Albert Einstein's unique high status in China made him an easy target of political attacks and maneuvers during the Cultural Revolution. The criticism began with a middle-school teacher's attack on general relativity and developed into organized campaigns after gaining support from two powerful, radical Party propagandists, Chen Boda and Yao Wenyuan. While Chen supported the criticism out of political ambition and cultural prejudice, Yao exploited it to attack his political rival Zhou Enlai and maintain absolute control of Chinese science by orthodox Marxist ideology. The criticism largely ended after both radical leaders fell from power, but not before it did serious damage to Chinese science and education. This article explores the rise, development, and consequences of the criticism, which first appeared in the Soviet Union and stemmed from ideological insistence on the dominance of dialectical materialism in all scientific studies. Marxist doctrines became the basis of scientific investigations and theoretical research in basic sciences nearly vanished in China. The article also describes the efforts of Chinese scientists at damage control and their occasional achievements against the critics' expectation.
↵Department of History and The Asian Studies Program, City College of New York, 138th St. and Convent Ave., NAC 5/218, NY, NY, 10031; . I thank the staff of both the Department of Physics and the Program of History of Medicine and Science at Yale University, where I completed most of the research. I am especially grateful to Martin Klein, Beatrice Bartlett, Xu Liangying, Dong Guangbi, Qu Jingcheng, Randy Kidd, Brett Berliner, and J.L. Heilbron for their advice, comments, and corrections.
- ©© 2004 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.