PRINCE WU LING AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE YELLOW BEETLE

by Mark Hodder

  • An introduction to this popular old character for the benefit of new readers.

Prince Wu Ling is fanatical, insidious, honourable (within an oriental context), obsessive, relentless, and inspires absolute loyalty. His significant others are: San, the Council of Eleven, Monsieur Zenith the Albino, and Leon Kestrel.

Prince Wu Ling and the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle

Prince Wu Ling was the leader of The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle, one of the many insidious, secretive and imperialistic organisations that grew out of the chaotic conditions in China during the fall of the Manchu (Qing) Dynasty. Like Fu-Manchu's Si-Fan, the Yellow Beetle sent its deadly tentacles out of the Far East with the intention of weakening and, ultimately, overthrowing the West.

In China, Wu Ling's influence was profound: he was the true power behind Sun-Yat-Sen, the revolutionary who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Manchu Dynasty in 1911. Though Sun-Yat-Sen was the 'official' first provisional president when the Republic of China was founded in 1912 — a uniting figure in the post-Imperial age who became known as 'The father of Modern China' — Wu Ling was the motivating force; the puppeteer. It is also rumoured that he eventually suspected Sun-Yat-Sen of playing him false and arranged to have him assassinated (though official reports state that Sun-Yat-Sen died from a liver infection).

In the year preceding the First World War, Wu Ling appeared in the West and began his operations to undermine Europe's (and more especially Britain's) political stability. From the outset, he found himself foiled again and again by Sexton Blake. Fortunately, these early defeats were made somewhat insignificant by the outbreak of international hostilities, which suited Wu Ling's purpose very well (and there are a few subtle hints that the Yellow Beetle may have had a hand in manipulating the events which led to the conflict). When the armies were mobilised, Wu Ling found a new focus and allied with Germany to undermine the British war effort. This, however, was merely an association of convenience; the prince had no great love for the Germans but found them useful. As Europe embroiled itself in destruction, Wu Ling waited patiently for the opportunities that would allow his race to achieve world dominance. He was occasionally supported by Baron Robert de Beauremon and the Council of Eleven, whose ambitions were rather more pedestrian. However, as the Brotherhood's aggression against the West deepened, de Beauremon broke the connection and turned against Wu Ling, leading an allied fleet to the prince's base — the island of Kaitu in China — and bombarding it.

This proved to be a serious blow for Wu Ling. From 1915 until 1922, he was unheard of, making no appearances in the Blake saga. Then, under the authorship of George N. Philips, he reappeared in a much more subdued form, and some of Sexton Blake's other criminal opponents found themselves uneasily allied with the Yellow Beetle; Monsieur Zenith the Albino and Leon Kestrel joined Wu Ling to battle against Blake and Mlle Yvonne Cartier. Ultimately, though, the Prince trusts no-one from the West, so these partnerships were doomed to failure.

Chronology:

1. The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle UNION JACK issue 507 (1913)
Sir George Halliday overhears a meeting of The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle in which its intentions to overthrow the West are outlined. When he returns to Britain he is followed and murdered. Sexton Blake investigates but cannot prevent Wu Ling's escape or the destruction of the papers left by Halliday.

2. The Idol's Spell UNION JACK issue 510 (1913)
Sir Frederick Baxter returns from the Far East with written evidence of the plans of The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle. Through hypnosis, Prince Wu Ling causes Baxter's daughter to steal the documents. Blake intervenes and saves Sir Frederick from murder but cannot retrieve the papers or prevent Wu Ling's escape.

3. The Yellow Sphinx UNION JACK issue 512 (1913)
Wu Ling kidnaps a wealthy financier and replaces him with a disguised Dr. Huxton Rymer. As the financier's funds are drained by the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle, his daughter notices his odd behaviour and consults Sexton Blake and Mlle. Yvonne Cartier. When the latter is kidnapped, the detective confronts Wu Ling and foils his plans.

