The reputation of the world-renowned theoretical physicist and humanitarian Albert Einstein may be tainted in the wake of the recently published travel diaries that unveil his racist views, in particular on the Chinese.
Published by Princeton University Press, the diaries date back to 1920s, the time when the famous Austrian physicist was extensively traveling with his wife Elsa. In late 1922 they embarked on a five-and-a-half-month journey to the Far East and the Middle East. They traveled to Singapore, China, Japan, and briefly sojourned in Palestine before concluding the whirlwind tour in Spain.
In manuscripts, he apparently never intended to publish, Einstein shared his travel impressions about art, politics, science, philosophy and ultimately, racial equality. In striking contradiction with his later statements, the Nobel Prize laureate wrote down thoughts on racial stereotypes, insisting that some races not only could not equate to others, but were inferior to them.
He described the Chinese as “industrious, filthy, obtuse” and “a peculiar herd-like nation,” that, according to Einstein, posed threat to other nations. “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races,” he wrote. “For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”
With the entry going shockingly against Einstein’s reputation of a civil rights advocate, the public release of the diary could have an effect of two black holes colliding.
Born in Germany and of Jewish descent, Einstein condemned both the rise of the German National Socialist Party, and later all forms of racism, defining it a “disease of white people.” In 1946, during his speech at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, focused on fighting racism, he claimed that “being a Jew” himself he could “understand and empathize with how black people feel as victims of discrimination”.
Ze’ev Rosenkranz, the senior editor of the published diaries, told the Guardian that Einstein’s diary entries on the alleged intellectual inferiority of the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians stemming from their biological background “are definitely not understated and can be viewed as racist.”
With many people looking up to Einstein as both a moral role model and one of the greatest physicists of all time who introduced the theory of general relativity, the revelations on what Rosenkranz called “a clear hallmark of racism” could now tarnish the popular science icon.