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Einstein's Racism Toward Chinese People Revealed In His Recently Translated Travel Diaries

Jun 14, 2018 12:15 AM EDT
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein's travel diaries reveal the physicist's private thoughts, including particularly shocking musings on Chinese people.
(Photo : RMY Auctions | Wikimedia Commons)

Albert Einstein, renowned as a humanitarian as much as a physicist, once wrote less than charitable thoughts on Chinese people and other races.

A newly released book titled "The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein" offers a peek at his most private thoughts and — as with any other human — it isn't exactly all impressive.

Einstein On Chinese People

The entries, written between October 1922 and March 1923, detailed Einstein's journey that took him and his wife to Asia, Palestine, and Spain. It is his musings on the Chinese citizens that appear particularly controversial, especially in current times.

"It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races," he wrote, describing them as industrious, filthy, and obtuse, according to Quartz. "For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary."

He also mused on the working habits of China's population, noting that even those who worked "like horses" doesn't appear to be suffering, the Guardian reports.

"A peculiar herd-like nation ... often more like automatons than people," Einstein continued, then wrote about how he doesn't quite understand the attraction of men to Chinese women since there's little difference between them and Chinese men.

On Other Countries, Races

Einstein's travels also brought him to Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he described how citizens "live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level."

While he admits to loving Japan and its people, the physicist also notes how the country's intellectual needs seem to be weaker than their artistic needs. He suggests natural disposition as a reason.

Einstein As A Humanitarian

Ze'ev Rosenkranz, who is behind the new translation of Einstein's travel diaries, acknowledges to the Guardian that there is a stark contrast between the famed scientist's private journals to his public image. He points out that the entries implying the biological inferiorities of Chinese, Indian, and Japanese people indicate a racist ideology.

Rosenkranz is also the senior editor and assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology.

Although he says that racist ideologies may have been the norm in Einstein's time period, it was not universal even back then.

"That's usually the reaction I get — 'we have to understand, he was of the zeitgeist, part of the time' — but I think I tried here and there to give a broader context. There were other views out there, more tolerant views," Rosenkranz explains.

It's worth noting that Einstein didn't intend for these ideologies to make it to the public — and he did go on to be a great humanitarian.

"There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States," he once said during a commencement speech at Lincoln University, according to Washington Post. "That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it."

It is mind-boggling, then, to find out that the humanist icon had racist and xenophobic ideas at one point.

"It seems that even Einstein sometimes had a very hard time recognising himself in the face of the other," Rosenkranz says.

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