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BANGKOK 21 November 2018 16:36
Thaivisa Web Content Team

Einstein’s Travel Diaries Reveal His Shockingly Racist Views On Asians

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Albert Einstein, whose name has become synonymous with “genius,” is universally revered not only for his intellectual achievements but also for his humanitarian advocacies.


However, the humanist side of the German-born theoretical physicist’s reputation has sparked debate after his private journals detailing his tour of Asia in the 1920s were published.


The controversial travel diaries, translated and published for the first time as a standalone volume by Princeton University Press, reportedly revealed his prejudiced views towards the different races he met in Asia.


His xenophobic and racist judgments were found among his musings on his travels, science, philosophy, and art between October 1922 and March 1923.


According to the Guardian, Einstein described the Chinese to be “industrious, filthy, obtuse people” in one of his notes.


“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,” he wrote.


He also noted the “abundance of offspring” and the “fecundity” of the Chinese, before stating that, “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us, the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”


Einstein Papers Project senior editor and assistant director Ze’ev Rosenkranz at the California Institute of Technology, who edited and translated “The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein,” had this to say about the scientist’s private musings:


“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.”


The diaries have been published before in German as part of the 15-volume Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, which included just small supplementary translations into English.


“This is the first time Einstein’s travel diary will be made available to anyone who isn’t a serious Einstein scholar,” a spokesperson for Princeton University Press was quoted as saying. In one of the passages also referring to the Chinese, Einstein noted 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.”


Rosenkranz also noticed “a healthy dose of extreme misogyny” to his xenophobia:

“I noticed how little difference there is between men and women; I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthralls the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring.”


Einstein described how the locals in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) “live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level,” noting that they “do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.”


Einstein’s observations of the Japanese people are significantly more positive:

“Japanese unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing. Pure souls as nowhere else among people. One has to love and admire this country,” Einstein praised.


However, he then concluded that the “intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones – natural disposition?”


In his book, Rosenkranz pointed out that Einstein’s views on the alleged intellectual inferiority of the Asian people show a “clear hallmark of racism.”

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Even a genius can have something dirty inside

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On 6/15/2018 at 1:59 AM, Jingthing said:

My theory about this is that the comments were relatively minor considering the sensibilities of that era. But then again, it can't be denied that this revelation is a chink in his heroic armor. :sorry:


You mean it was ok for Europeans to treat Africans and Asians are being less intelligent purely because of their race?


How quick his views would change in a few years.

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1 minute ago, Baerboxer said:


You mean it was ok for Europeans to treat Africans and Asians are being less intelligent purely because of their race?


How quick his views would change in a few years.

He did indeed evolve to make very bold statements in favor of black civil rights in the USA. The comments in the travel journals weren't about Africa though. I can't see this element of his history as being all that damaging to his legacy. He wasn't known as a travel writer after all, but instead as one of the greatest scientists in history. 

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On 6/15/2018 at 2:27 AM, swissie said:

I can only see observations of an alert traveller in the 1920ies. Nobody will be able to come foreward and classify those observations as "not true". Some of his observations are still accurate today.

Racist? This is how he assessed people/circumstances at the time in a given country. No more, no less.

At that time, chinese visitors would have found it "uncivilised", for people sitting on chairs instead of sitting on the floor. Just their observation and disliking it. By saying this, would that have made them "racists"?

By describing certain "peculiarities" of certain peoples has nothing to do with racism.

- By disliking Spanish "Bull-Fights" and saying so, does that make me a racist, my "racism" directed at the citizens of Spain?
- By finding the "Thai-Cuisine" somewhat "underdevelopped" by international standarts and saying so, does that make me a "racist"?
The term "racism" has been overstreched, but useful when it comes to establish a concept of global "political-correctness".
Isn't it.


You really need to read the definitions and uses of the word "racism". 


If he said he didn't like Chinese or Asian cuisine that is a matter of personal preference. If he says they are inferior that is a collective judgement based on people purely because of the ethnicity.


A lot of Europeans, including academics and intellectuals were highly racist in the 1920's. That changed dramatically in the 1930's when many of them found themselves the victims of such discrimination. How quickly views can change when one becomes the victim.



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