What are the stereotypes of East Asians in the play M. Butterfly by David Hwang?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hwang deliberately wrote this play in order to expose and deconstruct the various racial stereotypes that the West has developed in its interactions with the East. Therefore, there is plenty of evidence of derogatory stereotypes in action that he later on is able to challenge and explore. Consider for example Gallimard's view that the Chinese are arrogant. He and his wife show again and again how they detest Chinese culture and the weight that is given to antiquity. Toulon, the ambassador for the French, also quickly establishes that although he lives and works in China, he does not live with the Chinese, as if to do so would impact his societal standing. What is perhaps more disturbing is the way that gender and stereotyping are linked, especially in the view of Chinese women. If we look at the conversation between Sharpless and Pinkerton, Chinese women are presented as nothing more than sexual objects who exist for the pleasure of white men who can get them to do anything. Consider the following comment:

It's true what they say about Oriental girls. They want to be treated bad!

Pinkerton's behaviour towards Chinese women and his acceptance of common stereotypes shows the way that he is not seeing the Chinese as human in any way, but rather as mere objects he can use and discard at a whim.

You also might like to consider the way that the West has stereotyped the East as servile, passive and weak. Consider Gallimard's idea that "The Orientals simply want to be associated with whoever shows the most strength and power." Behind this is the assumption that, in conflicts such as Vietnam, all America has to do to guarantee success is to show sufficient force and power. The East, as befitting its spineless nature, will not resist. Note what Song says of the attitude of the West towards the East in the trial scene:

The West has sort of an international rape mentality towards the East.

Throughout the play, therefore, the West is shown to have constructed a series of binary oppositions that allow it to see itself as superior in every way to the East.


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