Although the term world literature encompasses texts composed in multiple languages, translation makes possible a body of literature from many linguistic and cultural backgrounds that circulates in international critical discourse and is broadly recognized as world literature. Thus the category of world literature presupposes authors and translators driven to contribute to the canon of world literature. Walter Benjamin observes that translation endows a literary work with “continued life” or “afterlife,” without which many works of global significance remain “dead” or marginalized. Inspired by Benjamin's view of translation and by David Damrosch's emphasis on world literature as a distinctive type of literary production, this essay examines the issues that influence the potential of literary works to win acclaim in translation as world literature. Chinese literature provides a useful case study, since Chinese translators have been more focused historically on translating works into Chinese than on exporting Chinese literature into other languages and thus increasing its chances at an “afterlife.”

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