Construction and consumption of otherness: A (neo-) orientalist study of english translations of contemporary Chinese literature

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


The popularization of Orientalism lays bare the ideological construction of the exotic Orient in the Western discourse and its reincarnation neo-Orientalism, with its often self-claimed authenticity, becomes more deceptive in its depiction of the
Oriental otherness. This chapter examines, through the lens of (neo-)Orientalism, the construction and consumption of an exotic China in the Anglophone world by means of literary translation. The research questions in this Chapter focus on both texts and
agents, e.g. who are the authors selected for translation and what are the patterns of their selection? How are they introduced to their readers? What strategies have been adopted by the agents (e.g. translators, publishers, editors and reviewers)? How are
they promoted in the Anglophone world? How does this tell us about the Anglophone mechanism of neo-Orientalism? Typically, only texts that conformed to the stereotypicalWestern perception of the Chinese otherness would be selected for translation and
consumption. The source text authors were frequently presented to their Anglophone readers as mouthpieces for truth and justice and as censored and suppressed critics of Chinese society. Literary texts, despite their connection with the socio-cultural contexts, were primarily consumed as fictional by readers; however, in the West, the novels translated from Chinese were read predominantly as historical texts, endowing
them with non-fictional status. And the fact that their source texts were written by authors in China only reinforced the legitimacy and authenticity of such interpretations. The Chinese authors were effectively and unconsciously rendered into “comprador intellectuals”. The cultural configurations in the Anglophone literary field enabled multiple agents (translators, publishers, reviewers and readers) to coordinate
their efforts in their construction and consumption of the Chinese otherness. Literary translations confronting their Orientalist perception were often deliberately excluded from their reading list. There have been, over the decades, ongoing English translations of contemporary Chinese literature initiated by the Chinese government. While they represented an opportunity to neutralise, if not counter, the Orientalist interpretation of Chinese literature, these translations were seldom read or even noticed
by their intended consumers in the West. The only attention they attracted was from some academic journals, in which the reviewers emphasised mainly their educational value to Chinese language learners. By dismissing such efforts to introduce literary
works with favourable descriptions about China, the established mechanism in the Anglophone reading market perpetuated its self-constructed Orientalist reception of the Chinese otherness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChinese Literature in the World
Subtitle of host publicationDissemination and Translation Practices
EditorsJunfeng Zhao, Defeng Li, Riccardo Moratto
Place of PublicationGateway East, Singapore
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9789811682056
ISBN (Print)9789811682049, 9811682046
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Publication series

NameNew Frontiers in Translation Studies


  • Chinese literature
  • English translations
  • Otherness
  • Orientalist narrative
  • Neo-Orientalism

Cite this