Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 721
Comrade Chin is the Chinese Communist Party official who instructs Song to spy. Chin unthinkingly accepts communist doctrine. As the representative of the Communist Party during the revolutionary upheavals in the 1960s, she supervises Song's confession of his offenses against party dogma.
Gallimard is a former French diplomat who has been imprisoned for treason. His crime was passing classified documents to the Chinese, through his lover, Song. Gallimard is an unimpressive man, who by his own admission is not ''witty or clever.’’ At high school, he was voted ‘‘least likely to be invited to a party.’’ He is uncomfortable in his relations with the opposite sex, and has had little success in romance. He married for practical reasons rather than for love. However, he still longs for a beautiful woman who will be completely devoted to him. When he thinks he has found such a woman in Song, he gains pleasure in dominating her, and behaves arrogantly and cruelly towards her. This makes him feel for the first time that he is a real man. Eventually, however, he does develop a genuine love for Song. As a diplomat, Gallimard is a failure, and is ordered back to France for giving poor advice to the French ambassador. Gallimard's greatest mistake, however, is that he fails to realize that Song, his long-time lover, is, in fact, a man. When his error is revealed at his trial, he becomes a laughing-stock in France and around the world.
Helga is Gallimard's wife. While the couple lives in Beijing, she remains ignorant of Chinese culture and appears to dislike the Chinese. She is concerned that she and Gallimard seem unable to produce a child. When the couple returns to Paris, Helga is upset by the demonstrations in the street and realizes that she was happier in Beijing.
At Gallimard's trial in Paris in 1986, the judge questions Song about his relationship with Gallimard.
Song is a Chinese singer and actor. Although he is a man, he plays female roles in Chinese opera, which is a traditional practice in China. When Song and Gallimard first meet, Song allows him to think that he, Song, is really a woman. Song pretends to fit the stereotype that Western men have of the submissive Oriental woman: he appears modest and retiring in a way that Gallimard finds enticing.
However, Song can also be assertive in his views about how women are treated in Chinese society and of the West's prejudiced attitude to China. But all the time he is with Gallimard, Song is merely acting a part. In reality, he is using Gallimard to obtain sensitive political information, which he passes on to the Chinese government. Song shows no qualms about his deception of Gallimard, and even goes as far as acquiring a baby (supplied for him by his communist masters) and telling Gallimard the baby is theirs. When Song reveals himself as a man and testifies against Gallimard at the trial, he relates his story in a detached and unemotional manner, as if he has no real feelings in the matter. At the end of the play, he toys with the distressed Gallimard and tries to reassert his control over him.
Marc is an old school friend of Gallimard's, and his complete opposite. Whereas Gallimard was socially withdrawn in high school, Marc was the most popular student. Gallimard lacks confidence with women, but Marc has been a shameless womanizer all his life. He is married, but boasts that he cheated on his wife only six months after their wedding and has had three hundred sexual conquests in twelve years. He urges Gallimard to be aggressive in his pursuit of Song.
Renee is a student from Denmark with whom Gallimard has an affair. She is physically attractive and sexually uninhibited. She engages Gallimard in explicit discussions about the male sexual organ.
Toulon is the French Ambassador in Beijing. He is a man of the world as far as sexual liaisons are concerned, and he seems impressed when he learns of Gallimard's affair with Song. In his conversations with Gallimard about state business, however, he expresses disdain for both the Chinese and the Americans. Gallimard thinks Toulon has a paternalistic attitude to his employees, regarding them all as his children.
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