An American Norman Bethune (一个来自美国的白求恩)
Some may view it as boastful and preposterous to equate Dr. Edward Carter Perkins with the legendary Dr. Henry Norman Bethune (1890–1939, Chinese name: Bai Qiu'en, 白求恩). Others may conclude from such comparison with a potentially negative reaction given Dr. Bethune’s connection with the Canadian Communist Party in the 1930s.
For me, to call Dr. Perkins an American Norman Bethune strikes a perfect balance between a deep respect for the extraordinary things that these men were able to achieve in their lifetime, however brief or long, and a profound recognition that the desire to serve the needs of people during their most difficult, most unfortunate, and most chaotic times can be accomplished through many different means be that on a battlefield or in a hospital.
While this website intends to stay apolitical, from a historical stand, the original intent of communism represents an ideal whether romantically construed, or politically, or otherwise. In the early 1900s, this idealism attracted many around the world who searched for equality and liberty for the poor and the oppressed in the wake of the massive Industrial Revolution and the emerging greed of Capitalism that remains rampant today. This naïve pursuit, in many ways, resembles what transpired out of the Woodstock generation during the 1960s in the US. And yes, many ideals would remain as ideals and an unattainable reality in its truest form (imagine world peace and human equality). With that and all issues aside, simply from a purely humanitarian perspective, Dr. Bethune is the very least someone who cared about what was happening all around him. The world he was in and what was taking place far away from his peaceful shelter troubled him. And he was determined not to stand by but to help in pursuit of an ideal world. Consequently, unlike many if not most of us, he undeniably lived an extraordinarily meaningful life – short but meaningful. While little known in his motherland of Canada, although he was born to the grandfather who essentially founded today’s School of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Dr. Bethune’s claim to fame came as a battlefield surgeon at the rank of Lieutenant during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) by developing on-field blood transfusion to minimize casualties.
Of course, the most remarkable event was when he traveled halfway around the world to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945): “一个外国人，不远万里， 来到中国,” as Mao Tse-Tung (毛泽东) would later write in honoring Dr. Bethune. There, Dr. Bethune invented the concept of “mobile hospital” on horseback – and served as the head-surgeon leading a small infantry of doctors and nurses moving expeditiously from battlefields to battlefields saving the wounded by saving time. The most astonishing fact is that Dr. Bethune trained countless medical personnel in just a year's worth of time before he died of blood poison, after saving a soldier while refusing to waste on himself the valuable antibiotics - penicillin. Accordingly, he has been hailed as a hero even today in China and one of the very few foreigners who would be honored at the highest level. It is noteworthy that he did not discriminate which side the casualties came from, whether Japanese or allies consisted of communists, Republic nationalists, and Americans. And more importantly, he helped not just soldiers but also ordinary people.
Dr. Edward Carter Perkins (Chinese name: Pei Jin-Si, 裴敬思), the son of Mary Evelyn Dwight Perkins and Edward Henry Perkins, and the younger brother of Henry Augustus Perkins was born in Hartford, CT, on July 11, 1875. The record has it that Dr. Perkins and his older brother (an accomplished Professor of Physics and Engineering, and later, twice as Acting President of Trinity College in Hartford, CT) were descendants of the wealthy Perkins clan in the State of Connecticut with the great grandfather (Enoch Perkins, husband of Anna Pitkin) being a co-founder of Hartford National Bank as well as one of the oldest and continuous running Law Firm in the US (currently known as Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald). Their grandfather (also named Henry Augustus Perkins) served as the President of Hartford National Bank for two decades (Hartford National Bank & Trust Company Records: Henry A. Perkins, June 9, 1853, to June 29, 1874). Records also show that for generations, the Perkins had been related to powerful families through marriages. Their great grandmother, Anna Pitkin, was the sister of the US Representative Timothy Pitkin (1766–1847). Their grandaunt, Emily Pitkin Perkins Baldwin, was the wife of the 32nd Governor of Connecticut and US Senator Roger William Baldwin (1793–1863) and became the mother of the 65th Governor of Connecticut, Simeon Eben Baldwin (1840–1927). While ad nausea with other highly notable and influential family connections, in the literary world, they were both grandnephews of Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909), a well-known American author, historian, anti-slavery advocate, and minister who was also a descendant of American Revolution war hero, Nathan Hale (1755–1776). For decades, the Perkins family had been a very close friend (and neighbor) and confidant to Mr. Samuel L. Clemens (pen name Mark Twain, 1835–1910).
In short, that was one elite, blue-blooded New England family.
