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Hwang points out that the fantasy of Butterfly in which Asian women are viewed as a decorative object or even a sexual object is just an illusion to please Westerners. Influenced by these perceptions, Gallimard so desperately desires an Asian woman to be his butterfly. Song takes advantage of this phycology to plan a revenge from the “Butterfly”.
To answer the question: how Song can convince Gallimard that he is a woman for almost twenty years, the Orientalism theory may offer an explanation. Said states that “In the eyes of Westerners, Orient is mysterious, their cultures and lifestyles perceived as “exotic”, in stark contrast to “ordinary” Western customs” (Said 1-2). All the phenomena that Western norms cannot explain are naturally regarded by Westerners as local customs and never considered the reasonableness. On the contrary, “the more this incomprehensible, the more exotic they are or even excited about the Orient” (5). 
In the film, Song is always dressed while making love, he has never exposed his naked body in front of Gallimard. For Gallimard, all of these are out of Chinese traditional custom. He believes that Song is a traditional, prudent and conservative oriental woman, so he regards “her” resistance as extreme shyness. Just as what Song says in the play, “As soon as a western man comes into contact with the East- he’s already confused. “- Song (Hwang Act III, Scene IV) Gallimard is not cheated by Song, but by the stereotype of Asian female and Asian culture, which makes him simply blind to all other evidence. For twenty years he was in love with an ideal woman “Butterly” created by the orientalist fantasy, but not Song – the real person. His self-deception makes the unbelievable story, in which the Asian “Butterly” committing a revenge to the Westerner.

Colonial discourse 

In the film, there is not only the stereotype of Asian female but also the wrong cognition  of  Western male. In the theory of colonial discourse, Homi K. Bhabha shares the statement with Said the “Colonizer create an assumption that colonizer’s culture (i.e. history, language, art, religion etc) is superior to that of the colonized peoples’ culture”, however, he uses the concept of “colonial discourse” in his work The Other Question: the Stereotype and Colonial Discourse to argues that “both colonizer and colonized are included and influenced by the misreading” (322). The concept of”colonial discourse” refers to “the system of statements that can be made about colonizers and the colonized as well as the relationship between both parties” (314). He notes that “by creating and reinforcing stereotypes of both the colonizer and colonized (mostly through repetition of the negative stereotypes associated with the colonized), it is important not to forget that colonial discourse exercises its power by also influencing how the colonizer perceive themselves” (314). “Not only the colonized is defined in a specific way through colonial discourse but the colonizer as well” (316). If discourse fixes people’s identities, this goes for everyone who is involved in it: those who speak (the colonizer) and those who are spoken about (the colonized). 
In the case of M. Butterfly, even though China was not colonized by any Western countries during 1960s-1980s, China is under “decades of constant political, military and financial pressure” from the imperial countries since 1840 (Jowett 4). Thus, to some extent, the relations between China and the West shares some similarities with the relations between the colonized and the colonizer. While the Asian female is stereotyped as the image that is both submissive and exotic, as mentioned above, the Western male, is identified as dominating and powerful, even with better sexual ability compared with Asian male. 
In the film, Gallimard appears more confident and sexual aggressive when he was dating with Song, than with his Western wife, because of the assumption that he, as a Western man, is superior than a Chinese man. He believes that he has an ethnic advantage over Chinese man, which is based on his colonizer idea.

