The Beijing-based group, whose theories were once supported by Mao, was liquidated on June 30, after New Ager Guo Ping was appointed its Vice President.
by Liu Mengyao
Opposing Einstein and his relativity theory may look like a strange core business for a group banned as a xie jiao (“heterodox teaching”) or a “cult” in China. But in fact the Beijing Relativity Research Association (北京相对论研究联谊会) was, in its own way, a serious organization, with branches in 38 cities and provinces. It was banned on July 2, called a xie jiao by the CCP media, and all its provincial and local branches were raided by the police starting on June 30, with several members taken to local police stations.
Anti-relativity was an officially encouraged activity in Chairman Mao’s China, when Einstein’s theories were denounced as the epitome of “bourgeois science.” Mentioning that Lenin and Stalin-sponsored Soviet scientists had also been critical of Einstein, some CCP members such as Zhou Yuhua, a professor of mathematics in a junior high school in Hunan, lobbied the Chinese Academy of Science to ban relativity as opposed to Marxist dialectical materialism in the 1960s. They were initially ridiculed by the academic scientists, but gained the support of a circle close to Chairman Mao, including Mao’s son-in-law, Kong Linghua, and the Chairman’s former secretary and trusted adviser, Chen Boda. During the Cultural Revolution, mainline physicists were largely purged, and the anti-relativity movement was endorsed by the Red Guards. It was also seen as a weapon against Zhou Enlai, who was an admirer of Einstein and had tried to stop the movement.
The anti-Einstein activists came together in Beijing in the Criticizing Relativity Study Class (CRSC), and its Shanghai correspondent (and rival) Shanghai Science Criticism Group (SSCG). With the end of the Cultural Revolution, these organizations lost momentum, and in 1979 mainline academics were authorized to organize an event in Beijing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s birth. The rehabilitation of Einstein has continued into Xi Jinping’s era. For instance, in 2019 an Einstein exhibition was organized and widely publicized in Shanghai.
But it was not unopposed. As some pro-democracy activists in both China and Hong Kong hailed Einstein as a symbol of independent thinking and human rights, hardline Communist ideologists, including some in the “Maoist” minority who reject post-Mao reforms, revamped the old Marxist criticism of relativity.
In 2002, the Beijing Relativity Research Association was established by scientist Wu Shuiqing, who recruited some 1,000 members, including several belonging to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Wu claimed that the association was the continuation or the revival of the Criticizing Relativity Study Class (CRSC), and that by opposing relativity it defended Mao’s interpretation of dialectical materialism.
The incident leading to the ban of the Beijing Relativity Research Association was a controversy involving parapsychologist Guo Ping, the principal of Chunlin Education, a vocational college in Zhengzhou, Henan, a well-known New Age figure in China, and the vice-president of the Beijing Relativity Research Association. Guo was disciplined in April 2021 after she had published in the March issue of Pictorial Geography, which is not a scientific journal but a magazine published in Jilin and devoted to tourism, a report about the superpowers of a group of her students who, she claimed, had been able to use their “mind power and energy” to turn boiled fertilized eggs into live ones.
The reaction by the CCP was so harsh that both the Chunlin Education college and the magazine Pictorial Geography were closed.
Guo’s theory on eggs and chickens are not connected with the anti-relativity tradition, but the incident was used as a pretext for a crackdown that seems to have different motivations, including repression of “Maoist” dissent and the promotion of mainline science and liquidation of “pseudoscience.” Certainly, the theories of the Beijing Relativity Research Association would be regarded as not scientific outside China as well. However, they were once the Maoist orthodoxy, and the liquidation of former orthodoxy that has turned into heresy in China is carried out by the police rather than by academic criticism and debates.