Commissioned by the Far East Film Festival, Udine ” The Floating gardens of Madam Wu” takes its name from the floating gardens of early 19th century China.

Despite its allusions to botanical spaces these illegal floating settlements existed outside national boundaries and the legal jurisdiction of mainland authorities. 

Creating anarchic spaces from drug dens to gambling parlours, from brothels to markets for human trafficking, these floating gardens became the unseen centres for all forms of vice.

Butler in collaboration with I-Chen Zuffellato are inspired by the story of Ching Shih, who grew up in one of these floating gardens, who despite her unfortunate origins became the most powerful pirate of all time.

Imagining a fragment of her story, seen through a modern gaze, “Plums, thrown on the ground. Crushed. They too will ferment, blossom and bloom”.

The  Flower Boat Song

They planted me in a distant land,

Strange Men 

Came to water me.

Day and night till

My blossoms turned to fruit.

Day and night till

(choir) Plums.

(choir) Thrown on the ground.


I harvested them,

Secret by secret


Slowing turned to wine.

Poured down their throats

Their eyes closed

Their sweaty lips pursed.


Day and night till

(choir) Plums.

(choir) Thrown on the ground.


I slit their throats.

Blood to feed the fruit trees in the orchard.

Sowed their wild oats

Blood to feed the other fruit trees in the sea.

More plums will grow, 



In time 

They’ll be ripe


They too will ferment

And blossom and bloom.

Text Martin Butler 2022