4. The White Manadarin UNION JACK issue 519 (1913)

5. The Yellow Octopus UNION JACK issue 526 (1913)

6. The Sacred Sphere UNION JACK issue 529 (1913)
Wu Ling organises a system through which Chinese emmigrants can illegally enter the United States. He also uses this system to kidnap a diplomat's daughter. A second kidnapping — of a potential wife for a Chinese governor — goes wrong when it is discovered that the girl is actually Mademoiselle Yvonne. She has allowed herself to be abducted so that Sexton Blake can follow her trail and destroy the system. Further complications arise when Dr Huxton Rymer gets involved. Wu Ling captures Rymer and sentences him to a lifetime of slavery in revenge for his previous betrayals. Sexton Blake arrives and puts Wu Ling in a position whereby he can only agree to free the two women and give up the secrets of the system. Blake then 'buys' Rymer's release with a sacred sphere — an artifact from the Ming Dynasty which is of immense value to Wu Ling.

7. Pirated Cargo UNION JACK issue 552 (1914)
A number of ships — all with a cargo of armaments — are mysteriously lost at sea. Sexton Blake traces them to the island of Kaitu, which proves to be the stronghold of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle. Leading an attack on the island, he engages in hand to hand combat with Prince Wu Ling and emerges as the victor. Wu Ling is pronounced dead.

8. The Crimson Pearl (UNION JACK issue 564, 1914)
Doctor Huxton Rymer gains possession of a priceless pearl which is sought after by San, lieutenant to the now-deceased Wu Ling. In the Solomon Islands, he tries to sell the treasure but is defeated when Sexton Blake arrives on the scene on Mademoiselle Yvonne's yacht. Blake leaves Rymer to escape but gains possession of the pearl for its rightful owners. San escapes after making a deal with the detective.

9. A Voice from the Dead UNION JACK issue 579 (1914)
San takes over the leadership of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle after the death of Wu Ling. He attempts to steal jewels which are hidden in an ancient idol. Sexton Blake defeats him but San gets away.

10. The Case of the Poisoned Telephones UNION JACK issue 596 (1915)
Wu Ling has survived after Sexton Blake's raid on his island headquarters and, after a long stay in a monastery, returns to lead the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle once more. He steals the blueprints for a new invention — a light ray — but his plans are foiled by the Baker Street detective. Wu Ling and his lieutenant, San, make a narrow escape.

11. The Quest of the Grey Panther UNION JACK issue 607 (1915)
Prince Wilhelm of Germany secretly enters Britain to meet with Wu Ling. He wishes the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle to ally itself with the German war effort. Wu Ling accepts the proposition but Tinker witnesses their meeting and the initial plot is defeated by Sexton Blake.

12. The Yellow Tiger THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series, issue 1 (1915)
Wu Ling, working as an agent for Germany, employs the Council of Eleven to help him kidnap the British Munitions Minister. When Sexton Blake foils his plot, Wu Ling captures him and transports him to the island of Kaitu in China. Tinker and Mademoiselle Yvonne come to the rescue and are helped by Baron Robert de Beauremon who decides to turn against Wu Ling. The island is bombarded by a British battleship and the Brotherhood flees.

13. Threatened by Three UNION JACK issue 956 (1922)
After a seven-year absence, Wu Ling makes a subdued return to the Blake saga, this time teaming up with Leon Kestrel and Zenith the Albino in a plot to pass government transcripts to enemy powers. Sexton Blake intervenes but the three criminals escape by dirigible and parachute onto a fleeing steam ship. This story was written by George N. Philips (aka Anthony Skene). Wu Ling's creator, G. H. Teed, has abandoned the character by this point.

14. In League Against Him UNION JACK issue 969 (1922)
George N. Philips delivers another tale featuring Wu Ling with Kestrel and Zenith. This time the 'Big Three' try to kill Sexton Blake using a device that projects radiation. Mademoiselle Yvonne comes to the detective's assistance and saves the day. The criminals once again escape by means of a balloon. Wu Ling is has little more than a walk on part in this story; he doesn't even speak a word!

