The China Doll

Historically, Asian women have been stereotyped in the United States and the western world in general into two categories, the “China Doll” (submissive, hypersexualized, ultra-feminine) and the “Dragon Lady” – (dominating, manipulative, also hypersexualized.) 

In my Asian-American queer literature class, we talked about the invisibility of queer Asians because of the west’s feminization of Asia. According to these stereotypes, all Asian men are feminine and desexualized, whereas all Asian women are ultra-feminine and hypersexualized. This leaves no room for gender-bending or lesbian Asian women; it also leaves gender-bending and queer Asian men invisible, since for them, being more feminine of center is considered the norm.

In M Butterfly, Hwang’s character Song takes advantage of these stereotypes to deceive Gamillard into believing he is the ultimate orientalized, submissive china doll. Even though in 20 years he never sees his lover naked and has intimate relations with her multiple times, Gamillard doesn’t consider the possibility that his Butterfly is lying to him because that possibility, in his worldview, simply isn’t there. As Song explains to the judge, “The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated, because a woman can’t think for herself” (62). Underneath this explanation is a deeper and even more disturbing one: that, for the West, the East only exists in its own mind, its own projected stereotypes. A man knows what women want, because in a patriarchal society, what a woman ought to want is dictated by men. The woman does not exist outside of the man’s conception of her – therefore how could she possibly be different from his conception of her? This goes double for the Orientalized woman, against whom patriarchy and colonialism have twisted together in a haze of stereotypes invented for the sole purpose of rationalizing her subjugation.

This is the heart of Gamillard’s denial. He simply cannot see outside of himself and his own wants and needs; he cannot see the “other” as a person as vital and complicated as himself. He sees only what he wants to see and what he has been taught to see, which are essentially the same. It must be strange, to be so raised on one’s own superiority to the rest of the world that one can barely comprehend the humanity of others. After such an education, it must be particularly devastating to have these lifelong delusions popped.

Perhaps I’m being hard on Gamillard. After all, he more than gets what he deserves when, in a turn of poetic justice, he turns himself into his own Madame Butterfly. “It’s a…a pure sacrifice,” he tells Song at their first meeting. “He’s unworthy, but what can she do? She loves him…so much. It’s a very beautiful story” (18). Like the original Butterfly, Gamillard is manipulated cruelly by a man with ulterior motives who preys on his ignorance and on his dream of perfect love. Also like Butterfly, he eventually kills himself for that love, a love that was always a delusion. It’s in Gamillard’s acknowledgment of himself as Butterfly that confirms the absurdity of the orientalized China Doll. It puts the spotlight on the European man who so desperately needed that stereotype to be real that he became it himself.




Filed under Week 8: Taiwanese queer fiction; M. Butterfly

4 responses to “The China Doll

  1. Lea

    I would agree with your critique of Gamillard– I do believe that he fell pray to his worldview about the power relationship between the gender and race of his lover and his own gender and race. However, ultimately, I don’t know how much I blame him versus how much I blame society and/or cultural values. – LGT

  2. I would also agree with Lea that while Gamillard definitely recreated societal views about Asian groups in his personal relationships, many of these views were enforced and supported by his surrounding culture. It is essential to note, however, when societal views become a crutch or an excuse and when one must liberate themselves from societal constructs. Yes, Gamillard was a product of his time but this alone does not excuse how he projected his own racial insecurities and fetishes on Song.–VCA

  3. I agree with the comments above! @Ash, While I don’t think you’re being too hard on Gamillard, I agree with @VCA and @LGT that it’s important to consider how his actions and beliefs have been shaped by society.

    Do you think Gamillard really gets his comeuppance at the end, though? I think, in a way, Gamillard never truly learns his lesson. By wearing the kimono and committing sepuku, he is again appropriating Eastern culture for his own salvation.


  4. I loved your connection to your Asian-American queer lit class! Sounds like a very interesting class! I liked your analysis of how since the west feminize the east it is hard for queer asians to get a foothold. I had never really though of applying this “feminizing” that way and looking at it from the perspective of queer Asians. I also agree with the above comments and your analysis of Gallimard-especially the correlation between him and Butterfly. I thought your last line was very conclusive but also left room for more questions. I wonder what specifically about the upbringing of men in the west makes them have this stereotype so firmly rooted.

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