What’s more important than Fu Manchu’s omnipresence, though, is his effect. Rohmer was writing while completely ignorant about Chinese people and culture, for an audience equally ignorant, and played on xenophobic fears to create his villain. He depicted the tiny Chinese section of London’s Limehouse district as a nest of vice when those two blocks were in fact some of the most law-abiding in the city during the World War I and interwar periods. Anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment had been prevalent in the West since the late 19th century (see, for example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S., and the earlier Page Act of 1875, which prohibited “undesirable” immigrants but in practice mostly barred entry to Chinese women in order to prevent Chinese population growth), but Rohmer’s creation shamelessly stoked the fires of those fears, portraying the East as sinister, unknowable, and ever-encroaching.
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