Skip to main content

East is East and West is West - a literary and historical view from the perspective of Madame Butterfly.

Bamford, N., 2016. East is East and West is West - a literary and historical view from the perspective of Madame Butterfly. In: Cross-Cultural Communication Conference, 28-29 January 2016, Bangkok.

Full text available as:

East is East and West is West.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


Official URL:


In this paper I will look at aspects of cultural difference as well as commercial and political relationships between East and West in a literary and historical context. These aspects have become evident during research for my PhD by practice, which involves creating a contemporary, gay, screen adaptation of the story of Madame Butterfly. I will demonstrate how the story, by American author John Luther Long, emerged in response to the fashion of ‘Japonisme’, which was prompted by the opening up of new markets with Japan in the late 19th century, and in particular at how it was a moral response to the novella Madame Chysanthème by Pierre Loti, which described an early example of what could be called sex tourism, and another aspect of that Japonisme. I will go on to examine the cultural misunderstanding, and in particular the cruel paradox of legal misperception which is intrinsic to the Madame Butterfly story, how that story was subverted by playwright and impresario David Belasco and opera composer Giacomo Puccini, again in response to commercial demand, and how that East/West misunderstanding has changed in subsequent adaptations, in parallel with political changes through the 20th century. In particular I will look at M. Butterfly, the version of the story written by D.H.Hwang and filmed by David Cronenberg which subverted the dominant male West/submissive female East paradigm which is, again, intrinsic to the story. I will also examine a film version made by NHK in Japan in 2011 with its reversed perspective. Finally I will analyse my own challenge to find an appropriate context for the story in the 21st century, and my choice of Bangkok. I will compare how making the story homosexual destabilizes the heteronormative expectations which govern the original versions, and how globalization has, in a similar way, ‘queered’ the macrocosm of that East/West paradigm in terms of who is now exploiting whom? I will suggest that the internet and other aspects of globalization, such as the ready availability of cheap air travel, which have replaced the traveller with the tourist, might have increased mutual awareness between the cultures, but decreased understanding. While for each culture a perception of the other is more readily available it is, perhaps, more superficial. I will conclude that a culture clash remains, and that having my Cio Cio San still a victim of it, albeit in a different way, is therefore authentic in a contemporary setting. References: BELASCO, D. 1900. Madame Butterfly. USA HWANG, D.H. 1989. M. Butterfly. New York. Penguin. LOTI. P: 1887. Madame Chrysanthème. Translated by Laura Ensor 2005. New York. The Modern Library. E-book #15335 LUTHER LONG, J. 1898: Madame Butterfly. Published in The Century; a popular quarterly. Volume 55, Issue 3 pp. 374-393. Republished 1903. Grossett & Dunlap. New York PUCCINI, G. GIACOSA, G. ILLICA, L: 1904. Madama Butterfly. Italy. Ricordi M. Butterfly.1993. Dir. David Cronenberg. Geffen Pictures, Miranda Productions Inc.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:27045
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:10 Feb 2017 11:07
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:02


Downloads per month over past year

More statistics for this item...
Repository Staff Only -