The Blue Lotus
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|The Blue Lotus
(Le Lotus bleu)
Cover of the English edition
|Series||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Published in||Le Petit Vingtième|
|Date(s) of publication||9 August 1934 – 17 October 1935|
|Preceded by||Cigars of the Pharaoh (1934)|
|Followed by||The Broken Ear (1937)|
The Blue Lotus (French: Le Lotus bleu) is the fifth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the series of comic albums by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. It is a sequel to Cigars of the Pharaoh, with Tintin continuing his struggle against a gang of drug smugglers. The story also highlights the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.
Hergé's Franco-Belgian comic was first serialized in black and white in Le Petit Vingtième, children's supplement to the conservative newspaper Le XXe Siècle, from 9 August 1934 to 17 October 1935, then published into a volume the following year. A decade later, in 1946, it was redrawn into a new colour version.
The Blue Lotus is a pivotal work in Hergé's career, moving away from the stereotype and loosely connected stories and marking a newfound commitment to geographical and cultural accuracy. The book is also amongst the most highly regarded of the entire Tintin series, and was the 18th greatest book on Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century list.
In Cigars of the Pharaoh (Book 4), Tintin pursued an international group of drug distributors through the Middle East and India. He managed to capture most of the cartel members, but not the mysterious leader, who fell down a ravine in the mountains during an attempt to kidnap the Prince of Gaipajama. Some time after these events, his body has still not been found. Tintin though is shown to be enjoying a vacation with the Maharaja of Gaipajama. One day a Fakir tells Tintin that he sees danger soon. Soon after a Chinese man comes to meet him but he is hit by a dart dipped in a poison which causes madness (Rajaijah), fired by a Fakir in the cartel who has escaped prison. The man just had the time to tell Tintin that someone going by the name of Mitsuhirato wants to meet him in Shanghai. Tintin travels to Shanghai, China, where he is awaited by the assassins of the opium consortium.
However, two attempts on Tintin's life are foiled by a young Chinese stranger who arranges to meet Tintin in a secluded area. Once Tintin arrives for their rendezvous, he discovers that the young man has been struck by Rajaijah juice, the poison of madness, used by the drug cartel against their enemies.
Tintin also defends a young Chinese rickshaw driver from a Western businessman and racist bully, Gibbons, a friend of Dawson, the corrupt police chief of the Shanghai International Settlement. Incensed, Gibbons and Dawson set about making life difficult for Tintin.
Meanwhile in Shanghai, Tintin meets Mitsuhirato, a Japanese businessman, who urges him to return to India and protect his friend the Maharajah of Gaipajama, claiming he sent the Messenger to tell Tintin of this.
Having been persuaded by Mitsuhirato, Tintin is on his way back to India by ship when he is knocked unconscious by means of two unknown men chloroforming him and taken ashore along with Snowy. He wakes up outside Shanghai, in the home of Wang Chen-Yee, the leader of a resistance movement called "The Sons of the Dragon" dedicated to the fight against opium; Wang apologizes for the 'violent kidnapping' and begs Tintin to stay in China. Wang's son is the young man who helped save him from the two assassinations, but is now insane from Rajaijah poisoning. He goes about threatening to cut people's heads off with a sword (thinking it will "show them the way") and only his father's stern authority can keep him in check.
Wang also reveals that he sent the Messenger to India and that Mitsuhirato is their chief opponent: a Japanese secret agent and drug smuggler. Tintin manages to track down Mitsuhirato and witnesses him blowing up a railway line (this is based on the real-life Mukden Incident). No one is killed and damage is minor, but the event is successfully portrayed by the Japanese government as a major Chinese terrorist incident where many were killed and used as an excuse for a Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Tintin is captured by Mitsuhirato and is to be injected with the Rajaijah poison, but has a near escape when he is aided by one of the members from "The Sons of the Dragon", who had infiltrated Mitsuhirato's house earlier and switched the poison for colored water.
Having obtained a sample of the poison of madness with the help of the member, Tintin returns to Shanghai, which has now been occupied by the Japanese Army, and tries to make contact with Doctor Fang Hsi-Ying, an expert on insanity, who may be able to cure Wang's son. However, Doctor Fang has been kidnapped by the drug cartel, presumably to prevent him developing an antidote to the poison. A note left by the kidnappers demands ransom money which must be paid at an old temple in the city of Hukow.
