What We’re Into: “M. Butterfly” by David Henry Hwang

The play is a retelling of Giacomo Puccini‚Äôs Madame Butterfly in which a French ambassador, Rene Gallimard, falls in love with opera star Song Liling. They meet after Gallimard sees Liling portray the title role in Puccini’s opera and, inspired by his womanizing friend, Gallimard begins to test the limits of Liling’s confidence and pride believing that she, a Chinese woman, will eventually bend to his domineering Western position. The problem, besides the gross yellow fever-ridden mindset of Gallimard? Liling is a man, and a spy for the Chinese government. The play is based very loosely on Bernard Boursicot’s lived experience of discovering his Chinese wife was not only a spy, but a man, and critiques the extent to which the West views the East as an “”inherently submissive, quiet, meek”” continent. The play is told in a frame story of Gallimard in prison recalling on the events and flash between what happened chronologically and the court case after his betrayal had been discovered. I read the play in a single sitting and was absolutely blown away by how biting the criticisms were and how relevant the message still is to how white people view Asian women and Asia as a whole.
Recommended by Emily J. Shpiece.

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