The Hand of Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer

The Hand of Fu

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For those with a taste for diabolical criminal masterminds and high-octane adventures steeped in exotic intrigue, we present the seminal novel that launched one of fiction’s most infamous and enduring villains. As Sax Rohmer’s The Hand of Fu-Manchu becomes available in a free ebook edition, a new generation has the opportunity to experience the first electrifying confrontation between the nefarious Dr. Fu-Manchu and his tenacious nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland Smith.

Originally published in 1917, this opening salvo of the best-selling Fu-Manchu series established the globetrotting escalating battle between the West’s stalwart protectors and the brilliant Asia-based criminal genius seeking no less than a wholesale subversion of their colonial dominance. From its riveting opening chapters, Rohmer thrusts readers directly into the dark heart of Fu-Manchu’s clandestine networks of assassins, scientists, and henchmen – all poised to enact their malevolent “Zayat Kiss” upon an unsuspecting Europe.


The Hand of Fu-Manchu

Sax Rohmer

The story launches from the smoldering ashes of a box of Chinese curios, where the remains of a grisly slain victim are discovered. For Sir Denis Nayland Smith, a former colonial commissioner versed in uncovering Eastern conspiracies, this gruesome scene heralds the unmistakable return of an implacable adversary he’d once failed to eradicate conclusively. With the assistance of his friend and confidant Dr. Petrie, Nayland Smith frantically embarks upon tracking the insidious breadcrumb trail to locate his resurrected archenemy – the brilliant, vampiric Dr. Fu-Manchu.

From this gripping prelude, Rohmer swiftly steeps his narrative in a delirious maelstrom of exotic locales, breakneck chase sequences, and diabolical criminal machinations that would soon become hallmarks of the Fu-Manchu mythos. The villain’s elusive global network spans from remote Burmese lairs stocked with barbaric torture devices to lavish residences in London’s upper crust – anywhere his malleable tentacles can extend their slimy grasp in pursuit of total conquest.

Rohmer vividly depicts Fu-Manchu as the very embodiment of Western fears surrounding the “Yellow Peril” menace – an immortal intellect possessed of profound scientific and occult knowledge widely rumored to be centuries old. Yet the doctor’s mastermind persona proves distinctive in its understated malignance. His nefarious plots for undermining Western hegemony possess a grandeur of scope – an agenda of global subversion that scorns merely pedestrian criminality. Rohmer laces his prose with lurid descriptions like Manchu’s “Mongolian vigor,” “face like Satan,” and penchant for cultivating exotic poisons to stress the villain’s Eastern exoticism and supreme detachment from conventional morality.

Against this implacable arch-nemesis blessed with hypnotic powers and fueled by equal measures of deviancy and genius, Sir Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie cut appropriately stalwart, forthright figures forever scrambling to extinguish the doctor’s far-reaching tendrils at each fresh manifestation. As prototypical heroic Englishmen abroad, they rely upon their sturdy wits, their revered reputations, and their unassailable moral compasses to discern Manchu’s next insidious gambit – whether assassinating a wealthy American businessman or unleashing a smallpox epidemic. At every suspenseful turn, the bittersweet repartee between Petrie and Nayland Smith injects levity into their perilous undertakings.

Beyond its central conflicts, The Hand of Fu-Manchu revels in a sumptuous backdrop of cultural exoticism simultaneously tantalizing and menacing for contemporary readers. Rohmer narrates the lush settings like the “pagoda-like roof” of the Chinese Embassy with sensory precision etched in reactionary dread. His antagonists’ spectacular death devices and excruciating torture methods blend seamlessly with evocative atmospheric details – from the perpetual clouds of opiated smoke to banalities like a shimmering emerald ring worn by a henchman. Rohmer deftly navigates a tonal tightrope of luring audiences into the seductive mysteries of Fu-Manchu’s domain while reminding them of the character’s unfathomable inhumanity.

Running counter to the suspense dynamics, The Hand of Fu-Manchu manifests a distinct strain of xenophobic “Yellow Peril” paranoia endemic to its era’s colonial Britain. Manchu is portrayed as the quintessential “Asiatic” – a conniving scientific genius wielding the inscrutable techniques and disciplines of ancient Asia against an ascendant Europe while operating via a clandestine underground. His character epitomizes contemporaneous fears surrounding the encroaching ascendance of China and Asia upon European dominance, while exploiting prevalent racist tropes surrounding “Oriental” exoticism, savagery and corrosive venality.

Yet Rohmer’s narrative proves equally fascinated by Fu-Manchu’s exotic aura as it is repulsed by the villain’s depredations, forging an alluring aura of mystery and menace. The erudite criminal genius’s vast knowledge of Asian languages, locales, and secret histories render him paradoxically ahead of his adversaries – even as they brand his actions “un-English” and sadistic. Rohmer reinforces the titanic stakes for Nayland Smith and Petrie’s pursuit by blatantly reinforcing the “other” status of his Asian felons.

Upon its debut, The Hand of Fu-Manchu became an immediate literary sensation and commercial juggernaut, spawning over a dozen sequels spanning several decades. Its origins as a lucrative serial fanned the flames of Rohmer’s lurid imagination, gradually elevating the villain to almost god-like omnipotence while Nayland Smith and Petrie adopted more of a Global Avengers dynamic in opposing him. It crystallized a new archetype of the international criminal conspirator embodying the “Yellow Peril” xenophobia proliferating throughout 1920s popular culture.

In hindsight, much of The Hand of Fu-Manchu’s imaginative power emerges from the character’s potent allegorical resonance rooted in the era’s fascinations and social upheavals. Beyond mere pulp villainy, Manchu represents the threat of science being turned against the “civilized” world along with the fear of a resurgent Asia upending the presumed natural order of colonialism and white supremacy. His unlimited wealth, peerless genius, and refusal to operate within conventional criminal parameters render him a symbolic force of chaos that must be crushed for the “white” establishment to persist.

While these racial subtexts can seem distasteful from a modern lens, Fu-Manchu’s archetype has endured as a landmark depiction of “orientalist” intrigue and the captivating fear of the unknown. Rohmer’s pioneering fusion of splendidly exotic imagery with gripping heroic conflicts between good and evil forged an entire genre of “Yellow Peril” and Fu Manchu imitators throughout the pulps and cinemas. Even the character’s name connotes fright and fascination, forever cementing his status as a quintessential icon of villainy.

By making this seminal text available freely, audiences have a rare glimpse into the origins of Sax Rohmer’s astonishing creation and the pulp traditions it inspired. The Hand of Fu-Manchu remains not just thrilling genre entertainment, but a compelling window into the societal forces and paranoia that birthed one of the 20th century’s most durable criminal archetypes. To experience Nayland Smith and Petrie’s pursuit of their eternal nemesis is to be transixed at the birth of an inimitable fantasy – of the heroic white adventurers toiling against an ancient menace hell-bent on usurping their exalted status. Through a modern lens, its potent imagination and cultural tensions render it as timely as ever.

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