15. The Thousandth Chance (UNION JACK issue 1,000, 1922)
In this special story to celebrate the thousandth issue of the UNION JACK, Wu Ling is once again joined by Zenith and Kestrel, and also by Doctor Huxton Rymer, The Three Musketeers, Mary Trent, The Black Duchess, George Marsden Plummer and Professor Kew, all of whom plot to rob Sexton Blake of his collection of art and antiques. Wu Ling is specifically after the Ling-tse vase, which holds important significance for the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle. With help from Mlle. Yvonne Cartier, Blake foils the plot. A lock of hair from the head of Confucius is wrapped around the vase, acting as a symbolic barrier to Wu Ling.

16. The Crimson Belt THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series, issue 307 (1923)
Doctor Huxton Rymer and Mary Trent interfere at the scene of a murder without realising that they're foiling the plans of Prince Wu Ling. The head of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle is trying to lay his hands on a crimson belt in which is hidden a map to treasure from the Manchu dynasty. When Rymer takes the belt, he is pursued by Wu Ling and Sexton Blake to Australia. Here he teams up with the Chinaman and plots to murder Blake. Mademoiselle Yvonne and Tinker foild the plan and rescue the detective who then goes on to recover the treasure.

17. The Tabu of Confucius UNION JACK issue 1,023 (1923)
In America, one of Wu Ling's henchmen breaks the tabu of Confucius and steals the Ling-tse vase from Sir Gordon Saddler (aka Hsui-fsi). Wu Ling tries to leave the continent by yacht but is intercepted by Blake and Tinker. An accident causes the yacht to explode. Wu Ling escapes but the vase sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

18. The Slave of the Thieves' Market UNION JACK issue 1,026 (1923)
The Ling-tse vase is found in the belly of a fish and is taken to China where it falls into the hands of one of the country's three great powers: Chuen-to-yan. One of the other powers, Wu Ling, seeks an alliance with Chuen-to-yan but, with help from Sexton Blake, the third power, Sir Gordon Saddler, tricks his opponents and sends the vase away attached to a homing pigeon.

19. The Adventure of the Giant Bean UNION JACK issue 1,031 (1923)
The homing pigeon arrives at the house of Sir Gordon Saddler but Chuen-to-yan's men mount an attack. During the fighting the Ling-tse vase is secreted in the pod of a giant bean which is knocked into a stream. Later, it is recovered by an antique dealer who posts the artifact to London shortly before being murdered. Wu Ling sets off after the vase. One of his men gains possession of it but is defeated by Blake. The vase is given to one of the detective's Chinese allies, Hong-lo-soo, for safekeeping.

20. The Case of the Strange Sickness UNION JACK issue 1,086 (1924)

21. The Great Canal Plot (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 2nd series issue 19, 1925)
Wu Ling goes to Cairo to play a role in a daring plot to blow up the Suez Canal. The deed is to be undertaken by a gang of supercriminals led by Prince Menes, which includes The Black Eagle, Madam Goupolis, George Marsden Plummer, Mathew Cardolak and The Three Musketeers. The plot is foiled by Sexton Blake but Wu Ling remains free thanks to his diplomatic immunity.

22. The Case of the Mummified Hand (SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 2nd series, issue 35, 1926)
The Black Eagle plays host to the gang of super-crooks who had previously been involved in THE GREAT CANAL PLOT. Prince Wu Ling is part of the gathering, as the political instability the gang hopes to instigate will help him in his cause. When Prince Menes loses control of the gang and George Marsden Plummer rebels, the Black Eagle is forced to interven to prevent Menes from harming Mademoiselle Yvonne. Sexton Blake leads a police raid on the Eagle's house but by this time Wu Ling has flown from the country.

More to come ... ...