Albert Einstein Described Chinese as "Filthy, Obtuse" in Private Diaries

Federico Mansilla
Junio 14, 2018

The diary covers Einstein's five-and-a-half-month journey through Spain, the Middle East, and Asia in 1922.

The journals, published as "The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein" by Princeton University Press, reveal that Einstein, perhaps the most famous scientist of all time and known for his theory of general relativity and the equation e=mc2, was extraordinarily biased towards certain populations. He calls the Chinese "industrious, filthy, obtuse people" and goes on to say, they are "often more like automatons than people".

This is the first time the diaries have been published as a standalone volume in English. Very much a grown man in his mid-40s and already a famous Nobel Prize victor for his work on the photoelectric effect, Einstein wrote of people from China (as reported in The Guardian) that, "even those reduced to working like horses never give the impression of conscious suffering. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary", he notes.

"Chinese don't sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. The disquieting comment that the Chinese may "supplant all other races" is also most revealing in this regard", Rosenkranz stated. All this occurs quietly and demurely.

While in Ceylon, which is present-day Sri Lanka, Einstein wrote that the people there, "live in great filth".

According to a piece in the Guardian about the diaries, he describes Chinese children as "spiritless and obtuse", and calls it "a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races".

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The book's translator Ze'ev Rosenkranz spoke with The Guardian about the text, and believes that "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", said Rosenkranz.

"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".

Einstein's perceptions of the Japanese he meets are, in contrast, more positive: "Japanese unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing", he writes. "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". "One has to love and admire this country", he wrote, but Rosenkranz emphasized that the physicist, at the same time, concluded, asking rhetorically, the "intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones - natural disposition?" "Pure souls as nowhere else among people".

Noted for both his scientific brilliance and his humanitarianism, Albert Einstein emigrated to the USA in 1933 after the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Later, during a speech at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he said, "There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States".

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