The West-East power relations and the Colonial Gaze

Apart from the discussion on gender stereotypes, the film also reflects how the West applies gender power relations to the West-East power relations. From the angle of the West, its conquest of the East similar to the domination of the male over the female. The West “uses the strategy of feminizing the East” to show its power (Wen 44). 
In the play M.Butterfy(1988), there is a scene when Song was interrogated on the court, he criticized that:
“The West has sort of an international rape mentality towards the East. …The West thinks of itself as masculine — big guns, big industry, big money — so the East is feminine — weak, delicate, poor…but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom — the feminine mystique.” – Song (Hwang Act III, Scene I) 
So the distinct binary stereotypes of Asian female and the Western male, as mentioned above, can also be transferred as the stereotypes of the East and the West in the power relations. While the West invading and dominating the East by their “guns”(military), “industry” and  “money”(economy), the land and people from Asian countries are labeled as “weak, delicate and poor”, which is similar to the label of female to some extent. Thus, the East is depicted as “an irrational, psychologically weak, and feminized, non-European “Other””, which is “negatively contrasted with the rational, psychologically strong, and masculine West” (Said 1-2). So the identity that West is masculine and the East is feminine are formed and reinforced, in both the Westerners and Easterners’ mind. It can be introduced as a concept of “the colonial gaze”, which includes how the West perceives and stereotypes the Asian culture, people, and in the case of M.Butterfly, the Asian female.
The concept of”the colonial gaze” explains the mentality and behaviors of Gallimard, who is initially unconfident, being placed at a weak position in the relationship with his wife. He is anxious and disappointed to realize that his role as a stronger player in gender is challenged by his wife, he feels sexually inferior in Western society and his masculinity is threatened by the Western women. So he turns to find satisfaction and safety in an Asian woman who would not question his dominating role. He believes that his race as a white means he is naturally superior to Asian male. He can dominate an Asian woman easily, just like his country dominates “her” country. Just as what Song says about the psychology of Western men:
“Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes. The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated — because a woman can’t think for herself. …You expect Oriental countries to submit to your guns, and you expect Oriental women to be submissive to your men.”- Song (Hwang Act III, Scene I) 
However, the interesting point of this film is that it finally subverts the two stereotypes of the East and the West, female and male. A question for audiences is that: who is the real “Butterfly” in this story? Gallimard seems to find an ideal “woman” as he wished, but Song is the one who controls everything. He creates an exotic illusion to get Gallimard’s heart and uses him to gain information. Gradually, the positions of Gallimard and Song subvert, and we eventually realize that Gallimard, the Western man, is the real “Butterfly”, the one who is being abandoned by his lover, lose his love, his life, and everything. The subversive ending that Gallimard commits suicide in desperation is probably the critics of the stereotypes.

The Unstable Sexual Identity due to the Colonial Gaze from the West

Apart from the issue of the colonial gaze as mentioned above, the film also demonstrates an ambiguity of gender identity in Song Liling, which challenge audiences’ social norms that gender identity is something stable and decided by nature.
Actually, there is a trick hidden in the title “M. Butterfly”. The “M.” can both be explained as “Madama” (female) based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, as well as be considered as the”Monsieur”(male). Thus, the ambiguity in gender identity and sexual orientation are probably because Hwang intends to make it that way.
The gender identity of Song is not clear and binary. There are three layers of Song’s gender. First, Song is acting a woman on the stages of both Western opera and Peking opera. In daily, he also masquerades as a woman to get access to Gallimard. Second, physically he is a real man. Third, his ethnicity identity as a Chinese is feminized due to the colonial gaze.
  Song said that “I am an Oriental. And being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man”(Hwang Act III, Scene I). In the background where the Asian culture and Asian people are feminized by the West, his own gender identity is shifting. Since he is both physically a male but also ethnically an Asian, so he neither is wholly male or wholly female despite his physical gender. Judith Butler argues that “gender is a performance” (349) and performing gender is a “strategy of survival” (273). Karen Shimakawa also suggests the “unstable nature of gender ” (1) Thus, Song is not confined to the simple categorization of male and female, she/he has crossed the boundary of gender. 
In the film, John Lone, the actor playing Song Liling, actually does not act in a way that perfectly like a convincing woman, his act has combined the characteristics of both male and female. He is criticized by this point, but personally, I think this may exactly fit in the intention of Hwang. Throughout the whole film, Lone leaves many clues to the audiences that Song is not a woman but could possibly be a man, which implies that Gallimard is not totally deceived by Song, but also by his Orientalist illusion. Without the power of the colonial gaze, one can never be duped by Song’ camouflage. Meanwhile, his/her ambiguous gender also suggests that the sexual identity is not something natural and innate but something can be changed, “can be broken down and mixed to reinscribe them” (Saal 16). In the case of M.Butterfly, it is influenced by the ethnicity and the power relations(the colonial gaze).


By telling a story of the revenge of Asian “Butterfly”,  M. Butterfly demonstrates the gender/racial stereotype towards the Asian female as submissive, less threatening, and wiling to be dominated, while the Western male as dominating and powerful, under the influence of the colonial gaze. The gender stereotypes also reflect the power relations between the East and the West, whiling the West feminizing the East and perceives themselves as masculine. Meanwhile, M. Butterfly retells the West-East cross-nation love story and reconstructs the West-East relations revolutionarily by reversing the stereotypes and power relations, with an ending that the Asian “Butterfly” destroys the orientalist fantasy and the Westerner loses everything. Last but not least, the ambiguous sexual identity of Song Liling suggests that sexual identity is not something natural and innate but something can be changed because of other factors, for example, the ethnicity and the colonial gaze.