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China and Albert Einstein

China and Albert Einstein

The Reception of the Physicist and His Theory in China, 1917–1979

Danian Hu

ISBN 9780674015388

Publication date: 04/25/2005

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.

    —Jonathan Spence, Sterling Professor of History, Yale University


  • Danian Hu is an Assistant Professor in the History Department and the Asian Studies Program at the City College of New York.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press