Illegible Cities: Translating Early Modern China

Speaker: Carla Nappi, Andrew W. Mellon Chair in History, University of Pittsburgh

Moderator: Gray Tuttle, Leila Hadley Luce Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University

The history of China, as any history, is a story of and in translation. This talk will introduce Translating Early Modern China: Illegible Cities, a new book that tells the story of translation in China to and from non-European languages between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Using a hybrid form that blends fiction and history, each chapter finds a particular translator conjured from the past to tell the story of a text (in Chinese, Mongolian, Manchu, Latin, and more) that helped to make the Chinese language what it was at different points in its history. The book explores what the form of an academic history book might look like by playing with fictioning as part of the historian’s craft, and the talk will address questions of language and translation in China’s past, the use of fiction as a historian’s tool, and the ways that translation creates language.