The Meaning of Manchurian Candidate: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of Manchurian candidate? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the term Manchurian candidate, including its definition, etymology, usage, and more!

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What is a Manchurian candidate?

According to Lexico, Washington Post, and Cambridge English Dictionary, Term Manchurian Candidate refers to a person who is disloyal to their own country or who harms their own country or political parties because they are under the influence of another party or country. In the past, this was associated with brainwashing due to the novel and movie The Manchurian Candidate, but it has become more generalized to refer to any politician that may have an ulterior agenda. This term has become synonymous with the term “programmed assassin.” 

President Trump has been called a Manchurian Candidate in the past. In the New York Times, a reporter suggested that Trump exhibited paranoia about different American intelligence agencies but displayed a trust that verged on gullibility in Vladimir Putin’s government. Implies that he may have had an underlying motive to align with the Russian government rather than trusting or putting faith in the American government and political system. This caused many people to distrust said candidate. Term is frequently used in political discourse and implies that a certain public figure is treasonous. You should not accuse someone of being a Manchurian Candidate lightly, because it is a very serious accusation. 

What are synonyms for the term Manchurian Candidate?

There are a few different phrases and words that one could choose to use in place of the term Manchurian Candidate. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase, and can be useful to know if you’re trying to expand your vocabulary or avoid repeating yourself. Choose to use one of these different words or phrases if you are in a less political situation where you are accusing someone of being puppet-like, or if you want to use a phrase that less implies treason. The below list of synonyms for the term of Manchurian Candidate is provided by Thesaurus

  •  servant
  •  figurine
  •  dupe
  •  schlemiel
  •  creature
  •  instrument
  •  victim
  •  manikin
  •  pawn
  •  mouthpiece
  •  patsy
  •  marionette
  •  tool
  •  stooge
  •  doll
  •  soft touch
  •  moppet
  •  pushover
  •  figurehead
  •  puppet
  •  jerk

What is the origin of the term Manchurian candidate?

According to Dictionary, The Free Dictionary, and IMDb, the book The Manchurian Candidate was a 1959 political thriller written by Richard Condon. In the book, the reader learns about a conspiracy. In this conspiracy, a soldier named Raymond Shaw is captured while in battle during the Korean War. He is later brainwashed by Soviet and Chinese agents in Manchuria. This brainwashing is later activated, and the Communists leave Shaw to assassinate one of the US presidential candidates so that the running mate of that candidate, Senator Iselin, would win support. That Senator (who was modelled on Republican senator Joseph McCarthy) was put in place by Shaw’s mother, a power broker wife, who planned to install a Chinese Communist dictatorship if he was elected. People felt that the plot was highly convoluted, and Time Magazine has put the book on a list of the best bad novels of all time. 

The plot of the book may have been confusing, it has certainly been successful on the film market. It was first adapted into the 1962 motion picture The Manchurian Candidate, which was directed by John Frankenheimer and written by George Axelrod. The film starred many celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, and Henry Silva. In this film, when Sinatra is in Korea, his platoon-mate discovers the brainwashing. He later returns to the United States working as an intelligence officer. Later, like in the book, Shaw’s brainwashing is activated by seeing the queen of diamonds playing card to assassinate a US presidential candidate. Main characters include Major Bennett Marco and Sergeant Raymond Shaw.

The studio, United Artists, was wary about making a film that had controversial subject matter. The film has been described as a hybrid and combined the suspense, political satire, horror, science fiction, war film, and black comedy genres. It followed a similar plot to the book. After the film was released, the American public was terrified about the Cold War, nuclear bombs, McCarthyism, International communism, and domestic terrorism. While some veterans of the Korean war did return with stories of brainwashing, only a few people knew that the government was endorsing mind control projects like MK-Ultra. These projects use volunteers and unsuspecting people to do experiments with LSD, hypnosis, and other mental mechanisms. While this is simply folklore, there are series that Lee Harvey Oswald was inspired to execute the assassination of President John F. Kennedy after he saw a screening of The Manchurian Candidate and that’s why it was removed from theatrical distribution. 

There is also another adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate which was released in 2004. This film was directed by Jonathan Demme, and stars Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Liev Schreiber. In this film, the setting is the Gulf War, in which soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for evil. 

Overall, the term Manchurian candidate means a person, usually a political candidate, that is disloyal to their own country or political parties, and later harms their political party or country, because they’re under the influence of another such party or country. While in the past, this was largely associated with brainwashing, in the modern day it is used to refer to any political candidate that may have ties to another country or an ulterior motive for their candidacy. 


  1. Manchurian Candidate | Article about Manchurian Candidate | The Free Dictionary 
  2. Who uses Manchurian candidate? | Dictionary 
  3. The Manchurian Candidate (2004) 
  4. MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE | Definition of MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE by Oxford Dictionary | Lexico
  5. Some call Trump a ‘Manchurian candidate.’ Here’s where the phrase originated. | Washington Post 
  6. PUPPET Synonyms: 20 Synonyms & Antonyms for PUPPET | Thesaurus