China and Albert Einstein is the first extensive study in English or Chinese of China’s reception of the celebrated physicist and his theory of relativity. Tracing the influence of Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century and Western missionaries and educators in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as they introduced key concepts of Western physical science and paved the way for Einstein’s radical new ideas, Danian Hu shows us that Chinese receptivity was fostered by the trickle of Chinese students sent abroad for study beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and by the openness of the May Fourth Movement (1916–1923).
In a series of biographical studies of Chinese physicists, Hu describes the Chinese assimilation of relativity and explains how Chinese physicists offered arguments and theories of their own. Hu’s account concludes with the troubling story of the fate of foreign ideas such as Einstein’s in the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), when the theory of relativity was denigrated along with Einstein’s ideas on democracy and world peace.
China and Albert Einstein is an important contribution to Einstein studies and a landmark work in the history of Chinese science.
How and why was it that between 1917 and the mid-1920s the Chinese were able to absorb Einstein’s relativity theories so swiftly, painlessly, and virtually without controversy? In this absorbing book Danian Hu provides us with cogent and elegant answers. As an added bonus, Danian Hu humanizes his study by his numerous and vivid mini-biographies of Chinese physicists at many levels of expertise. The attempt by the leading ideologues of the Cultural Revolution to force through a radical rejection of Einstein’s relativity theories provides a grim and gripping coda to a remarkable story.
China and Albert Einstein is a novel and original contribution to the as yet seriously understudied but extremely important field, the history of science in modern China. It introduces a wealth of new information and greatly increases our knowledge about the reception and assimilation of Einstein’s theory of relativity in China during the turbulent twentieth century. The study actually delivers even more, since by using relativity theory as a crucial example, Danian Hu explains some general features of the process of transplanting modern science onto Chinese soil.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book. I believe it is a highly original contribution, certainly to my own field of the history of relativity. It is the first study of the reception of relativity theory into a society with little background in nineteenth-century physics, and it is likely to be the most important of such studies, given China’s substantial contribution to twentieth-century physics. Einstein scholars and biographers will find it extremely useful.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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