Today I spoke with Carles Prado-Fonts on his recently published book Secondhand China: Spain, the East, and the Politics of Translation (Northwestern UP, 2022). This transcultural study of cultural production brings to light the ways Spanish literature imagined China by relying on English- and French-language sources. Carles Prado-Fonts examines how the simultaneous dependence on and obscuring of translation in these cross-cultural representations created the illusion of a homogeneous West. He argues that Orientalism became an instrument of hegemony not only between “the West and the rest” but also within the West itself, where Spanish writers used representations of China to connect themselves to Europe, hone a national voice, or forward ideas of political and cultural modernity.
Uncovering an eclectic and surprising archive, Prado-Fonts draws on diverse cultural artifacts from popular literature, journalism, and early cinema to offer a rich account of how China was seen across the West between 1880 and 1930. Enrique Gaspar, Luis de Oteyza, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, and lesser-known authors writing in Spanish and Catalan put themselves in dialogue with Leo Tolstoy, John Dewey, W. Somerset Maugham, Bertrand Russell, Pearl Buck, and André Malraux, as well as stereotypical figures from popular culture like Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. Throughout, Prado-Fonts exposes translation as a technology of cultural hegemony and China as an appealing object for representation. A timely contribution to our understanding of how we create and consume knowledge about the world, Secondhand China is essential reading for scholars and students of Orientalism, postcolonial studies, translation studies, comparative literature, and cultural studies.
Dr. Suvi Rautio is an anthropologist of China.