However Tintin is arrested by Dawson and returned to the Japanese-controlled area, as he doesn't have papers permitting him to be in the International Area. He is imprisoned in Shanghai by the Japanese Army and declines an offer by Mitsuhirato to join them. However Mr. Wang has a tunnel dug into the prison and Tintin escapes the night before he is scheduled to be executed. He rides a train to Hukow to visit the temple where the ransom is to be paid, but a flood washes out the tracks, and all the passengers must disembark. He rescues a young boy, Chang Chong-Chen, from drowning in the Yangtze River. They become fast friends, and Chang rescues Tintin from Thomson and Thompson who had reluctantly arrested him under orders from Dawson (who is collaborating with Mitsuhirato to capture Tintin). They later travel to the area where the ransom money is to be left, and are able to confirm that Doctor Fang has been kidnapped on Mitsuhirato's orders after defeating an assassin disguised as a photographer.
Tintin and Chang return to Shanghai, but not before Wang and his family are kidnapped by Mitsuhirato. In order to find them, Tintin travels to the Blue Lotus where he hears there will a shipment at the Shanghai docks. He hides in one of the barrels being unloaded from an opium ship. But it turns out that he was seen, and when he emerges he is confronted by Mitsuhirato armed with a gun, and soon finds himself a prisoner alongside Wang and his family. Then the boss of the opium cartel is revealed to be the film producer Rastapopoulos (see Cigars of the Pharaoh for back story). Tintin is appalled that a man he had thought to be a friend could be the gang leader until Rastapopoulos reveals the tattoo of Kih-Oskh on his forearm. Fortunately, before the cartel could kill Tintin and Wang, the Sons of the Dragon, who had previously overpowered Mitsuhirato's thugs and had hidden in the other barrels (as planned by Tintin), reveal themselves, and force Mitsuhirato and Rastapopoulos to surrender. With Rastapopoulos arrested, the cartel is finally brought down, and Mitsuhirato commits suicide. Fang Hsi-Ying finds an antidote to the poison of madness and Wang's son is cured (it is not mentioned whether the other victims of the poison are also cured). The ensuing political fallout over Tintin's involvement with the cartel and Japanese espionage leads to Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations. The story ends with Chang being adopted by the Wang family and Tintin heading back to Europe.
Up to the writing of The Blue Lotus, Hergé's writing was mainly based on popular prejudice and on what his mentor, the abbot Norbert Wallez, had told him about Socialism, the Soviet Union, Belgian colonies in Africa or the United States, which was depicted as a nation of gangsters and cowboys and Indians of the sort found in Hollywood movies (though Hergé does sympathise with the Indians in the way they are forced off their land).
As Tintin was published in Le Petit Vingtième, a newspaper supplement, and Hergé announced at the end of Cigars that his next setting would be China. Father Gosset, chaplain to the Chinese students at the University of Leuven, wrote to Hergé urging him to be sensitive about what he wrote about China, since it might offend his Chinese students. Hergé agreed, and in the spring of 1934 Gosset introduced him to Zhang Chongren/Chang Ch'ung-jen (known to Hergé as 'Chang Chong-chen'), a young sculpture student at the Brussels Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. The two young artists quickly became close friends, and Zhang introduced Hergé to Chinese culture, and the techniques of Chinese art.
As a result of this experience, Hergé would strive in The Blue Lotus, and in subsequent Tintin adventures, to be meticulously accurate in depicting the places which Tintin visited by painstakingly researching all his topics. When his UK publisher complained that The Black Island depicted an old-fashioned England, Hergé sent Bob de Moor to Britain to redraw anything that was no longer accurate, resulting in huge changes to the album. This new-found commitment to accuracy would become a Hergé trademark.
As a token of appreciation, he added a fictional "Chang" ("Tchang" in French) to The Blue Lotus, a young Chinese boy who meets and befriends Tintin. Hergé lets Tintin explain to Chang that Chang's fear for the 'white devils' is based on prejudice and Chinese racism. He then recites a few Western stereotypes of the Chinese, confuting them.
Fictionalisation of real events
Several historical events are loosely portrayed in The Blue Lotus:
|Mitsuhirato and his accomplices blow up the railway line between Shanghai and Nanking.||This parallels the real-life Mukden Incident of 18 September 1931, which however took place some six hundred miles to the north.|
|As a result, the Japanese government invades China, occupying Shanghai, ostensibly to restore order.||Manchuria was invaded by the Japanese from September 1931 onward, and Shanghai was attacked in early 1932 though it was not fully conquered until November 1937.|
|Following Tintin's defeat of Mitsuhirato's drug-running gang, a League of Nations investigation begins into the Shanghai-Nanking railway incident, which results in Japanese withdrawal from the League.||The historical counterpart was the Lytton Commission, which began in December 1931; Japan withdrew from the League of Nations on 27 March 1933.|
As another result of his friendship with Zhang (Chang), Hergé became increasingly aware of the problems of colonialism, in particular the Japanese Empire's advances into China. Tintin also rescues a Chinese man from a racist bully called Gibbons, who strives to get his revenge with the assistance of Dawson, the corrupt police chief of the Shanghai International Settlement. The Japanese and some European characters are portrayed in a negative light, and their cartoon forms are somewhat racist. The Japanese, including the character of Mitsuhirato and Japanese soldiers, are shown with beaming teeth while the Chinese are shown as tight-lipped. As a result it drew sharp criticism from various parties, including a protest by Japanese diplomats to the Belgian Foreign Ministry.
