David Henry Hwang: How International Relations Get 'Genderized'

When David Henry Hwang's Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly debuted in 1988, China, just emerging from decades of chaos and stagnation, was far weaker than the United States or Western Europe in geopolitical terms. This power imbalance found expression as a metaphor driven by the play's central relationship — that of a French diplomat, Rene Gallimard, failing to realize that his Chinese lover of many years was, actually, male.

Nearly three decades later, as M. Butterfly returns in a much-anticipated revival, China is an economic superpower and a rival to the United States. But Hwang argues that American perceptions of China as a feminized "other" remain firmly lodged in place.

"The powerful East is treated by [President Donald Trump] and others in a 'dragon lady' way — that China is cheating," he said.

"America is performatively masculine, and the Other gets feminized one way or the other."

Hwang appeared in conversation on Friday with M. Butterfly director Julie Taymor and Asia Society Director of Global Performing Arts Rachel Cooper. You can watch the complete video of their conversation below. Earlier last week, Hwang expounded on this and other topics during an interview with Asia Blog.