Above are two versions of his appearances over the years, sporting the power rings that make him a menace to superheroes around the world. Marvel Directory has a pretty extensive file on the guy, as does the Wikipedia.
The long and the short is that the Mandarin is part of a long tradition of 'yellow peril' characters in popular culture, including Fu Manchu, Shiwan Khan, Ming the Merciless and numerous other Asian/Eurasian despots of the pulp fiction era.
The Mandarin is the supposed son of a wealthy Chinese noble from pre-revolutionary China and an English noblewoman. There are any number of post-colonial interpretations of this that could be made.
Such as: Wow, even our 'best' Asian villains still have to be part-white in order to beat (well, almost) American/Western heroes. Or we could take issue with equating Eurasians with evil or low morals, a la Miss Saigon's notorious 'Engineer' character:
The Mandarin has no superhuman powers, but relies on stolen alien technology. Which isn't a metaphor for how American industry viewed the rise of Asia as a major industrial center for technology and consumer electronics at all. :)
To be fair, however, it is pretty impressive that an ordinary human being can go toe-to-toe with a guy running around in high-tech power armor, and any other number of superheroes. No matter how occasionally ridiculous his costume:
In the end, who knows: Maybe they'll update the character and make him more than a xenophobic writer's cardboard character for Iron Man to knock around. But I'm not holding my breath.