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Misuse of Einstein's Relativity Theory

The Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists (CIFS) of the American Physical Society found it very inappropriate for President Jiang of the People's Republic of China to use Einstein's theory of relativity to justify his Government's intolerance of different opinions and violation of human rights. President Jiang did this in an interview by the Washington Post prior to his visit to the United States (published in the Washington Post on October 19, 1997) and again at the joint Press Conference with President Clinton on Wednesday, October 29, 1997. That statement reads: "The theory of relativity worked out by Mr. (Albert) Einstein, which is in the domain of natural science, I believe can also be applied to the political field. Both democracy and human rights are relative concepts and not absolute and general."

Meanwhile, Prof. Xu Liangying, the translator of Einstein's three volumes of scientific work into the Chinese language, has been under virtual house arrest in Beijing for the last few years.

Einstein's theory of relativity is based on the assumption that physical laws are invariant under relative motion. An appropriate analogy would be the inviolability of human rights under all conditions. Here we note that the Declaration of Human Rights signed by China and other United Nations member countries is universal, not relative. It is wrong to use the theory of relativity to illustrate moral relativism.

Einstein was an eminent scientist who was concerned about human affairs. His work not only influenced the career choice of Prof. Xu Liangying, the translator of Einstein's work, but also his political beliefs. In Oct. 1992, Prof. Xu Liangying wrote an article titled: "Without Democracy There Will be No Reform" for the Chinese magazine Future and Development. After the article was published, all copies of that issue were seized. In March, 1994, he appealed to the Chinese authorities to release all political prisoners. In May, 1995, together with 45 prominent intellectuals in China, he wrote a petition letter to the Chinese Government titled "Tolerance is Essential to Modernization" asking the Chinese Government to show tolerance towards political thoughts and religious beliefs, and to reassess the tragic events that occurred at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Both the 1994 and 1995 letters were published in the New York Times or reported in the Washington Post. In response, the Chinese Government placed guards outside Prof. Xu's residence to monitor his movements, took measures to prevent American physicists from visiting him, and harassed and sometimes detained his Chinese visitors.

To respect Einstein, we call on President Jiang to respect Prof. Xu Liangying's rights to freedom of speech guaranteed under the Chinese Constitution. We also ask the Chinese Government to stop harassing Prof. Xu Liangying and his friends and to release Wang Dan and other intellectuals who were detained and imprisoned after signing the 1995 petition letter.

Ke Chiang Hsieh
CIFS Chair

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