1. Coolman

    Coolman New Member

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    How to make a Fu Manchu style character that is not racist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Coolman, Oct 8, 2017.

    I am planning on writing a novel soon that is set in Hong Kong in the 1870s. In my story, a British Schoolboy discovers that creature and deities from Chinese Myth are more then just legend and soon finds himself being pursued by a evil secret society across the Island. This secret society, which is called The Grand Order of Sorcerers of the Orient, a fraternal order present in British Colonies all over Asia and recently making a beachhead in Britain itself. Their leader is a mysterious sorcerer called The Jade Hand. With the Jade Hand, I am starting to see a similarity with Fu Manchu as both are evil geniuses who are skilled at magic and who want to conquer the world. My question for you guys is this, how would you make a Fu Manchu style character not racist?
     
  2. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

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    I think as long as you drop the comedy moustache, there isn't anything that is actually racist about Fu Manchu? It's set in Hong Kong, so it's just someone there who happens to be evil and do magic. I don't see a problem.
     
  3. Coolman

    Coolman New Member

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    Well one difference i can think of between my two character is that Fu Manchu in the books was racist against white people while my guy is more of a equal opportunity employer. Another difference is that Manchu used machinery and magic while my guy only uses magic.
     
  4. Azuresun

    Azuresun Member

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    I think the important thing will be to make him feel like a developed individual character, rather than a collection of "yellow peril" stereotypes. Why is he conquering the world? A general lust for power? A sympathetic desire to get back at the empire that ruined his homeland, taken to villainous extremes? Does he see the British Empire as succeeding in world domination where the Chinese emperors fell short, and now wishes to subvert it to his own ends?

    Also, avoid having every Asian character be outright villainous--how would other Chinese characters view this guy? Maybe they see him as avenging the indignities their homeland has suffered, and he's exploiting this belief when he's actually just in it for his own profit. Maybe the magical order has enemies in China who have fought their evil schemes before, and now want to stop them gaining more influence on the world stage?
     
  5. Coolman

    Coolman New Member

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    Thanks for your input. I am thinking about either making him power hungry or trying to restore China to it's former glory. Also, I won't make every Asian my MC encounters evil. In fact, some of them are members of a rival society trying to defeat the Grand Order and their insidious henchmen.
     
  6. MythMachine

    MythMachine Member

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    One of the things that made Fu Manchu a true racist stereotype, at least in cinema, was him being portrayed by white actors. Any time you cast someone of a different race as a character with a specific ethnic background, it'll almost always be racist and fall victim to the stereotypes. Unfortunately, white Americans of the 19th and 20th centuries were very infamous for this practice, and Fu Manchu was one of the results of it. I think in literature, at least, racist stereotypes, while still best avoided and wrong, are often marked down to ignorance and lack of creativity. If you've done your research on the culture of your character and have genuinely put work into his background and personality, then you should automatically be avoiding the most obvious stereotypes. It can be done, and I believe in you =)
     
  7. Coolman

    Coolman New Member

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    Thanks.
     
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  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    Good writing is a total defense against racism.

    You can write whatever kind or style of character that you like; you can even write a character who's entire purpose is to explore negative stereotypes and as long as you write them well and make them human and sympathetic it really won't matter. Honestly; I don't even understand why you think your character might be racist. You're going to write him well, right? You're not going to lazily make him talk in Chinglish and spend all his time eating Chinese take away, right? So what's the problem?
     
  9. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    Being played by a white actor doesn't change what the character is. The character is separate from the depiction.

    Just because Othello was once played by Laurence Olivier in blackface doesn't make Othello a racist stereotype in the play's script, you know?
     
  10. MythMachine

    MythMachine Member

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    My mistake, I should have inserted the word "poorly" before "portrayed", although I still believe that you can't adequately portray a character unless you do enough research on that character's background and culture to justify it. A white man with little to no knowledge of the history or circumstances of black slaves in the 18th-19th centuries has no business in the role of a black slave. Neither would a black man with the same limited knowledge have business portraying a white elite man of the 1800's or 1900's.

    And I personally don't feel that good writing is a defense against anything, because it's not designed to be a defense against anything. Besides, good and bad writing is based on perspective in the first place. Take the movie Gone with the Wind for example. It is generally viewed by a lot of critics and viewers as a well rounded and excellently written movie, but there are also many people who dislike it for its portrayal of the maid, Prissy. Even the actress behind Prissy later despised taking part in the role. It supposedly represented black slaves as naive and happily subservient to their white masters. Even such a cinematic achievement as Gone with the Wind fell victim to the cultural and racial landmine it placed of its own accord. Good writing, but it was no defense against racism.
     
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  11. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Unworthy in the eyes of the LORD Contributor

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    You're aware of the potential for your bad guy to come across as racist, which is good, so I think the next thing to focus on is making sure that the rest of the Asian characters are well fleshed-out. Avoid "Inscrutable Asians," "Dragon Ladies," and most of all:



    and you're on the right track.
     
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  12. Azuresun

    Azuresun Member

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    I mostly agree, but I'd say that you shouldn't shy away from a character type just because it's got a TVTropes page. If it makes sense to include a hard-edged femme fatale who happens to be Asian or a conniving and cryptic person who happens to be Asian, then do so. Just be aware that some archetypes have some bad history associated with them, so put some effort into making the character more than just a trope. But of course, you want to be doing that with every character anyway. :)
     
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