Next week China’s president, Xi JinPing, is going on a Official Visit to the USA. Many Chinese are shocked that he will not be received at the White House, and that his meetings with President Donald Trump are to be held at Trump’s commercial leisure club in Florida, Mar-a-Largo.
Firstly they think this is disrespectful to President Xi, and secondly, the Chinese know all about government corruption, and they can see it a mile off… Trump’s place in Florida, and his insistence on using it for State business smacks of corruption to them.
Having said that, the Chinese admire America more than almost any other country, and are enamoured of all things American. They have been, and still are, the beneficiaries of much goodwill shown by America and its people; whereas many US citizens fear and distrust China because it is a Communist state, and their knowledge of China is very limited and often distorted.
The complex relationship between America and China goes back many, many years. When the first Chinese started coming across the Pacific Ocean in the 1800s and found work building America’s railroads, they were deeply resented even though their labour was needed. Hence the passing of the Anti-Coolie Act 1862. ( I wrote a whole blog post about this back in 2012 and you can read it here.)
At more-or-less the same time, American evangelical missionaries were all over China like a rash – trying to convert the Chinese to their various brands of Christianity. This evangelism was one of the major triggers of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900AD, where hundreds of foreigners were slaughtered. The Foreign Concession in Beijing was besieged by the Boxers. The siege subsequently became the subject of a film, ’55 Days at Peking’, starring Ava Gardener and Charlton Heston. Both before and after that episode, Americans were trading with China and making fortunes.
One of those Americans was John D. Rockefeller, who was only 24 years old when did his first deal with the Chinese in 1863, selling them Kerosene. He developed an abiding interest in China. As a result, in 1916 the Rockefeller Foundation funded the Peking Union Medical College Hospital which was based on the John Hopkins Hospital in Boston which was leading the field in medical modernisation. PUMCH took over a smaller hospital, provided bigger and better buildings, both for the treatment of patients and for the training of medical students. The very latest in western medicine was taught in English, and the hospital and its teaching role went from strength to strength. Financially the Rockefeller Foundation continued giving unstinting support.
In 1949 when the 2nd World War had ended and Mao Zedong created the new People’s Republic of China, the hospital was told that it was being re-named ‘The Capital University of Medical Sciences Hospital‘ and that all teaching should henceforth be in Mandarin. Fair enough. Apart from that, it went on as before. A few years later it had a new name change: ‘The Anti-Imperialist Hospital‘ (!!!)
However when the horrible, violent chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) happened, the hospital was completely shut down. Some of the renowned doctors, teachers and professors were brutally treated, but on the whole it survived more-or-less intact.
After that ghastly period, the hospital picked itself up and got back to work. It was now allied to Tsinghua University, so medical students do their first years studying biology, chemistry, physiology etc at the University before moving to the medical school at the hospital. Their medical degrees are now bestowed by Tsinghua University. That university owes its existence to President Theodore Roosevelt; because, in 1911 following the Boxer Rebellion, China was forced to pay an indemnity to the USA, it was a huge amount of money. Roosevelt cut the amount expected, on the proviso that the remaining monies would fund a new university in China, and so Tsinghua University came into being.
In 1985 the hospital/medical school decided to reclaim their original, pre-1949, name and so today it is once again called ‘Peking Union Medical College‘. Through all these vicissitudes they have had the backing and advice of the Rockefeller Foundation which founded and mentored them. Indeed, when you enter one of the old original buildings of the hospital – built in 1916, and now used for administrative offices, archives, libraries and conference rooms – one of the first things you will see in the entrance foyer is a bronze head and shoulders bust of John D.Rockefeller.
So, at the same time that Trump and other factions in the USA are being bellicose about China (its the word Communism that gets them every time!), the TOP western medical hospital in China, which is also China’s pre-eminant medical school, is thriving thanks to its links to the USA.
You may wonder why I have chosen this hospital as my example of how America and Americans have cared for China.
The answer is simple, it is because my bedroom, living room and study all look out onto the old buildings of the 1916 hospital. I am very lucky.
Many who live in Beijing look out of their windows and only see the new modern city with its glittering skyscrapers, the dreary old Russian influenced buildings of the 50s & 60s, or busy roads. I see a very state-of-the art building to our extreme right, and contrasting with that, I see the green-glazed traditional tiles and design of the original PUMC buildings (their big modern hospital building is off to one side) surrounded by beautiful trees. And all this within a hop-skip and jump of Tian’anmen Square.
It makes me aware that I am in China. I love it.