Jeffrey Wasserstrom: The Yellow Peril of Fu Manchu

Roundup: Talking About History

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is a history professor at the University of California, Irvine and co-editor of "Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land."

Fear of China is back. But it's a nebulous fear, and this creates both an opportunity and an obstacle for the male and female anti-heroes of Christopher Buckley's latest look at the surreal world of lobbyist, the uneven but occasionally hilarious "They Eat Puppies, Don't They?" Both characters are eager to whip up anxiety about the Chinese military threat in hopes that Congress will fund development of a costly new weapon. They quickly realize, though, that China is different from radical Islam when it comes to generating dread.

There is no obvious panic-inducing face for this phobia, no counterpart to Osama bin Laden. Yes, there is clear evidence of China's leaders treating opponents brutally at home and bullying neighbors in territorial spats, but this alone can't transform Beijing's bland technocrats into terrifying bogeymen. When lined up for group photos, Mr. Buckley notes, they still just look "like a delegation of identical, overpaid dentists." No one in the book actually says it, but you can almost hear the protagonists crying out: "Where is Fu-Manchu when you need him?"...

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