A New Relationship: China’s Cultural Diffusion in Africa
By admin November 21, 2016

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Globalization is an incredible engine of exchange that triggers not only economic development and commerce but also inter-cultural networks. One of the most interesting aspects related to globalization – Sino-African relations – has garnered a great deal of public interest in recent decades.

However, commentary tends to focus on trade, economic investment and aid and is often negative in tone; but a recent study conducted across Africa in 2015 suggests that cultural exchange is a crucial domain of interaction in the international relations of China with the African Continent, in which the country is investing heavily.

Though it is regarded at times as a form of imperialism, China has a growing ambition to become a major world cultural power and counter the cultural hegemony of the West. In this light, the translation and exporting of its literature plays a vital role, and Africa seems the best place to start. The export of Chinese cultural products began in 2006 with a strategic five-year plan for cultural development; numerous projects were launched to promote China’s publication exports with the objective of “cultivating a better image of China”, as Chinese scholar Li Mingjiang has observed.

In Africa, these efforts are far from exhaustive, and they had limited success, even if some cases highlighted the potential for mutual enrichment: a research suggests that the translation of Chinese literature in Africa primarily fulfils a ceremonial and diplomatic function. The ceremonies around book donations to African libraries are a key example.

However, the problem lies on the fact that the available Chinese literature comes from publishing houses in France, the UK and the US, and not directly from China. Thus, the available literature is therefore generally in European languages; according to UNESCO, Chinese texts are primarily translated in English and French.

This creates two problems. First, the fact Chinese literature is not translated in African languages excludes a vast share of the African population, hindering a more direct intercultural dialogue between Chinese and African Readers. The UNESCO Index Translationum shows that, apart from a few translations into Arabic, there is not a single translation of a Chinese literary text into an African language. This excludes a wide range of African readers and creates a barrier to more direct intercultural dialogue between China and African countries.

Secondly, filtering Chinese literature through Western intermediaries and languages determines which books are distributed in African countries. It also affects where the books end up. For example, many of the titles published in French are tucked away in the libraries of various Instituts Français in Francophone countries rather than in public libraries and bookshops.

One recent promising case demonstrates the possible benefits of meaningful cultural exchange. A collection of poetry by the award-winning Chinese poet Jidi Majia has recently been published in Kiswahili. The collection, Maneno Ya Moto Kutoka China, is heralded as the first creative work of Chinese literature to be translated into the lingua franca of Kenya, Tanzania and much of southeast Africa. Jidi Majia comes from the minority Yi nationality who claims an affinity with African writers. The decision was taken to ensure that the writings of a poet from a Chinese minority group can be seen by different peoples of different cultures, as the African continent is home to a wide array of ethnic groups.

China’s strategy to spread its literature in Africa, if successful, could also help the continent. African scholars also argue that publishing in Kiswahili and other African languages is important for enhancing adult literacy and combating the scarcity of reading material available in these languages.

Despite few examples, translation of Chinese literature into African languages remains extremely limited. Rather than being part of a coherent translation strategy, these projects depend on individual collaborations.

Direct collaborations between Chinese and local African publishing houses are also very rare, but they do begin to outline how meaningful they may be. These collaborations might help China become familiar in the South and will also push the country to establish more transparent and open institutions.


For more information

Chinese literature in Africa: meaningful or simply ceremonial?

China Copyright and Media

The Bejing Consensus

New center to strengthen China’s soft power

China debates Soft Power

Exploring 21st century Sino-African dynamics through cultural exchange and translation

Thanks for sharing !

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