“Einstein went to China at the wrong time,” said one Weibo user, describing the early years of the Chinese republic, established in 1912, which came after centuries of imperial rule. “Hunger, war, and poverty all pressed on the Chinese. How could Chinese people at the time gain Einstein’s respect?”

Many were in strong support of the scientist: “This is called insulting China? That’s ridiculous. Did the Chinese in that era look dirty? When I see the photos from then, they look dirty, Einstein depicted the true state of that era.”

Others compared the scientists’s observations to that of Lu Xun, considered the father of modern Chinese literature, who was best known for his scathing satire of Chinese society in the early 20th century. “We praise Lu Xun because he pointed out our disadvantages. Why should we blame Einstein for this?”