
Gambling and opium smoking were catered for, and to provide against sudden
intrusion by the police a feature of the place was its iron doors. Many of these were most
Iron doors are now prohibited by law.
The result has been that many Chinese caterers have moved across the river,
where restrictions are less severe.
Exploring New York's China-town one night, I had an illustration of that fact
to which I have already drawn attention--the racial similarity between many Chinese and
the extent to which Ah Sin still defies the immigration laws of the United States.
I was endeavouring to get a topical story for a New York newspaper.
The Police Department had allotted me a guide and body-guard in the person of
Police-Captain A. A reporter and a cameraman completed the party.
Captain A. was the Chinatown specialist. He knew as much about the
Pell-street area as the late Inspector Yeo knew about Pennyfields.
Door Of Tong
I had not been In New York's Chinatown for three years. I found it much changed.
We sampled the liquor and also more solid refreshment (this was during
Prohibition), but never a ghost of a story presented itself.
We made a private visit to the joss-house, which has degenerated into a mere
sideshow, but although we saw things not usually shown to the public--very I odd
things--none of these was inspiring.
The New York police arc somewhat arbitrary in their methods.
We practically kidnapped an elderly Chinese in a restaurant, and insisted
upon his opening certain doors which communicated with a subterranean apartment, in which
beyond a shadow of doubt I could smell the fumes of opium.
The old man was then ordered to take us to the top of a high building,
and to open the door of a Tong Temple.
On the way up (we had to walk: apparently there was no elevator) on
every floor Yellow men emerged from various doors, so that when we got to the top, the
stairs below us were blocked with Chinese. They were silent, but I thought menacing.
"We seem to be unpopular," I said to Captain A.
"Oh, pay no attention. Were going right in here."
However, we didnt get in. Our unwilling guide assured us that he had no
keys for the place, nor did he know who had.
Bullying was without avail, the door remained obstinately closed; therefore:
"You down there, Wong Hi!" the police captain sang out, pointing at
a man among our group of followers. "You live on the floor below. Were going to
pay a call on your family."
I confess I was not enthusiastic.
I respect the Chinese. This invasion or some man's home did not strike me as
being quite decent.
However, pushing our way through the sullen ranks, we walked in. Since we
were unexpected, we found the family at supper.
I cannot say what occupation detained them so late, as it was now about 1
A group of some fourteen men and girls sat eating at a large communal table.
"Here's a story! " the reporter exclaimed. "Take a seat with
the party over there, Mr. Rohmer, on the far aide."
He turned to the cameraman, "Joe! Get that picture."
Our intentions were explained by the kidnapped elder who accompanied us.
The cameraman was getting out his Sacha lights . . . and a scene ensued which
I have never forgotten.
From six to seven of the supper party sprang to their fret as
though their chairs had become electrified.
Some darted right. Some darted left--they went up, they went down. But they
dissolved like yellow phantoms.
They were not prepared to be photographed; they feared that their identity
papers would be demanded by the police in the morning.
Every man of them had been smuggled in.
The murmurings of the ever-growing crowd outside the apartment door
grew so dangerous that even the police captain agreed it might be wiser to withdraw.
As I have said, the Chinese have codes of their own.
Even in London's Limehouse the police of K Division respect those
codes--unless a flagrant infringement of the law is thrust under their noses.
WHICH brings us to Lime-house--that disappearing Asiatic colony
once flourishing between West India Dock-road, Pennyflelds, and Limehouse Causeway.
I rented a room in Limehouse for some time. Another lodger was one Ah Tsong,
a medicine man and perfumer.
In those days Charlie Brown presided in the bar of the hostelry famous for
its museum of Eastern curiosities, and the cafe in the Causeway which I have called
"Malay Jack's" in some of my stories remained a meeting-place for Chinatown
A seagoing friend of mine who was inclined to be quarrelsome in his cups
tried one night single-handed to break up Malay Jack's.
But we extricated him--heavily holed. but not quite a total loss.
He stayed away from Chinatown afterwards.
It was returning from Jack's one misty night in November, not long before the
World War stripped the enamel from our civilisation and laid naked the savagery beneath, that
I had my first glimpse of Dr. Fu Manchu.
