Oppositional Asian Archetypes: Buddha vs. Fu Manchu

December 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm Leave a comment

By: Melanie Zarrow

            Upon learning about the Fu Manchu stereotype, I was interested in comparing it to the image of the Buddha in both Japan and China. Both the Buddha and Fu Manchu are figures imbued with significant cultural and societal meaning. The Buddha represents enlightenment, tranquility, and wisdom. Fu Manchu, on the other hand, represents mystery, danger, and evil. The Fu Manchu character was developed by the west in the media, while the Buddha is a non-media figural representation of Japanese and Chinese Buddhist ideals developed in East Asia. Both are fictitious in their representation- no one actually knows what the real Buddha looked like, and the Fu-Manchu is a stereotypical caricature from popular American imagination.

            Dr. Fu Manchu, a character created by Sax Rohmer’s novels, represents Asian men as ultimately evil. In this literary series, Fu Manchu continually threatens the racial destruction of White America. Daughter of the Dragon casts Dr. Fu Manchu in a similar role. In the film, he is a “yellow-faced” and racially exaggerated Swedish actor in oriental dress. Through his characterization and actions, Dr. Fu Manchu represents the East as dangerous and mysterious.

            The Buddha, on the other hand, represents an Asian ideal of one who achieved ultimate good. In early Japanese sculpture, the Buddha is often depicted carrying a stylized stone umbrella to portray an image of aristocracy. The Buddha’s image is not, however, stagnant. His image changes by over time and based on which country it was produced. The eyes of the Buddha are highly stylized, the bun on top of his head represents a channel to enlightenment, and the Buddha is often represented in a mandala form, a cosmic diagram in which the Buddha represents ultimate transcendence.

            The implications of these two archetypal figures are interesting and I hope to further explore them in my research on Asian communities.

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