The racist comments Albert Einstein made against the Chinese in the 1920s have shocked many in the West, who have long looked up to the scientist as a civil rights icon.
Chinese exams can now get you into a major US college, no SAT needed
In China, internet users are cool with Einstein’s racist comments
But here’s something that may be equally shocking: a lot of Chinese internet users have sided with the physicist.
In Einstein’s newly published private diaries, written during a months-long trip to Asia and the Middle East in 1922 and 1923, the Nobel-winning physicist made dehumanizing remarks against other races, especially the Chinese.
Einstein described the “industrious, filthy, obtuse people” he saw in China. He portrayed them as “a peculiar herd-like nation … often more like automatons than people.”
“It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary,” the German-born scientist wrote.
The comments were made public last month in The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein, published by Princeton University Press.
But after the controversial remarks began circulating on Chinese social media on Thursday, internet users have reacted more with support than criticism.
Many people say they agree with the scientist’s portrayal of Chinese people in 1922 and 1923 – a decade after the Republic of China was established in 1912, which put an end to thousands of years of imperial rule – and which in turn gave way to Communist China in 1949.
Defenders of Einstein found the depiction of “herd-like automatons” familiar – they echo critical writing of the time that accused the brand new government of turning people into ignorant slaves.
“Chinese people were indeed like that in those years,” said one of the most liked comments on Weibo, a Twitter-like social platform.
“Were Chinese people not filthy in the 1920s?” another said. “When I look at the old photos, I also find them filthy.”
Negative portrayals of the Republic of China have been widely promoted by the Communist Party, which succeeded the Republic. School children learn about its history as part of China’s “century of humiliation,” a tumultuous period of rebellion and warfare which only came to an end when Communist China was established in 1949.
Many Chinese now share the view that they can only fend off racial discrimination by making China a stronger and more influential country.
“Einstein was telling the truth,” a Weibo user said on Thursday. “But he would not make the same comments if he visited the big Chinese cities today.”
The Communist Party itself has in recent years been accused of promoting racism against minorities and economically disadvantaged groups.
Earlier this year, the widely watched Spring Festival gala, broadcast on the state-run CCTV, featured a Chinese actress in blackface makeup, praising China-built railway projects in Africa.
Stereotypical remarks about Indians, Africans and the country’s Muslim minorities are also common on Chinese social media.