China row over Einstein display

German-born Swiss-US physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955)Einstein, awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, was the author of the theory of relativity

The Historical Museum of Bern, Switzerland, has cancelled plans to put on an exhibition about the scientist Albert Einstein in Shanghai, China.

Shanghai’s Science and Technology Museum had suggested merging the Einstein show with a display about the Chinese philosopher, Confucius.

A Hong Kong newspaper said Beijing had earlier asked for all references to World War II to be removed.

Neither the Shanghai nor the Bern museums have commented officially.

Shanghai is where Einstein is said to have officially learned that he won the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics.

He is best known for authoring the theory of relativity, and credited with changing the way we understand the universe.

The Albert Einstein (1879-1955) exhibition is on display at the Hong Kong Science Museum until August. It has previously appeared in Beijing and Guangdong.

Fraught effort

The Associated Press quoted a director at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum as saying he did not know why the talks on hosting the show in Shanghai had ended.

He added that the Shanghai museum had an idea to merge the European physicist’s exhibition with one on Confucius, who lived more than 2,000 years earlier.

The Einstein exhibition is part of a celebration of 60 years of diplomatic relations between China and Switzerland, financed by the Swiss government.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted an anonymous source close to the situation as saying that even before the problem in Shanghai, the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing had demanded deletion of historical content.

The newspaper said the Swiss had firmly opposed the deletions, saying the whole exhibition would be cancelled.

Beijing relented and the exhibition in the capital went on to host about 200,000 visitors within four months.

“I think as a science museum, they didn’t see why we should talk about world history in an exhibition on Albert Einstein,” the source said.

“And they were afraid their visitors would not understand that you can have a message of peace and tolerance in an exhibition which talks and shows negative events, like the National Socialists in Germany and the persecution of Jews leading up to the concentration camps.”

In Hong Kong a section of the exhibition dealing with the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps carries a disclaimer warning visitors it was “not suitable for children”.

Observers were quoted as saying the disagreements between China and the West highlighted different ways of looking at history.


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