Building Images: Exploring 21st century Sino-African dynamics through cultural exchange and translation (U.of Nottingham)

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Building Images:  Exploring 21st century Sino-African dynamics through cultural exchange and translation (U.of Nottingham)


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The rapid growth in China’s involvement with Africa since the turn of the 21st century has been the focus of much recent scholarship and media attention. In both the popular and academic coverage of the topic, there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a marked discrepancy between the discourses put forward by China on the one hand, and the West on the other. While China persistently promotes the ‘win-win’, friendship-and-equality discourse summarized in its 2006 white paper, reports and scholarship in the West have a tendency to view Chinese involvement with suspicion, and even alarm, accusing the super-power of taking part in a new ‘scramble for Africa’.

What is striking about the existing coverage is the near-complete absence of consideration of language and translation issues from the debate. Very few publications or media reports pay any attention at all to the role played by translation, neither in the more narrow sense of the way in which Chinese and Africans communicate, nor in the broader sense of how African culture is translated for the Chinese, and vice versa. Yet such translations form a critical part of all co-operation, and ‘translations’ of culture in the broader sense are becoming increasingly prominent in the agendas of the political leaders: cultural exchanges and ‘cultures-in-focus’ events now feature strongly in the official programme of Sino-African co-operation. This project aims to address this gap, seeking to identify the dominant images of Africa that are being ‘translated’ for the Chinese and vice versa, and to explore questions of agency in the translation process (who decides what is to be translated, for whom, and for what reasons). (…)

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