back to top

The British Museum Tweeted That Asian Names Were "Confusing" And That Pissed A Lot Of People Off

The museum has since apologised and said the tweets do not reflect any policy.

Posted on

On Wednesday, the official British Museum Twitter account hosted an #AskACurator session with Jane Portal, who is the "Keeper of Asia" at the museum.

First up is Jane Portal, Keeper of Asia. She’s been busy with a new gallery to redisplay objects from South Asia &… https://t.co/1tx9tYPJJi

During the Q&A, Portal was asked about labelling at exhibitions and how it's made accessible.

How do you go about designing exhibition labels and information that are accessible to a wider range of people? #AskACurator

In response, the account tweeted that they aim to make signs understandable for 16-year-olds and that Asian names can sometimes be "confusing".

... We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds. Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many.

Advertisement

A further tweet stated that label length and varying names of Asian gods has proven to be an issue for the museum.

We are limited by the length of labels. Dynasties & gods have different names in various Asian languages. We want to focus on the stories

The tweets provoked anger from Twitter users.

@britishmuseum This is a gigantic own goal. I strongly suggest you revise your approach here.

People said describing Asian names as "confusing" was offensive.

Sometimes Asian names can be confusing. https://t.co/DnoJAgOSbP

Yeah might as well just erase our whole confusing histories for an easy life eh https://t.co/VfbCZVufOe

So 16 year olds can comprehend being in the army with a violent history but not comprehend different names? L M to… https://t.co/vTOSF0C24x

Advertisement

And that the suggestion that teens might not understand Asian names was also really bad.

WOW, WHAT ABOUT 16 YEAR OLD ASIAN KIDS? WHAT ABOUT THEM HUH? WHAT ABOUT JUST GETTING LONGER LABELS? COME ON LADS, T… https://t.co/GflWUKEiU7

News flash: If kids can remember the names of all the Pokemon, they're not the ones with the problem. https://t.co/XMkMLAp3h4

@britishmuseum < be working against this view, not shoring it up??

Some said that they wanted more text and names at the museum, so they could properly learn about the things they were seeing.

@britishmuseum Surely the names are part of the stories? What am I reading, honestly?

@britishmuseum No! That IS the story! It's fascinating that the same thing is know by such different names.

Advertisement

And pointed out that if the museum could tweet about the names, surely they could fit them on a sign.

@britishmuseum hun you just fit this info into a tweet though

Others believed the tweet showed that the museum represented some outdated views; there are ongoing debates over whether the museum should return some artefacts to their countries of origin.

Or make it even easier by giving all that looted stuff back to the people with the confusing names. https://t.co/5YeBu7zlbX

OMG way to rock the continued colonialism. Not a good look guys. https://t.co/TJxeYxKzdV

Following the backlash, the museum issued a statement, apologising and saying the tweets do not reflect overall museum policy.

Apologies, we would just like to add some further clarification here:

BuzzFeed News has reached out to the museum to ask about the language used in the tweets.

Rachael Krishna is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Rachael Krishna at rachael.krishna@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.