Imagining China in Contemporary Latin American Literature

  • Maria Montt Strabucchi

Student thesis: Phd


Since the late 1980s, there has been a steady production of Latin American narrative fiction in Spanish concerning China and the Chinese. Despite the work written about China and its relation to Latin America, no comprehensive examination of the representation of China in literature has been produced thus far. This thesis analyses nine novels in which China is the main theme, exploring how China has been represented in Latin American narrative fiction in recent decades. Using 'China' as a multidimensional term informed by Sara Ahmed's understanding of 'strangerness' (2000), this thesis first explores how the novels studied here both highlight and undermine assumptions about China that have long shaped Latin America's understanding of 'China'. Secondly, using theories of the fetish, it shows 'China' to be a kind of literary/imaginary 'third' term which reframes Latin American discourses of alterity. On one level, it is argued that these texts play with the way that 'China' stands in as a wandering signifier and as a metonym for Asia, a gesture that essentialises it as an unchanging other. On another level, it argues that the novels' employment of 'China' resists essentialist constructions of Latin American identity. 'China' is thus shown here to be a symbolic figure in Latin America, serving as a concept through which criticism of the construction of fetishised otherness becomes possible, as well as criticism of the exclusion inherent in essentialist discourses of identity, such as those contained in mestizaje. These discourses of mestizaje have traditionally emphasised racial and cultural mixture, and have excluded the Chinese from discourses of Latin American identity. As a result, 'China' is used here to deconstruct bound identities, interrupting discourses of otherness within Latin America. From this perspective, it is argued that these novels tend to gesture towards an understanding of identity as 'being-with', and community as inoperative, as developed by Jean-Luc Nancy (1991, 2000), whilst taking a cosmopolitan stance, as developed by Berthold Schoene (2011). The novels have been divided between those that set their stories in China, such as Cesar Aira's 'Una novela china' (1987); those that explore Chinese communities in Latin America, such as Ariel Magnus' 'Un chino en bicicleta' (2007); and those that focus on Latin American travel to China, such as Ximena Sanchez Echenique's 'El ombligo del dragon' (2007). Indebted to Ahmed's, Nancy's and Schoene's theoretical perspectives, Chapter 1 explores how 'China', as both a physical space and a discursive context, foregrounds negotiations of power in the histories of both China and Latin America. Chapter 2 studies how 'China' is used to recall and interrogate the notion of an indistinct 'oriental'. The final chapter seeks to understand the ways in which the novels articulate travel to China as a means of challenging Eurocentric structures and 'national' epistemologies. Ultimately, by disclosing the complex operations through which 'China' is represented in Latin American literary discourses, this study explores possible further reconfigurations of Latin American notions of identity and community as non-essentialist and in constant development.
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHilary Owen (Supervisor) & James Scorer (Supervisor)


  • Alterity
  • Otherness
  • Cosmpolitanism
  • Strangerness
  • Cultural Studies
  • Fetish
  • Literature
  • Imaginary
  • Latin America
  • China
  • Identity

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