Though little is known of the Mandarin's origins, he is said to be an ancient warrior king dating back to the fall of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages his name was said to have "inspired generations of men."
By the modern era, the Mandarin was using the name Wenwu. He led a terrorist organization called the Ten Rings, whose power and influence rivaled that of HYDRA. At this point in his career, he operated primarily through intermediaries while he focused on training his young son, Shang-Chi, with the skills he would need to become his Underboss once he came of age. Tony Stark first caught the Mandarin's attention when Obadiah Stane hired Raza, one of his cell leaders in Afghanistan, to kill Stark. However, once they realize how valuable their hostage is, the Ten Rings instead kidnap Stark and force him and Dr. Ho Yinsen to build high tech weapons for them. Instead, they build the first Iron Man suit "in a cave, from a box of scraps", and Yinsen sacrifices himself to enable Stark, as Iron Man, to escape and destroy Raza's base of operations. Stark's public announcement that he was Iron Man, and a very public attempt by Ivan Vanko to assassinate Stark at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, do not go unnoticed by the Mandarin. With Vanko captured and extradited to Butyrskaya Prison after Iron Man defeated him in Monaco, the Mandarin has one of his Russian operatives liberate Vanko, providing him with money and forged documents to enable him to slip into the United States undetected. Some time after the Battle of New York, Dr. Aldrich Killian becomes privy to some of the Mandarin's history. Believing the Mandarin to be a myth, Killian decides to use the persona as window dressing in his own schemes. As part of his elaborate plan to gain revenge on Stark for an early insult and elevate his company, A.I.M. as America's primary defense contractor, Killian hires an out of work actor named Trevor Slattery to impersonate the Mandarin, taking credit for various false flag operations committed by A.I.M. Killian would himself use the name Mandarin during his final showdown with Iron Man. Angered that an incompetent buffoon like Slattery would sully his name, Wenwu has an acolyte named Jackson Norris infiltrate the prison Slattery is being held disguised as a reporter seeking to interview him. Norris releases Slattery, and it is implied that he will face that grim punishment meted out to all impostors: Ten bullets into the body. Wenwu's activities between the death of Killian and the Blip are unknown, but after the Blip, he seeks out Shang-Chi, who has made a life for himself in the United States.
- This incarnation of the Mandarin is a composite of his Earth-616 counterpart and Zheng Zhu, Shang-Chi's father from the comics. It is noteworthy that Zheng himself was a last minute replacement for Dr. Fu Manchu, who was Shang-Chi's "arch-nemesis dad" a' la Darth Vader in the 1970s, prior to Marvel losing the rights to Sax Rohmer's work in the 1980s.
- This incarnation of the Mandarin does not have the Makulan Power Rings of his Marvel Comics Universe counterpart, as they were deemed too similar to the Infinity Gauntlet. Instead, he wears five martial arts rings on each forearm.
- In the comics, the Mandarin is often considered Iron Man's arch nemesis (by virtue of staying power more than anything else). Here, the Mandarin clearly does have a hand in Iron Man's origin and causes some trouble for him behind the scenes, but are not shown to encounter each other onscreen. Whether they encountered each other in an offscreen "noodle incident" or if Stark simply died without ever knowing of Wenwu's existence is not entirely clear.
- "I gave you ten years to live your life, and where did that get you?"
- ―The Mandarin asks an armor piercing question