Shi Pei Pu
he transgender man, whose life story inspired the Tony award-winning play M.Butterfly, passed away on June 30th at the age of 70.
Shi Pei Pu was embroiled in a turbulent love affair with French embassy clerk Bernard Boursicot, whom he met in 1964. His life story has been played out on stage many times, by actors such as John Lithgow, Anthony Hopkins and B.D Wong in the leading roles.
Pu was a librettist and soprano for the Beijing Opera and hid his gender from Boursicot, claiming that he was an actress forced to play the role of a man by Beijing Opera officials, who didn’t want anyone to discover that they had employed a woman.
The couple embarked on their affair, Pu carefully concealing his gender by keeping sexual relations brief and in the dark. When Boursicot returned to Paris, Pu claimed to have given birth to his child, a boy named Shi Du Du, who was actually a Muslim boy sold by his mother to Pu.
When Boursicot returned to China, local authorities discovered the couple’s illicit affair, and threatened severe penalties if Boursicot did not act as a spy for the Chinese government.
In 1982, it was arranged that Pu and his son could immigrate to France and live with Boursciot. However, French counterespionage authorities arrested the couple on spying charges in 1983.
Boursciot reportedly only first learned of Pu’s gender during their 1986 trial, and became a laughing stock in France. He even tried to slit his throat in prison after learning of the apparent betrayal. Pu was released from prison after 11 months, and remained in France to perform roles in minor operas. He is survived by his son and three grandchildren.
Boursciot, now 64 and recovering from a stroke, said that he was not saddened to learn of Pu’s recent death. “He did so many things against me that he had no pity for, I think it is stupid to play another game now and say I am sad. The plate is clean now. I am free.” He said they last spoke a few months ago and Shi told him he still loved him.