The New York Times published an article entitled ’Einstein the Anti-Racist? Not in His Travel Diaries’, where newly translated collection of his personal diaries showcase that one of the greatest minds of humanity was definitely a man of his time. The specific excerpts released to the public chronicle Einstein’s five month journey with his wife to “the Far East and the Middle East” in 1922.
More from The New York Times:
Along the way, he was feted by a Japanese empress and had an audience with the king of Spain. He also kept a travel diary, noting in stark, often racist terms his impressions of the people he encountered on stops in Hong Kong and Singapore, China, Japan, India and Palestine.
The personal writings do not only reveal the musings of a man grappling with a jolt to his view of the world. They also expose “Einstein’s stereotyping of members of various nations and raise questions about his attitudes on race,” according to Princeton University Press, which has published the first full English-language edition.
Brace yourselves. Here are some excerpts about his travels to “the Orient:”
In Hong Kong
• He expresses sympathy for the “stricken people, men and women, who beat stones daily and must heave them for 5 cents a day.” He adds, “The Chinese are severely punished for the fecundity by the insensitive economic machine.”
• He quotes Portuguese teachers who say, “The Chinese are incapable of being trained to think logically and that they specifically have no talent for mathematics.”
• He adds: “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.”
Around Mainland China
• He writes of observing “industrious, filthy, obtuse people.”
• “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.”
• “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us, the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”
• A Chinese funeral is described as “barbaric for our taste,” the streets “swarming with pedestrians.”
• “In the air there is a stench of never-ending manifold variety.”
• “Even those reduced to working like horses never give the impression of conscious suffering. A peculiar herd-like nation,” he writes, “often more like automatons than people.”
• “Japanese unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing,” Einstein writes, adopting a more flattering tone, though in some instances it veers into eugenic territory.
• “Pure souls as nowhere else among people. One has to love and admire this country.”
• “Intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones — natural disposition?”
• Visiting the British colony that later became Sri Lanka, Einstein writes that the residents of Colombo “live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level,” adding that they “do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.”
Reaction in China, among many social media users seemed willing to give Einstein the benefit of the doubt, or even to agree with him.
“That was the impression China gave to the world back then,” wrote one user of Weibo, a Twitter-like social network. “If it were now, Einstein wouldn’t say such things.”
“Diaries are extensions of private thought, and there’s no sin in thought,” a Weibo user said. “No matter what he thinks, as long as he doesn’t speak or act in a racist way, then you cannot implicate him. Not to mention the racial climate back then and the limitations of his own youth.”
Well, at least he wasn’t your typical European man who had yellow fever. Am I right?
Could it be that his views changed as he got older? Later in life, he used his scientific fame at the service of the American civil rights movement. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in 1931 he joined a committee to protest the injustice of the Scottsboro Boys trial in Alabama, in which nine African-American youths were falsely accused of raping two white women.
And in a 1946 commencement speech at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he declared: “There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.”
To read the rest of the article, head over to the New York Times: Einstein the Anti-Racist? Not in His Travel Diaries