The Blue Lotus (French: 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. The story also highlights the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. 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. 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.
The title, Blue Lotus, refers to the name of an opium den, itself a reference to the blue lotus.
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. 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. Then one day a Chinese man comes to meet him but he is hit by a dart dipped in a poison which causes madness (Rajaijah). He just had the time to tell him 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.
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 resistance movement called “The Sons of the Dragon” dedicated to the fight against opium. 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 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 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 had a near escape when he was 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 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.
After a brief period of imprisonment in Shanghai by the Japanese Army, Tintin escapes and rides a train to Hukow to visit the temple where the ransom is to be paid, 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 Fang has been kidnapped on Mitsuhirato’s orders.
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 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 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 hara-kiri. 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 for Europe.