Xu Liangying, Chinese translator of Einstein's works, dies

Physicist Xu Liangying, persecuted during Mao's crackdown on intellectuals, eventually published his three-volume translation of Einstein's complete works and advocated for human rights.

BEIJING — Xu Liangying, a renowned Chinese rights advocate, physicist and translator of Einstein, has died in Beijing. Xu was 92.

Xu's death Monday was widely reported on academic discussion boards and confirmed by a doctor reached by phone at Haidian Hospital's intensive care unit in Beijing's university district where Xu lived for many years. The doctor declined to be identified by name, and gave no cause of death.

Xu began translating Einstein in 1962 after being forced to leave his job as editor of a leading science journal for having criticized the policies of the Communist Party led by Mao Zedong.

In all, Xu was the main translator of the three volumes of "The Collected Works of Einstein in Chinese," and initiated or wrote numerous letters and petitions defending human rights.

Born in 1920 in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Xu showed an early talent for physics and studied under Wang Ganchang, later to help lead China's atomic bomb program. His college years coincided with Japan's World War II invasion of much of China, and Xu became radicalized by the realization of human suffering and inequality. He joined the Communist Party before the 1949 revolution when it was still an underground organization.

After a stint at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xu denounced Mao's crackdown on intellectuals in 1957 and was himself labeled a rightist and fired from his government job. Forced to move to the countryside, he began the translation project as a way to remain intellectually stimulated, even though Einstein had been criticized by many communists for the philosophical bent of some of his work.

Xu's manuscripts were confiscated during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when many writers and educated Chinese were persecuted. Yet he recovered them eventually and brought them to publication in 1975. Afterward, he regained his position at the academy and gradually became an advocate for human rights, democracy, free speech and academic freedom.

Xu was confined to occasional house arrest following the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, but continued his rights advocacy. He was the recipient of honors, including the New York Academy of Sciences' Heinz R. Pagels Award and the 2008 Andrei Sakharov Prize given by the American Physical Society.

"For a lifetime's advocacy of truth, democracy, and human rights — despite surveillance and house arrest, harassment and threats, even banishment — through his writings and publicly speaking his mind," the society wrote in its dedication.

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