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Einstein and China: Einstein's aborted trip to China and the introduction of his relativity

Hu Danian (Yale University)

The paper I am presenting is part of my dissertation project on the reception of Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity in China. The thesis studies not only the history of the introduction and the assimilation of the theory of relativity, but also various reactions to the theory in China from 1919 to 1979. In this paper, however, I'd like to focus on some earlier episodes of that story, that is, about Einstein's planned trip to Peking and the introduction of relativity theory.

On November 13, 1922, en route to Japan Albert Einstein arrived in Shanghai where he received the first official notice from the Swedish consul that he had been awarded the 1921 Nobel prize for physics. At a banquet held in his honor that evening, Einstein told his Chinese hosts that he would be delighted to present what he knew to the Chinese youths when he came back from Japan. On the next day, the 14th of November, Cai Yuanpei, the President of Peking University announced Einstein's planned visit to the university at the end of the year. Back from Japan on the New Year's eve of 1923, however, Einstein did not travel to Beijing. Rather, he rushed on to Jerusalem after a two-day stop in Shanghai. Domestic chaos and the financial crisis of the Beijing Government unfortunately prevented Einstein from realizing his long cherished hope: to see in person "the cradle of East Asian civilization."

Nevertheless, after Bertrand Russell's lectures on relativity at Peking University in 1921, Einstein's prospective visit aroused another wave of intense interest in him and his relativity theory. Mass publications, including books, translated books, journal articles, and news reports, on the theory of relativity and its author were produced in China within a short period of time. Consequently the theory of relativity was not only quickly introduced into China, but also widely disseminated in the early 1920s. The introduction and dissemination of relativity were significiant events in the Chinese history of modern physics. They were also achievements due in large measure to the first generation West-educated Chinese physicists, such as He Yujie (1882-1939), Xia Yuanli (1884-1944), Zhou Changshou (1888-1950) and Wei Siluan (1895-1992). I shall provide in the paper a detailed description about each individual's background and contribution to the cause.

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