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Mandarins are first encountered when James uses a passage that connects the two ends of Saul Street, which can be only accessed after progressing through the events that take place in Brookhaven Hospital.
They appear to be distorted, female figures with grotesquely large arms, and a straightjacket-like garment covering their upper body while their legs dangle uselessly below them. Their arms and face also appear to have large lips.
The Closer, a monster in Silent Hill 3, shares similar characteristics of the Mandarin. According to Masahiro Ito, the reason they look similar is because the Mandarin was one of the most underrated monsters of Silent Hill 2. His intentions by them both having similar designs was to imply that their appearance was not just dependent on the person, but that the power of Silent Hill also had some input on the "design" of the monsters.
They reach out to attack from below the mesh grating with tentacles that sprout from the lip-like openings in their arms. They are trapped below the floor and James never encounters one above the floor he's currently standing on.
They are uncommon and not very dangerous. The only method in which to kill one is to use firearms, as James cannot reach them with any melee weapon. The best tactic to deal with them is to not waste much-needed ammo and to instead run past them. They are very easily avoided so long as the player doesn't stand still above them for too long.
According to the Book of Lost Memories, the Mandarin symbolizes feelings of overwhelming, incomprehensible anguish and helplessness. For this reason, they are not permitted to stand above ground. The novelization also mentions they originated from a desire to "escape".
It is possible that they are doomed to hang onto the metal grating for eternity and should they fall, they will disappear into the unknowable abyss below. Similarly, James' psyche is hanging from the proverbial thread. Should he lose his remaining sanity and the will to live, he too will fall into the darkness (i.e. death) and never return. The fact that Mandarins are not allowed above ground and only appear in places that are dark could possibly point to repressed emotions, most notably guilt. The game's conclusion reveals that the memory of Mary Shepherd-Sunderland's murder was suppressed along with his guilt. The black tentacles that jut from their lips should James walk over them could be the pangs of his conscience, calling him to remember his crime.
The Mandarins may also represent perversion: men who stalk women, always underfoot and always peering under their dresses. Like most of the monsters in Silent Hill 2, the Mandarins share the theme of sexual frustration, as their form is inherently female. They could also point to James desperately missing Mary and how he is unable to reach her. Their tube-shaped heads are similar to retractable lipstick cases, and their lips could represent how James misses Mary's kisses. Their lips also emulate vaginal imagery, which touches on James' sexual frustration.
- The name "Mandarin" is derived from the dress type sheathing on its body, as it appears to be Chinese in origin.
- The lip-like ends of the Mandarin's arms are similar to aspects seen in the Flesh Lip and Glutton.