Monday 2 May 2016

Back in Bucharest with Fu Manchu, the greatest threat to the white race


What a delight to be back from the Far East.

Bucharest is so much nicer, more poetic, more human and more exotic than Peking or Seoul.

It is always wonderful to be back in Bucharest. I felt this when I returned after Christmas after I had been here only three months. Many foreigners lucky enough to live here told me they felt it was home immediately. Is there a more welcoming, friendly city or people anywhere?

This weekend was the Orthodox Easter. On Friday, the Orthodox Good Friday, the town was full of possessions for the Burial of the Lord . On Saturday at midnight everyone stands outside a church with a candle and then cracks eggs. This is much more interesting than China, because it is Christian.

A long weekend at home alone is the perfect antidote to my travels in the East and I'm finally reading The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu seemed trash when I bought a paperback in Cambridge market as an undergraduate and bad trash, worse than Dracula. Now I found him on Google books and it's actually rather fun. Who knew? 

The world of Fu Manchu is a very engaging world of lascars, dacoits and seductive but evil oriental women. References to rare poisons in Burma make me so proud that I know Burma.

Dr. Fu Manchu himself is the prototypical evil genius, 'the yellow peril' and 'the greatest threat to the white race'. 

Fu Manchu comes after Professor Moriarty but before a whole series of evil geniuses. Osama bin Laden is part of the line. Osama came from a very Westernised, rich Saudi family and will have seen the Bond films and the Pink Panther film where Herbert Lom threatens to blow up the world. 
The world has been remade by William Le Queux 
says the protagonist of Graham Greene's wonderful thriller The Ministry of Fear which is
set in the Blitz.  He's apostrophising his dead mother. Now the world is stranger than even Sax Rohmer could have imagined.

I wonder what he would have made of ISIS.  Or Donald Trump. I wonder what he would have made of modern, multiracial England, a Muslim standing for Mayor of London and the accusations against Ken Livingstone of anti-semitism. It is all far more improbable than his murders by poisonous ants.

My journey to China will probably be last visit to the Far East, unless I visit North Korea, which I might. That's unfinished business for me. But North Korea is not Asia. It's sui generis.

Laos should appeal more than North Korea, is equally Communist and forgotten and has very much more to see. But if I didn't fall in love with Burma, beautiful and utterly untouched by tourism or modernity, then Asia is probably a lost cause. 

For some reason, Asia does not speak to me. I do not get its beauty or understand its religion or history. By which I do not mean that I haven't read about them but that they don't move me.

I find the Christian world so much more interesting and the Muslim world too. Dr Johnson said outside of the Christian and Mahometan worlds all is barbarism. He may have been wrong about that, but if you substitute for barbarism 'lacking in beauty' his aphorism might be true.


  1. Splendid! All the popular rip-roaring British novels of that era are enormous fun; made more so by the passage of time. Sapper's Bulldog Drummond is a hoot; many of the tales of Dornford Yates the same. Inscrutable and/or fiendish foreigners; playing the game for the game's sake; the constant threat of the beastly Levantine and the Bolshevik.

  2. "...'the yellow peril' and 'the greatest threat to the white race'. " sorry I think you are getting a bit carried away with your prose and enjoyment.

    "Osama bin Laden is part of the line." Hardly. OBL was simply a lucky murderer. Hardly the evil criminal genius. Fu manchu, Dr Mabuse, Dr. Moriarty would have laughed at OBL and his pitiful schemes.

  3. I read my first Fu Manchu novel more than a half century ago, when I was 12 or 13 years old. I have since read them all, and several other novels by Sax Rohmer, as well.

    What was it Michael Palin said -- oh yes. "Ripping yarns!"

  4. I loved the old Fu Manchu movies with (was it?) Christopher Lee as the eponymous Fu Manchu who would always improbably escape at the end.
    Splendid weekend films.
    Dominic Johnson

  5. The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu has not taken its rightful place in the pantheon of great English yarns. It is up there with The Hound of the Baskervilles, King Solomon's Mines, Dracula, The Jewel of the Seven Stars, The 39 Steps, The Lost World, Heart of Darkness etc etc. The discription of Wayland Smith's walk out into the depths of the Thames Estuary is truly good writing. Ronald Higginson

  6. David in Banja Luka3 May 2016 at 17:06

    "Is there a more welcoming, friendly city or people anywhere?"

    Having lived in Bucharest, Sofia, Belgrade and Banja Luka, I can say most definitely not in Bulgaria, Serbia or RS.

    Although, Romanians I met outside of Bucharest always told me how unfriendly the Bucherestians(?)were.

    Welcome back!

  7. They are rip-roaring full-blooded adventures. One doesn't read them sourly, one reads them with a smile, savouring the good honest John Bull against the fiend; all that is decent and true about our island race against the wicked wretch from without. They are perfectly in keeping with the whole Christian narrative of our culture. For what is at the heart of our faith than the battle of Good against Evil?

  8. . I know what you mean about the difficulty of relating to Asian cultures. It's difficult to imagine oneself living and functioning within a culture that's so distant, being cut off not only by a language barrier, but even by a script barrier. I think you can get inside the Chinese mind a little, though, by reading Lin Yutang, since he comes a long way to meet the West

  9. I'm a huge fan of the Fu Manchu books. In fact I'm a huge fan of diabolical criminal masterminds in general.

    You should also check out Rohmer's Sumuru books. Sumuru was the first female diabolical criminal mastermind. She wants to create a world without ugliness and violence and in order to bring it about she's prepared to kill everyone who is ugly or violent!

    1. A neo-con avant la lettre!
      I wish I could read books at all. I find adventure stories and thrillers almost impossible.

    2. Except Raymond Chandler and I imagine it would be fun to reread Edmund Crispin and Michael Innes.

    3. British thriller and adventure fiction from the late 19th century up to about the early 1960s was loads of fun. And not forgetting Australian thriller fiction - Guy Boothby's Dr Nikola was one of the most interesting of all diabolical criminal masterminds. I'm just getting a bit patriotic there!