Translation as Representation: Western Imagination of China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present
This article explores how China has been imagined in Western literature and culture from the eighteenth century to the contemporary era, using a series of emblematic figures to examine practices of appropriation and troping. It seeks to reveal how the historical construction and representation of China is refashioned in our time, against the background of China’s rise to global power and a concomitant growing sense of doubt, fear and hostility in Europe and North America surrounding its ascendency. Two case studies are employed to elaborate on what this article considers to be exemplifications of Orientalism in Sino-Western cultural history: Daniel Defoe and Voltaire in Enlightenment Europe, and Western popular culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In doing so this article addresses how China has incrementally come to be translated and represented as a principal Other for Euro-America, and how their perceptions of, and writings about, China today echo and reinforce its translations and representations produced by the Defoe-Voltaire axis: the binary schema of demonization and romanticization. It concludes that this mechanics at work in framing China for reception and consumption by the Anglophone readership provide effective means of translating and representing China as an ideologically menacing Other, thereby begetting self-perpetuating representations.