Through Contact to Construct: Translation of Texts, Images, and, Objects in Pre-Modern Asia

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Through Contact to Construct: Translation of Texts, Images, and, Objects in Pre-Modern Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Qi Lu, Beijing Film Academy, China (organizer, presenter)
Qingquan Li, Shandong University, China (chair, discussant)
Hong Wu, University of Vienna, Austria (presenter)
Ruifeng Chen, McMaster University, Canada (presenter)
Yin Wu, University of Chicago, United States (presenter)


Derived from the Latin word translatio meaning “to carry across,” “translation” evokes the act of people or things moving from one place or position to another, but this process of “moving” is never linear or teleological. Rather, as Homi K. Bhabha suggests, translation is a way of imitating but in a mischievous, displacing sense, opening up the possibility of articulating different, even incommensurable cultural practices and priorities. Translation thus is the way not only to contact, but also to construct culture(s). Augmenting this style of understanding, this panel brings together four case studies that involve translation in an array of forms— linguistic, visual, material and philosophical— to investigate the diverse conditions and patterns of cultural translation, and how meanings metamorphosed through a synthetic interplay of agency, power and local spheres. In particular, this panel asks: How were texts, images, and objects encoded and decoded in the various pre-modern contexts of circulation and communication? What factors influenced the choice of translation? And in what ways did these translations act in, and help us reassess, the cultural constructions of the premodern Asia? The notion that there exist no static, monolithic cultural blocks, but only fluid, constantly evolving ones that adapt and grow from interactions with new sources is in its increasing recognition in recent scholarship. By foregrounding translation, the activity that defines the precise moment of contact and dictates subsequent acts such as reception and assimilation, this panel hopes to bring more nuanced understanding to the cultural construction process.