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A French diplomat who is on assignment in China. He desires a relationship similar to the one from Madame Butterfly, the cruel white male and the submissive oriental woman. He falls deeply in love with Song's performance of Madame Butterfly whom he fetishises as his perfect woman despite Song being biologically a man. René embarks on a torrid affair with Song, believing him to be pregnant and even proposing marriage. After Song's deception is publicly revealed to him and René is imprisoned, René, unable to accept that his perfect woman is "just a man" dons the costume of Butterfly and commits ritual suicide.
A Chinese actor who plays the role of the dan (the female) in Chinese opera. He manipulates René's affections for him and acts as a spy for the communist government. After he is denounced in court as a man as well as a spy, Song is rejected by René and is imprisoned.
René's friend who is described as "lewd" and "dangerous." He represents the Western ideal of masculine sexuality and acts as a foil to René 's disillusionment.
The female counterpart of René whom he engages in a brief affair with. René discontinues the affair after he is disgusted by her brazen sexuality.
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