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Published pages of Einstein's diary create controversy

Published pages of Einstein's diary create controversy

Einstein was a racist, may well be the headline of some articles that creep into your social media timelines this week, after new private travel diaries penned by the famous physicist were published.

The diaries were written over six months back in 1922 and 1923, when Einstein was travelling Asia and the Middle East, and they include some unsavoury remarks about the people that he encountered.

The travel logs have been published as a standalone volume for the first time by Princeton University Press, titled The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein: The Far East, Palestine, and Spain, 1922-1923.

The controversial comments made in his diaries include describing a visit to Port Said in Egypt and facing "Levantines of every shade... as if spewed from hell" who come aboard their ship to sell their goods.

He also described a visit to Colombo, saying “They live in great filth and considerable stench down on the ground, do little, and need little."

Perhaps the most shocking, however, was reserved for his visit to China, calling Chinese children "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".

The release has caused outrage in some sectors, calling Einstein a racist, but have sparked a wider debate about the views of historical figures after the controversy surrounding the removal of statues of historical figures in the UK and the US.

Of course, in the context of the time eugenics was still a widely respected theory and the proposition of trying to artificially improve the human race by stopping the breeding of undesirable races and the disabled was taken with serious consideration.

It also comes at a time when much of the literary world was fascinated by travel diaries that represented Africans and foreigners as animals and monsters in the dark corners of the earth.

This, of course, doesn’t excuse such views but context is vital when trying to understand the subtext behind the views of something written nearly a century ago.

There is also the point that Einstein later became a vocal campaigner for equal rights, subsequently joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

As mentioned by the BBC in an article covering the release of the diaries, the physicist was noted for both his scientific brilliance and his humanitarianism, emigrating to the US in 1933 after the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. The Jewish scientist described racism as "a disease of white people" in a 1946 speech at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, indicating his attitude change in later life.

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