I’m going tonight to see a Peking Opera performance of “The White Snake,” here on campus at UH, and am very excited about it. It’s a wonderful thing to attend a school where one can enjoy these kinds of non-Western performance arts events (we never had any kind of kabuki workshops, Beijing opera, or anything of the sort at Brandeis, but it seems there was one at least once a month at SOAS, and there’s always Asia-Pacific stuff going on at UH).
In conjunction with the performance, the Art Dept is hosting a small exhibition on Mei Lanfang (梅 蘭芳), a famous Peking Opera actor of the 1920s-40s, the first to spread Peking Opera overseas.
As a major kabuki enthusiast, it was wonderful to see the costumes, props, and other objects on display from this very similar, but markedly different, tradition, and to warm myself up as it were to build up my anticipation for the performance.
Sadly, however, it would seem that no one at UH – not the Art dept or Gallery staff, not the Theatre dept or Kennedy Theatre staff who are coordinating the performance – no one took the time to make any effort to proofread or fix the gallery labels before they went up. I only ended up getting a photo of one panel, but I don’t think any of them are lacking in spelling or grammar mistakes. Indeed, on some, the grammar is so poor, it is incomprehensible.
I quite genuinely feel bad to write such a scathing review, particularly of an exhibit organized in part by my own department, my own university, but handing in a final draft with serious spelling and grammar mistakes is a pretty high school thing to do. It does not reflect well at all on the people responsible. The exhibit reflects poorly not only on China, but on the university as well, as it would seem that no one has taken the time or effort to ensure that things we show in our space, on our campus, are written in proper English.
This exhibition reinforces the stereotype of China not as a worldly, cosmopolitan nation, but as one where, apparently, no one speaks proper English. Which is not to say that I (or anyone else) should equate speaking English with being modern and worldly; I am not saying that the average person on the street should be expected to speak English. Hardly. Rather, what I mean to get at is the fact that if any American organization were to be sending an exhibit to China, it would have someone competent in the language – either someone from within the organization, or someone from without – translate the relevant materials into proper Chinese, to then be proofread and copyedited by the Chinese counterparts who would be receiving the exhibit, and who would not want to lose face by putting up something in poor, incomprehensible Chinese.
I worked at a small operation last year in New York, and yet, if it ever came up that we needed something translated into or from Chinese, Spanish, French or any of a handful of other languages, there was someone in the office who could do it (not to mention that half the people working there were natively bilingual in both English & Japanese); and if we couldn’t, we could get someone from the outside to do it for us.
I am shocked that the Mei Lanfang Museum in Taizhou, the Taizhou City Bureau of Culture, and the Jiangsu Province Department of Culture couldn’t seem to find anyone within their organizations or without to translate these signs properly into proper English, and that the relevant depts at UH went ahead and put up this exhibit without being concerned about losing face over the terrible presentation.