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Albert Einstein's travel diaries reveal 'xenophobic views'

PICTURED: Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Central Press/Getty Images)

THE RELEASE of theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s private diaries recounting his tour of Asia in the 1920s reveals his racist attitudes to the people he met on his travels, particularly the Chinese.

Written between October 1922 and March 1923, the diaries see the German-born scientist musing on his travels, science, philosophy and art.

According to The Guardian, in China, the man who once described racism as “a disease of white people” describes the “industrious, filthy, obtuse people” he observes.

He notes how the “Chinese don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely. Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse.” After earlier writing of the “abundance of offspring” and the “fecundity” of the Chinese, he goes on to say: “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”

Ze’ev Rosenkranz, senior editor and assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, said: “I think a lot of comments strike us as pretty unpleasant – what he says about the Chinese in particular.

“They’re kind of in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon. I think it’s quite a shock to read those and contrast them with his more public statements. They’re more off guard, he didn’t intend them for publication.”

Rosenkranz edited and translated The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein, which have just been published for the first time by Princeton University Press. The diaries have only previously been published in German as part of the 15-volume Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, with small supplementary translations into English.

Further passages in the diaries, which are thought to have been written for Einstein’s stepdaughters in Berlin while he and his wife were travelling in Asia, Spain and Palestine, and as an aide memoire, see him writing of the Chinese that “even those reduced to working like horses never give the impression of conscious suffering. A peculiar herd-like nation [ … ] often more like automatons than people.”

He later adds, in Rosenkranz’s words, “a healthy dose of extreme misogyny” to his xenophobia with the observation: “I noticed how little difference there is between men and women; I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthrals the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring”

“Einstein’s diary entries on the biological origin of the alleged intellectual inferiority of the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians are definitely not understated and can be viewed as racist – in these instances, other peoples are portrayed as being biologically inferior, a clear hallmark of racism. The disquieting comment that the Chinese may ‘supplant all other races’ is also most revealing in this regard,” writes Rosenkranz.

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