Dr. Perkins himself had allegedly led a precarious playboy life during much of his youth, squandering away wealth and time. He was a track star at Yale around the turn of the century (ca. 1893–1898; and based on records written in Yale University Quindecennial Reunion Book Published in 1915, Dr. Perkins is a member of The Class of 1898) and obtained a law degree from Columbia University after that (ca. 1901). Not sure if it were related to his lavishing, hard-drinking, and womanizing lifestyle, but during these informative years, he managed to be dismissed as a member of The First Church of Christ on 60 Gold Street in Hartford (still there today) of which he had been a member since he was fifteen years old.
Then it all changed after he allegedly fell off a horse during an outing in the countries.
Dr. Perkins pursued his MD at the College of Physician and Surgeons of Columbia University (1910) and attended Yale Divinity School (uncertain if he was ever formally ordained – but he was also referred later as Rev. Dr. Perkins). In 1910 post-medical school, without knowing a word of Chinese, Dr. Perkins arrived in China (不远万里, 来到中国) for the very first time. After also traveling through parts of Korea and Japan on this long and profoundly life-changing excursion to Asia, Dr. Perkins returned to the US and formally interned as a surgeon at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, New York City, which ended in January 1913. He then went through a three-month training at the University of London to study tropical diseases. His mother, Ms. Mary Evelyn Dwight Perkins, accompanied him this entire time in London! On July 17, 1913, Dr. Perkins once again headed for China but this time by trains, which started in Berlin, passing through the vast Siberia (where Dr. Perkins also picked up Russian!), and subsequently, through Manchuria and at last weeks later arriving at Hankow (汉口 － 武汉) on the banks of the Great Yangtze River. After studying the Chinese language for over a year in Nanking (南京), he formally returned in Kiukiang (Jiujiang; 九江), Kiangsi Province (Jiangxi; 江西) for the second time in 1914. Dr. Perkins quickly became part of the Kiangsi Chapter of Methodist Episcopal Church (江西美以美會, est. 1868). The Methodist Episcopal Church (short in MEC) later on would become The United Methodist Church (联合卫理公会) post World War II.
To digress briefly, the Kiangsi Chapter of Methodist Episcopal Church (江西美以美會) was quintessential in building schools such as The William Nast Academy (同文中学, est. 1881; today's 九江同文中学), and its girls' counterpart The Rulison-Fish Memorial High School (儒励女中, est. 1873)–yes–education for women at the turn of the last century–how forward-thinking. Although not a focal point for this website, these schools are in many ways related to stories presented here. Of course, The Kiangsi Chapter also helped establish hospitals (醫院) such as The Kiukiang Water of Life Hospital (九江生命活水醫院) and The Elizabeth Skelton Danforth Memorial Hospital (但福德醫院). Dr. Perkins spent some time at The Danforth Hospital (但福德醫院), and there, he met Dr. Mary Stone (玛丽斯通; Chinese Name: Mei-Yii Shie, 石美玉), who was the Dean of the hospital. This interaction became the basis of Dr. Perkins' first book entitled A Glimpse of the Heart of China (Publisher: Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, NY: 1911), documenting the life and work of Dr. Stone.
While preparing to establish The Kiukiang Water of Life Hospital (九江生命活水醫院), Dr. Perkins taught at one of the girls’ schools in Kiukiang (most likely The Knowles Bible Training School for Girls). Dr. Perkins then worked briefly at the Affiliate Hospital of Nanking University (Nanjing Da Xue, 南京大学/南京金陵大學), which is also a product of the American Methodist Church. It is noteworthy that The Kiukiang Water of Life Hospital's construction involved mostly Dr. Perkins’ personal funds. And the story has it that aside from allocating his share of the family inheritance to fund the hospital's construction, he generously gave away–okay–whatever that had not been squandered during his youth to the Methodist Church and its mission endeavors. How Dr. Perkins elected the name “Water of Life” (生命活水) for the hospital has a story of its own, but in short, it is a phrase he truly loved from The Book he was reading during the days of his own spiritual reckoning.
In 1916, Dr. Perkins married Ms. Georgina MacDonald Phillip of Yonkers, NY. The story has it that Edward spotted Georgina riding in a trolley cart on the streets of New York City one day. As the trolley made a right turn, Georgina glanced over through the windowpane; and when their eyes met, Edward was in love. And he chased after the trolley. Edward was a track star at Yale even if he was near his 40s at the time of the chase. It did take him two stops to have the metal guardrail of the last trolley door within his grasp. And he promptly proposed after hopping onto the trolley.
