The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia by Christopher Frayling - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Monster with a Moustache

The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia


Thames & Hudson 360pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

Christopher Frayling – ‘the most wide-ranging cultural historian of our times’, according to his publisher – is right to point out in this informative but also absurd book that negative, even if intended to be ‘funny’, references to the Chinese persist today. In 1986, when the Queen was in China, Prince Philip cautioned British students considering an extra year there that they risked becoming ‘slitty-eyed’, demonstrating what he meant by stretching his own eyes to the side (the students booed him). And a few weeks ago an acquaintance of mine referred to a mutual Chinese friend as a ‘Chinaman’. When I remonstrated that this was like saying ‘Jew boy’, he replied, ‘But my parents always said that.’

Frayling recalls his childhood images of Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless, giving other boys ‘Chinese burns’, bowling sneaky ‘Chinamen’ on the cricket pitch and joking, ‘Confucius, he say’. ‘At one level,’ he writes, ‘this book is a kind of exorcism.’

As a background to Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels –

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