The British Museum is removing poem translations from its China’s Hidden Century exhibition after translator Yilin Wang accused the London institution of using her work without permission. The Vancouver-based writer and translator is demanding compensation, recognition, and an apology from the museum.
“The British Museum takes copyright permissions seriously,” a British Museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic. The spokesperson confirmed that the institution has been in touch with Wang directly and will “take down the assets in the exhibition related to Yilin Wang as an act of good faith while we try to resolve the matter with her.”
China’s Hidden Century, which opened May 18 and is on view through October 23, explores Chinese culture in the 1800s. One of its subjects is Qiu Jin, a poet, feminist, and revolutionary who was beheaded after she attempted to overthrow the Qing dynasty in 1907. The show featured Wang’s translations of two Jin poems, according to a Twitter thread Wang started on Sunday, June 18. Wang posted photos of her translations inside the exhibition itself, online in the PDF exhibition guide, and printed in the physical show catalogue.
“I’m not a translator working on a handful of translations of QJ’s poetry,” Wang Tweeted. The writer added she is “slowly working towards a book-length translation.” So far, Wang said she has published around 12 translations of Jin’s poems and has read the revolutionary’s more than 200 poems close to five times.
Wang also wrote that translating takes “an average of 20-50 hours per poem,” a process she said comprises “selection, background research, annotating, translation, revisions, and seeking feedback.” Wang added that she also received an Access Copyright grant to research Jin’s life and work for an additional 20 hours a week.
As the British Museum takes down her work, Wang is demanding credit, compensation, a public apology, and personal apologies from the show’s two main organizers. The translator also wants the institution to explanation how her work made it into the exhibition, how the museum will prevent this from happening again, and what consequences the organizers will face.
“I don’t know what they were thinking, as if I won’t find out,” Wang wrote in a reply Tweet on Sunday. “I literally looked into their exhibit because I do research on Qiu Jin, and then I was shocked to find my own translations staring back at me.” Wang has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.