Months of Hope ( April to August 1938)

by Arthur Clegg.


The new office and the greater number of workers meant that our activities could continue to expand. We also had an objective. The international Peace Council had decided to call a World Congress on the Bombardment of Open Towns (in Spain and China) in Paris in July to press the governments of the world, but especially those of Britain and France, for action to aid both countries.


Naturally this was seen primarily in political terms, but for China a new aspect of aid was opening. Hitherto, assistance from Britain through the Lord Mayor’s Fund and even donation from the C.C.C. had gone to the International Red Cross in China. Much was then handled by them to mission hospitals on the grounds that they were more efficient than Chinese-run ones, and also to mission-run refugee camps. Unfortunately, as the Japanese pressed into China more and more of these mission hospitals and camps were behind the Japanese lines, so less and less aid was going to the Chinese held areas and some of the aid, directly or indirectly, was getting into Japanese hands. In Hong Kong, a number of Chinese, led by Mme. Sun Yat-sen, and some sympathetic Europeans, had formed a China Defence League. They investigated the way aid was used in China and strongly recommended that it should go to the Chinese Red Cross which at least served the Chinese-held areas and Chinese forces, and tried to reach International Red Cross standards. But even so this meant little would reach the Eighth Route and New Fourth Armies which, as the Japanese advanced, were doing more and more of the fighting, especially behind the Japanese lines. Early in 1938, in response to an appeal from General Chu Teh, the Indian National Congress began to send aid directly to the Eighth Route Army. The poet, Rabindranath Tagore, was one of the first subscribers, giving R.500.


In addition, in January, Dr. Norman Bethune, formerly chief surgeon of the Tuberculosis Division of Sacred Heart Hospital, Montreal, arrived in Hong Kong. He had been sent by the American and Canadian League of Peace and Democracy. He had served for a time as Medical officer with the International Bridage in Spain and was on his way to offer his services to the Eighth Route Army which was terribly short of modern medical personnel. There was only one Western Doctor in all the Border Region areas, Dr. George Hatem (Ma Hai-the). He had accompanied Edgar Snow to Yenan and stayed on. Bethune’s experience with tuberculosis as well as military casualties would be invaluable as tuberculosis was rife in China. However, if the Eighth Route Army was short of medical personnel it was no less short of medical supplies and equipment of all kinds.


It seemed that here was an opportunity to set up a foreign-aided hospital in the Liberated Areas, and when I broached the idea to Dorothy suggesting that if it were called the International Peace Hospital we might get the whole International Peace Campaign to support it, she was keen. Dick Freeman of the I.P.C. thought it possible that they might support it if we pressed it. The China Defence League welcomed both the idea and the name. In May we received a letter from the Director of the League of Nations Anti-Epidemic Unit in Sian telling us that Dr. Bethune had already arrived in North Shensi with Dr. Richard Brown, a Canadian missionary doctor, and Miss Jean Ewen, a Canadian tuberculosis nurse, together with some American nurses. This letter reached us in May, but before it did so Bethune had returned to Hankou to get supplies and make final preparations.


In actual fact, the first International Peace Hospital was set up by Dr. Richard Brown who had gone ahead into the Liberated Areas while Dr. Bethune went to Hankou. It was “in an area previously unprovided with hospitals.” The C.C.C. had a bad habit of not always dating the duplicated circulars it sent to members, presumably because they usually accompanied a dated letter, so it is not always easy to follow the course of events.


The first gift which the C.C.C. financed to the partisans in North China was a gift of twenty-five hundred or more woolen blankets in the winter of 1937-38 which the China Defence League bought with funds from the C.C.C. and the National Salvation Group in London. Then on March 10, 1938 a convoy of five trucks given by the Chinese Patriotic League of Ontario left Hong Kong on the way to Sian in the Northwest from which people and supplies could reach the Communist areas. Supplies to fill the trucks were donated by the China Defence League, the China Campaign Committee, the Medical Relief Committee of Vancouver and various Hong Kong societies.Through the assistance of Bishop Hall of Hong Kong a grant of (Chinese)50,000dollars was also obtained from the British Relief Fund (as the Lord Mayor's Fund was in China) to help fill the remaining three trucks. It was probably some of these supplies that enabled Dr. Brown to set up the first I.P.H.


Unfortunately very shortly afterwards the Japanese overran the site and captured the building, though not before the staff had managed to remove all the instruments and medicines and escape with them.  Thereafter the title "International Peace Hospital" and most of the instruments and medicines were transferred to the hospital set up by Dr. Bethune in Wutaishan, the capital of the Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Border area, and central to the Liberated Areas. At the end of June we received a letter from the representatives of the Eighth Route and New Fourth Armies (I think Chu Teh and Yeh Ting were the signatories) asking for help, and we sent £ 100 right away on top of £ 150 in May and a further £ 75 in June.


In a circular, presumably from the Autumn of 1938, the C.C.C. announced that the request of the China Defence League, James Bertram, author of Crisis in China and North China Front had left London on a long and arduous journey to Wutaishan where he had volunteered for service with the International Peace Hospital. "He will secure reports and photographs of this unique institution which is the living symbol of the solidarity of the peoples of the world with the heroic people of China." At that time we had already sent £ 2,450 (some £ 50,000 today) to the hospital and collected a further £ 765 for it. The Chinese League of Vancouver and Canadian Friends of the Chinese People were also helping.


By August, at least three hospitals in the Liberated Areas were associated with the International Peace Hospital scheme. The Eighth Route Army was now receiving medical aid from various quarters and had medical workers from some of them. It therefore decided to set up the Eighth Route Army Trustee Committee in Yenan to centralize the receipt of all supplies and to coordinate the distribution and work of the visiting medical personnel, which at that time came from the Chinese Red Cross, the Anti-Epidemic Unit of the Army Medical Service, and the Canadian Medical Unit. A letter announcing the formation of this Trustee Committee and dated Yenan, August 17,1938, was received by the China Campaign Committee signed by both Mao Tse-tung as Honorary Chairman of the Eighth Route Army Trustee Committee and Li Fu-chen the Chairman, Chou En-lai was the representative of the Trustees in Hankow and Pan Han-nien in Hong Kong.


(Abridged from the book " Aid China 1937-1949" written by Arthur Clegg)