The British Museum is removing part of its history exhibition on China after a writer claimed her translations of a Chinese revolutionary’s poetry were “plagiarized”.
Yilin Wang, an award-winning translator, poet, and editor who lives in Vancouver, said she received no credit or compensation for translating Qiu Jin’s works that she claims are hers. Featured in the museum’s China Hidden Century exhibit and catalog.
“Hey [British Museum]It has come to my attention that your exhibition ‘The Hidden Century of China’ uses my translations of Qiu Jin’s poetry, but you never contacted me for permission,” Wang wrote on Twitter. “Please note that this is a copyright infringement! How are you going to fix this?”
In a long series, the author has subsequently linked to articles with translations that she claims are her own. Wang stressed the amount of effort she put into it, including reading more than 200 Qiu Jin’s poems “about five times”, and taking “from a week to several months, perhaps an average of 20-50 hours” to research and translate each poem.
She added, “I demand the removal of all my translations from China’s Hidden Century exhibition and all exhibition-related materials (including exhibition books, all video/photo/display material, all signage, all digital or printed materials such as brochures, and anywhere else translations have appeared) , unless the museum makes a suitable offer to compensate me and compensation is granted immediately.”
The British Museum said it was making every effort to contact the copyright holders of images and print and digital media it uses, and had removed the assets in question as an act of good faith until the matter was resolved.
In a statement, the museum said: “The British Museum takes copyright permissions very seriously. We have contacted Pelin Wang directly to discuss this matter.”
It is understood that the first time the museum learned about it was via Wang’s Twitter thread.
The Chinese Hidden Century exhibition is the product of a four-year research project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, led by the British Museum and University College London, and conducted in collaboration with more than 100 researchers from 14 countries.
The exhibition consists of 300 pieces, half from the British Museum and half on loan from 30 different British and international lenders – with most of them on public display for the first time. Many items have been refurbished by expert maintainers over several years.
The gallery celebrates the life and legacy of Qiu Jin (1875 – 1907), a revolutionary, feminist, and poet who was executed by beheading at the age of 31. The gallery ends with a wall dedicated to a cyclic sequence of portraits of Qiu. Along with English translations of her poetry and a recording of one of her songs performed by the London Chinese Philharmonic Choir.
Some of the English translations of Chiu’s work, which Wang claims to have made, include: “While my heart breaks with rage over the troubles of my homeland, how can I remain, as a guest abroad, savoring the wind of spring?” and “Don’t Talk About How Women Can’t Be Heroes”.
The Guardian has reached out to Wang for comment.