Comparative Literature | Imagining China, Translating China
C375 | 26848 | Prof. Kevin Tsai


TR 11:15 – 12:30
Credits: A&H, CS

This course is about the lies that European intellectuals have
told about China— lies that, when carefully examined,
reveal a great deal of truth about Western self-definition and
cross-cultural interactions in the age of modernity and
empire. Initially portrayed as a realm of virtue and
philosopher-kings by Marco Polo, the Jesuits, and Voltaire,
China came to be vilified in the hands of Daniel Defoe,
Montaigne, and Hegel. How did this happen, when the Far
East that most of them knew— detractors and defenders
alike— existed only in fantasy, not in fact? What can
Puccini’s operas Turandot and Madame Butterfly tell us
about cross-cultural relations?
From the politics of representation the second half of the
course turns to examine the literary life of “China,”
imagined or otherwise, through Kafka, Calvino, and Pound.
If modernist translations of classical Chinese poetry were
more often than not critiqued as “misreadings” of culture
even though such “mistranslations” profoundly influenced
twentieth-century poetry, how do we balance the necessity
of cultural authenticity with the equally weighty imperative
of artistic genius?