History of the Fu Manchu Beard: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know


The Fu Manchu Beard is one cool look. Here are some Fu-facts that might surprise you – check out number four.

Anyone who’s ever sported a Fu Manchu beard knows it’s a cool look that always draws compliments. I’ve been rocking my own for a few years now, and have gradually grown accustomed to the admiring comments.

Ask me if I like my beard. I’m so damn happy with it I decided to check out the history of the Fu Manchu beard to see what I could discover. Turns out this mustache (some call the larger ones a beard), has an interesting past. Here’s what I was able to learn.

  1. The Fu Manchu takes its name from a fictional Chinese super-villain

Fu Manchu | Image by madlittleclown
Fu Manchu | Image by madlittleclown

According to Fu Manchu experts, the term “Fu Manchu” first appeared as the name of a fictional Chinese bad guy. He was the featured baddy in a series of British crime novels dating back to 1912. His Fu Manchu mustache showed up later as the character made the leap to the silver screen.

The villainous Dr. Fu Manchu’s first film in the US was also his first talkie, the 1929 classic The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu. That’s where he first appeared with his famous mustache. Rumor has it Dr. Fu Manchu’s mustache made it into the movie because filmmakers felt it represented the intelligent Mandarin patriarch. Others said it depicted 19th-century Chinese drug lords. So who was right?

This style of facial hair was often used in the West decades ago to stereotype Chinese men. Lots of cultural caricatures exist from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They show Asian men, especially Chinese, wearing the unique Dr. Fu Manchu style of mustache.

But the reality is, the mustache was only popular among a small number of Chinese royalty many hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

Recent critics of the Fu Manchu books and movies claim the Dr. Fu Manchu character is a product of early 20th-century Western racism and anti-Asian sentiment. Back then, feelings ran high against the so-called “yellow peril.”

In fact, Sax Rohmer, the author of the first books, described Fu Manchu as “the yellow peril incarnate in one man.” Racist much?

  1. The Fu Manchu beard has roots in the opium trade in China

Christopher Lee in The Face of Fu Manchu | Image via The Guardian
Christopher Lee in The Face of Fu Manchu | Image via The Guardian

According to historical background studies, there’s a twisted logic to the beard worn by our Chinese villain in early 20th-century movies. Many claim it’s because of the sinister reputation of 19th-century Chinese opium lords. These men were often depicted in Western media wearing Fu Manchu beards, even though the style vanished from China many centuries before.

It turns out, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, England was facing a huge demand for Chinese tea. The quantities demanded were so great that the British East India Company could only afford to pay by trading opium for the tea. They had just started producing the narcotic for medical purposes in their newly acquired colony of India.

But bringing vast quantities of opium into China created an addiction epidemic. This resulted in skyrocketing crime rates that made worldwide headlines. And some Chinese laborers immigrating to Britain and the US brought their new love of opium with them.

By the end of the 19th century, the racist hysteria surrounding Chinese immigrants to the West was at fever pitch. Rumors of opium dens and Tongs (Chinese gangs) in London, San Francisco, and other Western cities fed the worry. White society in both countries feared and demonized Chinese immigrants.

That’s the backdrop for Sax Rohmer’s early 20th-century crime novels. As noted, they feature an evil Chinese villain bent on world domination. Although in Rohmer’s crime novels, the villainous dude was clean-shaven. But by the time the movies hit theaters in the late 1920’s, Dr. Fu Manchu sported his namesake beard.

  1. The Fu Manchu started life as an odd little tendril mustache

Ming Dynasty Emperor (print) | Image via Atlantic Gallery
Ming Dynasty Emperor (print) | Image via Atlantic Gallery

Judging from old Chinese lithographs and historical reports, the original Fu Manchu mustache started below the outer edges of the nose. It grew along the top lip, with no hair beneath the nose, and down beside the mouth. From there, it grew as two long, skinny tendrils, past the end of the jaw.

Yes, the Fu Manchu was the facial hair style favorite of ancient Chinese royalty. But it was also the style worn by many Chinese characters in early cinema. This classic Asian beard design shows up in many old movies. It even makes an appearance in television programs of the fifties, sixties and seventies.

Many movies and TV shows portrayed Chinese laborers, gang members, and the like as stereotypes. They always seemed to show them sporting this ancient facial hair style.

Sometimes the mustache jumped into the beard category by the addition of a third, thick growth sprouting from the center of the chin. Some ancient Chinese etchings show the beard as quite full. And there are others that show it as the slim affair we are familiar with from old movies and photos.

The Fu Manchu seen today appears as a thick, bushy mustache covering the top lip and growing down past the edges of the mouth. From there it continues south in all its bristly splendor to the bottom, or near the bottom of the chin. Some men even allow it to grow beyond the end of the chin.

  1. Women dig today’s big Fu Manchu, but not that old limp model

The idea that women dig today’s Fu Manchu mustache is not just in my imagination. Researchers in a recent facial hair study found that women who rated men’s mustaches by the degree of sexiness ranked the Fu Manchu at number one. But they also said the tendril-style Fu Manchu, as seen in old movies, is a turnoff.

Women perceived today’s Fu Manchu wearing men as more dominant, masculine, aggressive and sexy than other men. They felt these gentlemen would make the best lovers and partners, for both one-night flings and long-term relationships. Take a boring guy women don’t look at twice, stick a Fu Manchu on his face and watch what happens.

That same boring dude rocking a Fu Manchu suddenly has women checking him out and flirting with him. There doesn’t seem to be any logic, although it probably has something to do with the shape and thickness of the Fu. Remember, women viewed men who wear it as dominant, tough and masculine. All traits they see as sexy.

As for the old-style Fu Manchu, there seems to be a significant disconnect in women’s minds. Although the old and the new Fu Manchu mustaches share the same name, there is a big difference in their level of sex appeal. Women love the new one and hate the old one. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

  1. The Fu Manchu Mojo: How this ancient beard style can make you a better lover
John Travolta | Image via CraveOnline.com
John Travolta | Image via CraveOnline.com

See, I told you this bad boy had sexual mojo. I’m not sure why, but the Fu Manchu seems to act as an aphrodisiac for some women. As noted above, women rave about the style. But there also appears to be something about the beard itself that turns them on physically.

Does the beard have properties that lend it unique mojo voodoo in the bedroom? Perhaps it has to do with its length and thickness? That’s it. You’ve hit that little thing on the head, say many women. This masculine mustache seems to aid the wearer as he goes about making love to his woman. Seems like those thick, bushy whiskers seem to please her where it counts.

Closing the curtain

In conclusion, there’s more to the Fu Manchu beard than I expected starting out. With any luck, you’ve learned more than you expected before starting this post. Let’s hope I’ve been able to give you some solid background on one of the most popular and sexy facial hair designs on the planet.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you think this post has been entertaining or helpful, don’t forget to share it with your friends.

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