The Blue Lotus (Le Lotus bleu), first published in 1936, is one of The Adventures of Tintin, a series of classic comic-strip albums written and illustrated by Hergé featuring young reporter Tintin as a hero. It is a sequel to Cigars of the Pharaoh, with Tintin continuing his struggle against a major gang of drug smugglers. He also becomes involved in the resistance to the Japanese invasion of China. The Blue Lotus is a pivotal work in Hergé's career, moving away from the stereotype and loosely connected stories and marking a new found commitment to geographical and cultural accuracy.
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 opium gang against their enemies.
Tintin also defends a young Chinese boy 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.
Having been persuaded by Mitsuhirato, Tintin is on his way back to India by ship when he is knocked unconscious and taken ashore along with Snowy. He wakes up outside Shanghai, in the home of Wang Chen-Yee, the leader of a brotherhood called "The Sons of the Dragon" dedicated to the fight against opium. Wang's son is the young man who helped save him on two occasions, but is now insane. 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 Mitsuhirato is their chief opponent: a Japanese secret agent and drug smuggler. Tintin follows Mitsuhirato and sees 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 and used as a pretext for a Japanese invasion of Manchuria.
Having obtained a sample of the poison of madness, Tintin returns to Shanghai, which has now been occupied by the Japanese Army, and tries to make contact with Doctor Fan Hsi-Ying, an expert on insanity, who may be able to cure Wang's son. However, Doctor Fan has been kidnapped by the opium gang, 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.
After a brief period of imprisonment in Shanghai by the Japanese Army, Tintin escapes and rides a train to Hukow, but a flood washes 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 the Thompsons 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 Fan has been kidnapped on Mitsuhirato's orders.
Tintin and Chang return to Shanghai, but Wang and his family are kidnapped by Mitsuhirato. In order to find them, Tintin travels to the Shanghai docks and 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. 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 incredulous 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, 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 drug ring is finally brought down, and Mitsuhirato commits seppuku. The ensuing political fallout over his involvement with the cartel and Japanese espionage leads to Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations.
The title, Blue Lotus, refers to the name of an opium den, itself a reference to the blue lotus.
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 des Beaux-Arts. The two young artists quickly became close friends, and Zhang introduced Hergé to Chinese culture, and the techniques of Chinese art.
According to Hergé, before the meeting,he thought that it "was peopled by a vague,slit eyed who were very cruel, and would eat swallows nests,wear pigtails and throw children into rivers."
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.
Tintin is a direct witness to the South Manchurian railway incident (Mukden incident), Japan's pretext to occupy the province of Manchuria from China. 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".
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:
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