I had formulated such a character, but many essential details were
I imagined one who controlled the Tones -- those mysterious unions whose
combined memberships run far into six figures: one who could upset Governments, perhaps
change the present course of civilisation.
He would have Caesaresque qualities, he would be a man of great scientific
culture; his personal appearance remained to be built up...
Then, on this important night, I saw a tall and dignified Chinese gentleman
alight from a car before a mean-looking house.
He wore a fur-collared overcoat, and. so far as I could make out, a fur cap
of the kind once associated with Kemal Ataturk
He was accompanied by an Arab girl, who was also muffled in furs. tilwncd
The door of the house opened. The pair went in. The car was driven away; I
had had but a glimpse of the driver.
But Dr. Fu Manchu was complete; at last he lived.
That very night I began work on "The Zayat Kiss," the story
of which brought the mandarin-doctor on to the fictional stage.
Chief Inspector Yeo, of K Division, who knew much about the district, told me
that the house belonged to a certain man, but he could throw no light upon the identity of
This homeowner was a known drug trafficker; but so cunningly was he covered
that although the police knew him to be in the background, even the notorious Billie
Carleton case failed to bring him into the limelight.
Brilliant Chang, his West End manager, went to gaol. The chief went abroad.
Some years later a newspaper attempted the feat of writing-up the chief. They
were not altogether successful.
The reporter assigned to the Job referred rather vaguely to a "Chinese
master criminal" backed by a "syndicate."
So far he was on safe ground. Legally the chief was a criminal. But the
journalist assumed that the activities of this syndicate were concerned solely with opium
and cocaine, whereas gambling was its principal source of revenue.
Pakapu, the gambling game or lottery so popular amonr the Chinese, is (or
was) a monopoly. as roulette once was a monopoly of Monte Carlo. (Together with fantan and
mahjong, it is now prohibited in Limehouse.
There are East End bank managers who could tell tales of daily cash payments
by Chinese clients which would sound fantastic.
The chief was the deus ex machina behind pakapu. He
was ready for any "run on the bank." His financial background was in Canton.
That he also controlled the opium traffic is by the way. His genius lay in
the fact that he was never charged, although he once appeared as witness in a case
concerning the lease of some Limehouse property.
The property in dipute possessed a value quite unsuspected by the court. He
gave his evidence through the medium of a Chinese interpreter.
Is it necessary to add that he could speak almost perfect English?
THE evil of opium among the Chinese, as that of hashish among the Arabs, is much
The Chinese do not abuse opium; they regard it much as we regard tobacco or
Europeans who take up opium almost without exception become addicts.
Opium in my own case could never be a vice. I tried a pipe many years ago,
but quickly learned that my stomach was not equipped to deal with this particular
amusement. I was violently sick and have avoided opium ever since.
I have a great respect for the Chinese. As a nation they possess that elusive
thing, poise, which I sometimes think we are losing.
The Chinese students at Columbia University once sent a deputation to the
authorities demanding the suppression of my books dealing with Dr. Fu Manchu: I was not
annoyed; I admired their sense of humour.
This was quite lacking, I thought, in the Nazi censors who withdrew all my
German editions from circulation.
To this day I have not the remotest idea in what way my stories are supposed
to be inimical to Nazi ideals.
HOW much of the reputation which attaches to the Chinese is to be traced back to Bret
Harte, I wonder?
His poem introducing the "Heathen Chinee," forgotten
now as literature, undoubtedly created a thought-form which survives to this day.
Thoughts are things--a subject upon which I could enlarge--and the thing
created by Bret Harte still walks among us although the words which gave it birth are
The old placidity--one cannot call it peace--which distinguished the Flowery
Land is disturbed momentarily.
There are motor-boats on the willow-lined canals; and in valleys which knew
the white haze of poppy crops are military camps and a desolation like that of the plague.
But this will pass.
That serenity which is the outstanding quality of Chinese life must reassert
That China will ever accept a Japanese domination is an idea which may be
One wonders if a. Kubla Khan is about to arise: one who by force of
personality will weave together the million threads and from his loom produce a close-knit
Should this occur, what then?
The Pacific slopes of America would be deeply interested. And Australia would
follow the policy of such a Yellow Emperor with keen attention.
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