Hospitals Built by Missionaries in China’s Modern History

The plaque of Peking Union Medical College Hospital
The plaque of Peking Union Medical College Hospital (photo: Peking Union Medical College Hospital)
By Steve Sun December 10th, 2021

Jesuit bishop Melchior Carneiro built China’s first hospital in Macau in 1565, where Christians and non-Christians were equally treated. After Robert Marrison came to China, he invited John Livingstone, a doctor, to open a clinic in Macau in 1820. Fifteen years later, Peter Parker, an American physician and missionary, opened the Ophthalmic Hospital in Guangzhou, which later became the Boji Hospital in 1842. Accommodating 200, the hospital included a reception room, pharmacy, operation room, and observation ward. Sun Yat-sen was once one of the interns there. 

In 1838, William Lockhart founded the first western hospital in Shanghai, known as the Chinese hospital, which was the predecessor of the current Renji Hospital. The treatment was free of charge. The missionary who served with the London Missionary Society recalled that the street was crowded with patients every day. 

Deborah Matilda Douw, a female missionary, was sent by the American Presbyterian Mission to Beijing. At that time, Chinese women suffered from the pains of childbirth. Midwives tried to stop the blood bleeding of the umbilical cord with ash, but many babies died of infections in the first few days after birth. Witnessing the tragedy, Douw who burst into tears raised funds in American churches to build the country’s first obstetrical-gynecological hospital in eight years. In 1885, Douw Hospital for Women and Children was established with 12 bungalows. She introduced other western medicine into the hospital, which is now Peking University Sixth Hospital. The woman founded many hospitals across China. 

According to statistics collected in 1920, there were 820 hospitals and clinics in China. Some famous hospitals built by foreign missionaries are as follows:

Peking Union Medical College Hospital

Shanghai Tongji Hospital

Chengdu West China Hospital

Qilu Hospital of Shandong University

Shanghai Renji Hospital

Canton Pok Tsai Hospital

Shanghai Tongren Hospital

Shanghai Guangci Hospital (now the Ruijin Hospital)

Shanghai Pu Ren Hospital

 Tsingchow  Guangde Hospital

Soochow Hospital

Changsha Yali Hospital

Hangzhou Guangji Hospital (now the Second Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine

Tianjin Mackenzie Hospital

Fujian Yong Chun Hospital

Mackay Memorial Hospital (Taiwan)

China’s first orphanage, home for the blind, a school for the deaf and the mute, psychiatric hospital, and leprosarium all owe their founding to those missionaries. 

The first foundling was founded by the Berlin Missionary Society in Hong Kong in 1840. Until 1914, there were 37 church orphanages that adopted about 2,500 orphans. 

The first home for the blind was established by William H.Murray in Beijing in 1874. Braille in Mandarin was created. 

The first school for the deaf and the mute was set up by Annette E. Thopson in Yantai, Shandong Province in 1898. More than ten similar homes served the disadvantaged people till 1939. 

The first refuge for the insane was established by John Glasgow Kerr in 1898 and was named Canton Huiai Yi Dian Yuan.

Named the Hospital of Universal Benevolence, the first leprosarium was founded by David Duncan Main in Hangzhou in 1892. China had 51 leprosariums in 1954, 40 of which were related to churches. 

Richard Timothy played a great role in China’s philanthropy. He established five orphanages which took in 100 children who were trained into skilled workers. During the great famine in 1877, Timothy rescued 70,000 people and founded seven schools for the children of the victims. 

Many sources claim that the "cross" symbol of Chinese hospitals is linked with the Christian "cross", originating from the earliest "cross" sign of those hospitals built by western missionaries to China.

- Translated by Karen Luo

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