A Great Canadian – Dr. Norman Bethune

Matt | Norman Bethune | Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

“Looking back, I can see how my fears and hopeless attitude with regard to the future were wrong.  Fear is the great destroyer of happiness, and most fears are unjustifiable.”  Dr. Norman Bethune.

When I first arrived in China and spoke to locals, when they found out I was Canadian they automatically said one of two names: Da Shan (Mark Rowswell) or Bai Qiu En (Dr. Norman Bethune).  Da Shan is a Canadian known as one of the first fluent Chinese speakers/entertainers and as he is still working in China it didn’t take long to get to know about him.  But Norman Bethune was someone I knew little about and was at first surprised how every Chinese person seemed to know more of this Canadian than I had.

Over the years, I pieced together some information about Dr. Norman Bethune: he went to China to help the Red Army against the Japanese; Mao wrote something about him so all Chinese memorized his words; Dr. Bethune died in China.  Sadly, that was about all I knew this amazing man until I picked up the book Extraordinary Canadians: Norman Bethune by Adrienne Clarkson.

His story, his bravery and his sacrifice are remarkable.

He was a doctor, artist, poet, philosopher, social worker, innovator and sounds like a stubborn man and a martyr, having died helping others.  It’s true he went to China to help provide medical service during the war against Japan.  Before that he was in Spain during their war against Fascism also helping medically inventing the first mobile transfusion unit.  Also it was enlightening to read about his political stance, being a communist (I think socialist is probably more appropriate) who believed in individualism.  He loved helping people get healthy as it is good for everyone.  I loved reading about his stubbornness and how he did what he believed was right regardless who he upset.

A friend once asked me why the Chinese loved or respected him so.  My understanding is he was loved because he traveled so far away from his home to help foreign people in a completely selfless act and gave his life doing so.  He didn’t do it for money or fame.  He gave his all because he felt that was what he needed to do.  He gave the greatest sacrifice, his life, dying of blood poisoning at the age of 49.

His story, his writing and his life were moving for me.  Clearly I still have more I would like to know of this great man.  And I highly recommend this book or any book on Dr. Norman Bethune.  I think his story is a must read for any Canadian, especially ones who are living or who have lived in China.  His sacrifice helped open doors and hearts for Canadians in China.   He truly was an extraordinary Canadian.

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