Albert Einstein’s private travel diaries, which have only just been published, reveal racist and xenophobic attitudes, particularly towards Chinese people, who he describes as “industrious, filthy, obtuse people”.
The diaries, which detail the physicist’s tour of Asia and the Middle East, were written between October 1922 and March 1923.
It’s the first time the diaries have been published as a standalone volume in English.
Einstein travelled from Spain to the Middle East and via Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, on to China and Japan.
The physicist, who later in life would advocate for civil rights in the US, calling racism “a disease of white people” describes in the people he comes across during his tour.
Arriving in Port Said in Egypt, he describes facing “Levantines of every shade… as if spewed from hell” who come aboard their ship to sell their goods.
He also describes his time in Colombo in Ceylon, writing of the people: “They live in great filth and considerable stench down on the ground, do little, and need little.”
But it’s Chinese people who the famous physicist reserves his most cutting comments for.
According excerpts published by the Guardian, he describes Chinese children as “spiritless and obtuse”, and says it would be “a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races”.
In other entries he calls China “a peculiar herd-like nation,” and “more like automatons than people”, before claiming there is “little difference” between Chinese men and women, and questioning how the men are “incapable of defending themselves” from female “fatal attraction”.
Ze’ev Rosenkranz, senior editor and assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, who edited the volume, told the newspaper: “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.”