In 1922, wild-haired physicist Albert Einstein steamed into Shanghai as part of a lecture tour of Asia. But there’s hardly any material or evidence he’d been in the budding metropolis except for a glimpse of him speaking in a documentary.
Nevertheless, an exhibition organized by Jiefang Daily and the Einstein Archives at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, is trying to rectify this by bringing the only handwritten material available of Einstein during that short trip to Shanghai.
“It was during this exhibition that Yan Ming, a local collector of ancient ink-wash paintings, approached us,” said Wang Na, curator of the exhibition. “He showed us a guestbook which used to belong to Theresa Renner (1890-1987) and Alexander Renner, a Jewish couple who resided in Shanghai for nearly 30 years.”
Wang and her team were thrilled to find that Renner’s guestbook spanning 60 years from 1922-81 includes autographs, calendar posters, ink-wash paintings and even music scores by a cluster of 79 celebrities both home and abroad. Among them, the only manuscript of Einstein written in Shanghai.
It says, “The conditions for the blossoming of fine human intelligence appear to be truly restricted, great poverty leads to coarseness, wealth leads to hollowness; a rough, cold climate makes one gloomy, a tropical climate makes one voluptuous and lethargic. That is why there is no enduring flowering of knowledge in a single place and one single nation, and why occurrences such as the Italian renaissance are like islands in the ocean of history. Albert Einstein, 1922, New Year’s Eve.”
Apart from Einstein, the guestbook also includes Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Eugene O’Neil (1888-1952)
At the closing of Einstein’s exhibition in Shanghai on Monday, a seminar concerning this new finding in Renner’s guestbook was held. Professors and experts in the area discussed the importance of the recording of this guestbook.
“It is quite valuable,” said Pan Guang, director at the Center of Jewish Studies, Shanghai. “The guestbook is an enriched recording of the living condition of the Jewish people in Shanghai at that time. It partly reflects the local history of Shanghai.”
Fang Zaiqing, the researcher at the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: “The guestbook also reveals the communication between the East and the West at that time. Besides Einstein, it would be helpful to study carefully all the names in the book and their connection or experiences in Shanghai.”