The British Museum has removed the translations from its new exhibition, China’s Hidden Century (until October 8), after a translator alleged that his work had been used without permission, credit or payment.
In a series of tweets on June 18, Vancouver-based writer, poet and translator Yilin Wang shared images of the exhibit and accompanying catalog, as well as her translations of Chinese poet Qiu Jin’s poems from 2021, alleging that the exhibit included her translated English text. Wang said no one from the British Museum contacted her for permission to use the translations, and she was not credited in the exhibition or compensated for their use.
China’s Hidden Century is the culmination of a four-year research project that received over £700,000 in grants, led by two UK academics. The exhibition features artifacts including art, fashion, everyday ephemera and more, dating from 1796 to 1912 – a tumultuous period of revolution, creativity and change in late Imperial China .
A section of the exhibition is dedicated to Qiu Jin, who was a Chinese revolutionary anti-imperialist writer and activist. She was executed in 1907 at the age of 31 and has since been considered and respected as a feminist heroine, with a rich literary heritage.
Wang tells The arts journal that they were “stunned” to discover the inclusion of their translations in the exhibit, calling the lack of credit “particularly disappointing”. In May 2022, Wang received a research grant to support the preparation of a book translation of Qiu’s poetry. As part of this project, they read over 200 poems by Qiu. They discovered the inclusion of their translations in the British Museum exhibit when they wrote an essay on the translation of Qiu’s poetry for their forthcoming book titled The Lantern and the Mothsto be published in the spring of 2024.
Wang says the British Museum first told him they would be interested in getting permission to use the translations in the exhibit. “24 hours later, before I had a chance to respond (given the need for advice and the eight hour time difference), they told me they had deleted them because they had never had response,” she says. The arts journal. “I think they have to credit me as the translator anyway, since the translations have already been on display in the exhibition for so long without my permission.”
The exhibition catalog states that “every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders of the images and other printed and digital materials of the exhibition”.
On June 21, the British Museum issued a statement calling the lack of permissions and acknowledgment of Wang’s translations an “unintentional human error”, and said the museum had apologized to Wang. The statement also states that “in response to a request from Yilin Wang, we removed their translations from the exhibit,” and that the museum offered Wang financial payment. The statement also states that “in recent days, our colleagues have been the victims of personal attacks on social networks. This is unacceptable.”
In response to a request for comment on the statement, Wang said The arts journal that she absolutely did not support the harassment of anyone, but added: “The public statement does not seem to me to be sincerely sorry. He never said “we’re sorry” anywhere. An apology should include exactly what happened and acknowledge how they made such a big mistake in not getting my permission or crediting me in the exhibit, especially since the exhibit was supported by a well-funded four-year research project.