The Rockefellers's Connection with China: Peking Union Medical College

The grand opening ceremony of Peking Union Medical College in 1921.
The grand opening ceremony of Peking Union Medical College in 1921.
By Yetta YaoApril 12th, 2017

Along with David Rockefeller's passing away at the age of 101 on March 20, The Rockefeller Family's connection with China was once gain being highlighted in China. 

The Rockefeller family has benefited China after the set up of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913. The greatest benefit China has received from the foundation was their construction of the best hospital in China called Beijing(or Peking) Union Medical College. Soon after the Foundation was established, the Rockefellers sent a group of people to China in order to make a careful survey on China's society, including the aspect of education, sanitation and medical school and hospitals.

The Rockefellers' connection with China dates back to 1900s.

Father of David Rockefeller, John Davison Rockefeller Jr. (1874 - 1960), had been thinking about building a high-quality university in China to educate talented people from all sectors. He sent people to China to make in-depth surveys three times from 1908 to 1915, the result of which made him realize the importance of introducing medical education in China. Afterwards, the Rockefeller Foundation made the pledge to build a high-quality medical college hospital to integrate education, practice and researches in Beijing, China's capital.

Three members of the Rockefeller Foundation Made Survey in China. 

In 1915, the Foundation spent 200 thousand dollars to purchase the former Peking Union Medical College as the university's main campus. To uplift its standard in scale, it spent another 125 thousand dollars buying a nearby palace of the Qing Dynasty. On Sept. 16, 1921, the newly built university held a grand opening ceremony and important officials from both the Chinese and American government came to the celebration with their congratulations and wishes. Known scholar Hu Shih also attended the ceremony. He wrote in his diary, "Today's ceremony was solemn, attended by more than 100 scholars in uniforms, the solemnity of which we have not seen since Beijing came into being. Rockefeller made a good speech."

On Oct. 26 of the same year, the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research made the following report:

"Beijing's early autumn was beautiful with the alley not dusty as usual, the stores look like pictures and even the hawkers and beggars' shouting sounded sweet, while weddings and funerals service were held on the greatest scale. Through the clean air, the green Western Hills stood in the distance. The nearby hills were decorated with beautiful towers.

The previous palace of the Qing Dynasty with its green glass roof, which stands as the newly built medical college and hospital, could even be compared with the magnificent imperial wall, the golden roof of the Forbidden City.

The academic team, which was comprised of excellent scholars, was impressive, and scientists, from the East to the West, were wearing Western uniforms and walked slowly by the high green roofs, modern laboratories, the ancient water truck, the row of Western medicine students, the wondering labor force in groups and beggars. Passing by the noisy street, the team slowly entered into the modern auditorium of Chinese style to the musical piece "March" from a new organ."

The Foundation spent a great amount of money and a great span of time in building the Beijing Union Medical College. In 1921, a total of 14 buildings were completed and the equipment were mainly imported from the United States, making the overall quality of the buildings extremely great according to the world's top standards. Though the original budget for the project was 1 to 1.5 million dollars, it cost $7.5 million in the end.


John Davison Rockefeller Jr. with co-workers helping in building the Beijing Union Medical College.

Before the establishment of the medical college, no Chinese university had met its expectations in the field of medical education. As a result, the Foundation donated to 13 universities, helping them to improve their education proficiency over the period of 8 years and the greatest beneficiary was China's world-class Peking University.

According to the report of the Times, in the beginning of the decade since May of 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation spent nearly 10 million dollars and the greatest gift was given to the building of Beijing Union Medical College. According to a statistics in 1956, the Foundation had put in more than 48 million dollars in developing the college.

The college has raised a group of famous Chinese doctors, such as Lin Qiaozhi who honored as the mother of infants, Wu Jieping and Zhe Futang, and built the modern system to train medical talents in China. Each one of those elite medical talents can open up one or more hospitals or schools, becoming the foundation for China's modern medical education.

Students are working in the Library in the Peking Union Medical College. 

Today, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Beijing Union Medical College are working closely together. The hospital wrote: "Rockefeller's family scattered a seed of Western medical education in the beginning of 20th century in China, which has lasted for a hundred years and benefited many people. Thanks to their contribution to Chinese medical education, the hospital will work closely with China Medical Board to creat a new history of glory."

Translated By: Alvin

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