Meet Dr. Fu Manchu


Sax Rohmer

From MEET THE DETECTIVE, edited by Cecil Madden, published by the Telegraph Press, New York, 1935. Reprinted in The Rohmer Review, March 1973.

Whenever I hear Big Ben striking I realize how important a part Big Ben has played in the adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu, for Dr. Fu Manchu first appeared in London within sound of Big Ben. Now I come to think of it, that deep old bell has run like a sort of London counter-melody through the stories. This was accidental; it had never occurred to me until the present moment. Perhaps the possibility of Fu Manchu's existence first dawned upon me in Limehouse, where many years ago I had an office. I used this office simply as a base of exploration. I was a journalist in those days, but preparing to become a fiction-writer -- and Chinatown intrigued me.

I made many friends in the Chinese quarter, with its background of river noises, its frequent fogs, its sordid mystery. I found nothing to inspire romance. Then one night, and appropriately enough it was a foggy night, I saw a tall and very dignified Chinaman alight from a car. He was accompanied by an Arab girl, or she may have been an Egyptian, and as I saw the pair enter a mean-looking house, and as the fog drew a curtain over the scene, I conceived the character of Dr. Fu Manchu. In that hour, I believe, that old man of the sea was born.

That strange secrecy of the Chinese which underlies their native honesty, those invisible links which bind then, so that in any part of the world you will find members of the mysterious Tongs, this power,- I said, controlled by a great dominating influence, a personality exceeding the normal, here would be a force which could upset Governments, and perhaps change the course of civilization. Beauty would be one of this superman's instruments. And the woman was beautiful.

He would be remorseless as an ancient Roman. As I walked on through the fog I imagined that inside that cheap-looking dwelling-house, unknown to all but the chosen few, unvisited by the watchful police, were luxurious apartments, Orientally furnished, cushioned, and perfumed, a spot of Eastern magnificence, a jewel inset in the fogs of Limehouse.

That night, alone in my room, I searched through my memories of the Fast, finding a pedigree for the girl I had seen in the fog. And she became Karamančh, the unwilling slave and instrument of the Chinese doctor. Daylight was not far away when at last I had created Fu Manchu, a genius of princely rank holding degrees of three European universities. I had found as his opponent, Nayland smith, an officer of Indian police, and I had selected (quite unknown to him) a friend of mine, a general practitioner, practising in a south-west suburb of London, as the friend and confidant of Nayland Smith.

We know in these scientific days that thoughts are things. When one makes a character one makes something which really exists, and so that night, or that morning, I knew that I had succeeded in the task which I had set myself; for, closing my eyes, I could both see and hear Dr. Fu Manchu.

He stood before me tall, lean, and high shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare's and a face like Satan; a close-shaven skull and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green. He spoke, and I listened:

"You have sought for and you have found me," he said. "I am here. You have followed me through the forests of Burma. You have tracked me to my palace in Kiang Su. Because you have made, you think that you know me. Do you dream that your Mr. Commissioner Nayland Smith can conquer me? That my mastery of the secret sects of the East can be met by the simple efficiency of the West? I shall prove a monster which neither you nor those you have created to assist you can hope to conquer... ."

He was so real that I answered him. One listening must have assumed that I, sitting alone in my room with the grey light of dawn just beginning to peep through the curtains, had become demented. It was not so. I had created something, and it was to the Mandarin Fu Manchu that I replied: "It will be a square fight, but a fight to the finish, Dr. Fu Manchu."

"A member of my family," he answered, "a mandarin of my rank, never breaks his word. For myself I ask nothing. I hold the key which unlocks the hearts of those who belong to every secret society in the East, including the Thugs. I command every Tong in China. My knowledge of medicine exceeds that of any doctor in the Western world. I shall restore the lost glories of China -- my China. When your Western civilization, as you are pleased to term it, has exterminated itself, when from the air you have bombed to destruction your palaces and your cathedrals, when in your blindness you have permitted machines to obliterate humanity, I shall arise. I shall survey the smoking ashes which once were England, the ruins that were France, the red dust of Germany, the distant fire that was the united States. Then I shall laugh. My hour at last! Your Nayland Smith, your Scotland Yard, your Dr. Petrie, yourself, all will be blotted out. But China -- my China -- its willing millions awaiting my word -- China, then, will come into her own. The dusk of the West will have fallen: the dawn of the East will have come."

"And you, Dr. Fu Manchu?"

"I shall be Emperor of the World!"

''And I ---"

"You?" He laughed -- high, shrill laughter. "You will be forgotten with your Nayland Smith, your Dr. Petrie, and even my Karamančh, your soldiers, your statesmen, all will be forgotten. But I, the Mandarin Fu Manchu, I shall go on, triumphant. It is your boast that you have made me. It is mine that I shall live when you are smoke..

So, you see, I had really created Dr. Fu Manchu. I had set him out upon his great march to conquer the Western world. I had challenged him to sweep aside the white races and to win domination for his own. Since thoughts are things, perhaps in my extravagance I had nevertheless made something not far short of what the future nay hold. I sometimes wonder.

I have wandered far from the sound of Big Ben since that night when I brought Dr. Fu Manchu to life, and in the reluctant East, birthplace of the Mandarin doctor, I have sometimes thought that there was a greater wisdom, a deeper understanding of the essential things of life. But I am afraid I must close. I hope you understand Dr. Fu Manchu as I have tried to understand him. Perhaps one day he may conquer the world. It would be a queer world, but I am not sure that it would be any worse or any better than the world we live in. Big Ben? London? Would there be any Big Ben, any London, under the Empire of Dr. Fu Manchu?


 Editor's Note:

"Meet Dr. Fu Manchu" is one of four accounts by Sax Rohmer of the origin of his most famous creation. It was originally written as a radio talk for the BBC, and was probably delivered on the air by Rohmer himself. It was published, along with other radio talks in the same series, in the book MEET THE DETECTIVE (Allen & Unwin, London, and Telegraph Press, New York, 1935).

If we may take Sax Robmer's word that he used a medical friend of his as a model for Dr. Petrie, it is natural to guess that this friend was none other than Dr. R. Watson Councell (see MASTER OF VILLAINY and W. 0. G. Lofts' article elsewhere in this issue of TRR). Perhaps Rohmer even used Dr. Councell's house as a model for that of Dr. Petrie... .

Rohmer's other accounts of Fu Manchu's creation are: "How Fu Manchu Was Born" (This Week, 29 Sep 1957; reprinted in TRR #2, Jan 1969); "The Birth of Fu Manchu" (Manchester Empire News, 30 Jan 1938); and Chapters 1 and 10 of MASTER OF VILLAINY. The catalytic glimpse of the mysterious Chinese and the Eurasian girl has also been mentioned in passing in several newspaper interviews. Shorn of its atmospheric trappings, this is probably as close to the truth as we will ever get.

Copyright © March 1973 R. E. Briney. All rights reserved.

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