Ms. Phillip (Chinese Name: Pei Jia-Ji, 裴家紀), the daughter of Scottish immigrants, was also over thirty when being pursued, and for a woman, that was rather old to be getting married during that era. More interestingly, she had accepted that she would live out a quiet and non-adventurous life with her parents in Yonkers. That all changed in 1916. She and Dr. Perkins would together devote nearly half of a century to the well-being of Chinese people both medicinally and spiritually, including spending four years in Taiwan (in the City of Taipei – 台北) in the mid-1950s to start another medical facility – and more endearingly, just to be among Chinese people – until they could no longer overcome physical challenges at a very advancing age. The couple passed away in 1958 and 1961, respectively.
They, too, lived a meaningful, if not an extraordinary life!
Last but not the least, to provide a historical relevance, by the turn of the century (1900), missionary work or the spread of Christianity in China had grown from lone-ranger efforts as early as in Tang Dynasty (唐朝) around 630 AD, which was essentially the height of the Chinese Civilization, to a wide-scale and full-blown religious crusade or “invasion.” China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship or OMF International), established by Rev. J. Hudson Taylor from Great Britain, and Presbyterian and Methodist Churches of America were leading the charge. It is noteworthy that China of the 19th Century was marred by the ruling of an increasingly corrupt, divided, and weak imperial court of Qing Dynasty (清朝), and insatiable demands and unfair trades from the West that would include the notorious bootlegging of opium (think of an entire nation on morphine addictions and efforts of the US war on drugs in the past four decades). With complete paralysis to strike a balance of honorably preserving cultural strength and identity of three thousand years, while selectively engaging Western civilizations' values, instead of a process of peaceful transformation, China was ushered into the modern era with a blinding force and a profound humiliation. One can only imagine what if there were a successful Hundred Days' Reform <百日維新> in 1898 led by the ambitious Guangxu Emperor in the spirit of Meiji Restoration <めいじいしん; 明治維新> that took place three decades earlier in Japan. The result was a brutal transition that would feature the famous Boxer Rebellion (义和团运动) in a valiant attempt to resist the Western domination including the Christianity crusade and to restore dignity, and the counteract of the infamous Eight-Nation Alliance (八国联军: Japan, Russia, The Great Britain, France, US, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy), which ended in the capturing of the Port of Tientsin (Tianjin, 天津: A gateway to China) and the siege of the Capitol Peking (Beijing, 北京) in August of 1900.
At last, the once proud and invincible Middle Kingdom (Zhongguo, 中国) was brought to Her knees and handed on a golden platter to the barbaric foreign devils (Yang-Gui-Zi, 洋鬼子). And an immense amount of atrocities followed. The ensuing five decades would mark the most difficult, unfortunate, and chaotic times in Chinese History. They struggled mightily for freedom, independence, and legitimacy both within and on an international stage. During these same trying years, with all opinions aside, Christian missionaries' collective efforts should be appropriately recognized and deeply cherished because they brought educations and hospitals to China along with a dire and redemptive glimpse of the heart and humanity of the Western Civilization. It was then and there, with invaluable help from the Ploeg（浦乐）sisters, Deanetta, and Elizabeth of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and many others, Dr. Perkins treated poor people and wounded soldiers alike and trained generations after generations of Chinese physicians and nurses.
The Water of Life Hospital (九江生命活水醫院) was founded in 1918, eight years after Dr. Perkins had first arrived in China, and it is still in existence today (九江市第一人民醫院总院–生命活水醫院: http://www.jxjjsdyrmyy.cn/) with the lineage of the “Perkins School” of physicians still propagating in China.
Benjamin R. K. Sun (孫賁)
August 31, 2015 (Rev. 12/02/2015; 09/15/2016)
(a) Letters to and from the Perkins Family.
(b) Ames, E. A.; Sokolow, J. "Chronology of Dr. Edward C. Perkins." Personal Communication; ca. 2006.
(c) Major Websites: Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/); http://www.baike.com; New World Encyclopedia; Britannica.Com.
(d) Individual Websites: http://www.cnblogs.com/wildabc/p/3798219.html; http://www.baike.com. Particularly, for an excellent summary of the Methodist Mission's History in Kiukiang (Jiujiang), please visit this excellent website, A Blog out of the Wall: https://wildabc.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/the-methodist-mission-in-jiujiangkiukiang/.
(e) Rev. D. L. Hartman, “History of Mission in China.” (http://www.imarc.cc/reghist/reghist1.html).
(f) Dr. Edward C. Carter, “A Glimpse of the Heart of China.” Publisher: Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, NY: 1911. (http://www.amazon.in/Glimpse-Heart-China-Edward-Carter/dp/5881480678); (http://www.forgottenbooks.com/books/A_Glimpse_of_the_Heart_of_China_1000127326)
(g) Yale University Quindecennial Reunion Book Authored by Members of Class of 1898 and Published in 1915.
(h) Hartford National Bank & Trust Company Records - Online Archive.