Gallimard, addressing his audience, says he couldn’t stop thinking of the Peking Opera for four weeks after his conversation with Helga. He wondered how Song became so “proud” —which is to say, confident and forthcoming about her opinions. Though cowardice kept him away at first, he says, curiosity eventually brought him to the theater. There, he found elderly and disfigured people smoking pipes, screaming and gawking at Song as she performed. As Gallimard finishes his account of the experience, Song appears onstage in the company of two dancers. They perform a graceful choreography while Gallimard watches.
The Peking Opera is far more populist than the performances Gallimard is used to attending. Song’s audience is comprised of raucous common people, rather than elegant socialites. This is a manifestation of the Communist values governing China during the early 1960s. Communism celebrated the unpretentious commoner, and disparaged the decadence and haughtiness of high society — the things Western capitalism encouraged.
Song freezes, holding a pose, in the middle of her dance. The two dancers leave the stage and the scene shifts suddenly from a performance to a conversation backstage between Song and Gallimard. Song asks what has brought Gallimard to the opera so long after she invited him to attend. Gallimard says he hoped the opera would “further my education,” but that he was too busy to come earlier. Song quips that education has always been undervalued in the West.
The sudden evaporation of all other action in the theater — the abrupt cessation of Song’s performance, for instance — suggests that Song is just as excited to see Gallimard in her theater as he is to see her on the stage. She gives him her total attention, which makes their conversation intense and intimate, even though they do not talk about serious things.
When Gallimard objects, laughing, to Song’s analysis of Western values, Song tells him he is too close to his own culture to judge it fairly. Gallimard insists it is possible to achieve some distance from one’s own culture. Song suggests they leave the theater, telling him the place stinks. Gallimard points out that the smell comes from the audience members. Song tells him that while she loves her audience for being loyal to her, she has sufficient distance from her own people to feel comfortable criticizing them.
This is the first moment when Song says something negative about Chinese culture. Her many criticisms of Westerners have stung Gallimard, but her sudden willingness to criticize her own people makes her less intimidating. She seems more sympathetic to Gallimard’s viewpoint than she did while challenging his opinions at the German ambassador’s house. One might speculate that this is all part of Song’s plan to seduce Gallimard; by appearing independent at first her future submissiveness will be all the more enticing for Gallimard.
As she and Gallimard walk through the streets of Beijing, Song wishes aloud that there were a café where they could drink cappuccinos and listen to “bad expatriate jazz,” surrounded by men in tuxedos. Gallimard points out that Chinese people weren’t allowed in these kinds of clubs when they existed — before the Communist Revolution of 1949 —but Song insists that Asian women “always go where we please.” She tells him the pre-Revolution clubs would have been incomplete without beautiful Chinese women, whom she calls “slender lotus blossoms.” These women, she implies, are superior to thick-bodied Western women in their elegance and beauty.
In her first conversation with Gallimard, Song talks about the ways in which Western fantasies about Asian women are foolish and Imperialist. In this conversation, though, she points out the privileges Asian women have enjoyed because of these fantasies — freedom and acceptance during a time when other Asian people were restricted and outcast from a society dominated by Western men. She seems to miss certain aspects of Western culture that came with imperialism: jazz, cappuccinos, elegant clothing. Song has not lost her penchant for anti-imperialist witticisms, but the resentment she expressed at the ambassador’s house seems to have vanished.
Song says Caucasian men have always been fascinated with Asian women. Gallimard reminds her of the opinion she expressed during their first meeting, that such a fascination was “imperialist.” Song assures him that, though white men’s interest in Asian women is always imperialist, Asian women sometimes feel an equal interest in the white men. By this point, they have reached the door of Song’s apartment building. She encourages Gallimard to come to the opera again and disappears inside. Gallimard continues to wander around outside, amazed that a women has been flirting with him.
Song flirts with Gallimard like a sexually liberated Western woman. Her sultry comments about white men’s desire for Asian women, and her thinly veiled allusion to her own “fascination” with Gallimard make her seem modern and assertive.