The Republic of China was so pleased with the album that its leader at the time, Chiang Kai-shek, invited Hergé for a visit. However, because of objections to the implied ideology of Tintin, the People's Republic of China forbade the publication of the album for a long time. It finally allowed publication in 1984, but some controversial items were changed. For example the words 抵制日貨, dǐ zhì rì huò, "Down with Japanese products!" was changed to 大吉路, dà jí lù, "Great Luck road".
This adventure was originally published under the name Tintin en Extrême-Orient (literally "Tintin in the Far East").
The original version of The Blue Lotus was published in black-and-white in Le Petit Vingtième in 1934. It was later redrawn and colourised in 1946.
Many scenes that appeared in the original 1934 version were left out in 1946. They included:
- The fakir who performs tricks with glass and daggers and reads Tintin's palm is named as Cipacalouvishni.
- As the fakir warns him of the dangers to come, Tintin looks visibly more nervous in the 1934 version than in 1946.
- After firing the dart into the neck of the Chinese man at the Maharaja's palace, the fakir from Cigars of the Pharaoh can be seen hurrying away through the jungle.
- Tintin then tells the Maharaja that he will not leave for China until he knows the fakir is back in custody. They later receive a telegram announcing his recapture. Tintin, who has lost Snowy, decides to leave without him (these decisions were changed in later versions).
- When Tintin is jailed after bumping into a Sikh policeman, Dawson sends three tough men in to beat him up. In the original version they are British soldiers, from England, Ireland and Scotland. However, it is they who end up in hospital where an official pays tribute for their "sacrifice in the defence of their ideals!". In 1946 the white soldiers are replaced by Indian policemen.
- While watching a newsreel in a cinema, Tintin sees footage of Sir Malcolm Campbell breaking the world land speed record in his high-powered Bluebird car.
- While searching the cellar of the Blue Lotus, Tintin opens a door and he and Chang come face-to-face with yet another gangster. Tintin tells Chang to follow his example, raise his arms and put down his gun. When the gangster bends down to pick up the guns, Tintin slams the door onto him, knocking him out. Chang then ties him up with rope.
The Blue Lotus mentions two fictional countries, the first of several in the Tintin books. However, while fictional countries such as Syldavia play major recurring roles in other stories, the two nations mentioned in The Blue Lotus are not referred to again in the series.
- Pilchardanian Republic: A European Republic, which resembles the pre-World War II French Third Republic. It was mentioned during a newsreel, when Tintin hides in a movie theatre. Its name derives from an alternative word for the sardine, which is a type of fish.
- Mitsuhirato and his men capture a man in the Blue Lotus they believe to be Tintin wearing a huge fake beard and wig. However it turns out to be genuine hair and beard: the man is in fact the consul for Poldavia.
The term "Poldavia" had been popularised a few years earlier in 1929 when several left-wing members of the French parliament had received letters urging them to aid the oppressed people of Poldavia. Some of them had written back expressing support and requesting further details, but the whole thing was a prank instigated by journalist Alain Mellet, a member of the extreme right-wing Action Française.
- The design of opium den in this album is largely inspirated by the cover of Le Petit Journal. We easily recognize the dragon in the background. The posture of smokers and Chinese staff are also very similar.
- In the 1983 English translation, the poem Tintin sings after receiving madness injection is Each Peach Pear Plum, in comes Tom Thumb, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (1978). When Snowy finds him he is singing "Tarantara, zing, boom" – from the song "Loudly let the trumpet bray" in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe (1882) – and "Too-ra loor-ra loor-ra lay" from Come On Eileen (1982).
- Le Grand canular by Jacques Franju, published in 1963
- Farr, Michael (2001). Tintin: The Complete Companion. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-5522-0.
- Lofficier, Jean-Marc and Lofficier, Randy (2002). The Pocket Essential Tintin. Harpenden, Hertfordshire: Pocket Essentials. ISBN 978-1-904048-17-6.
- Peeters, Benoît (1989). Tintin and the World of Hergé. London: Methuen Children's Books. ISBN 978-0-416-14882-4.
- Thompson, Harry (1991). Tintin: Hergé and his Creation. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-52393-3.
- The Blue Lotus Official Website
- The Blue Lotus at Tintinologist.org
- The Blue Lotus at Tintin wiki
- Poldavie at Wikipedia (in French)