Premier pays tribute to doctor

Updated: 2013-05-22 02:04

By DING QINGFEN in Mumbai, India and ZHENG JINRAN in Shijiazhuang (China Daily)

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Man who treated Chinese soldiers in war against Japan honored

Premier Li Keqiang met Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis' relatives in Mumbai on Tuesday, remembering the doctor as a real friend to China.

Dr Kotnis treated injured Chinese soldiers during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) and stayed in China until his death.

Li told the doctor's relatives that he was very happy to meet them.

"He came to China at the most difficult time and made great contributions. He's a symbol of the friendship between our two countries," Li said.

"As an old Chinese saying goes: 'A friend in need is a friend indeed'. He hailed from India but he was also one of the members of the Chinese Eighth Route Army. We'll always remember him in our hearts."

When Li asked Manorma Kotnis, the doctor's younger sister, how the family is doing, he was told that they have carried on Dr Kotnis' tradition — many of the younger family members practice medicine.

For instance, Sanika Jain, the granddaughter of Dr Kotnis' elder brother, is also a physician.

"Premier Li's schedule is tight, but he still managed to spend some time with us. He remembers and appreciates Dr Kotnis' contribution to China," she said.

"Dr Kotnis represents the friendship between China and India. Every time a Chinese leader comes here, they look for us," Manorama Kotnis said. "We're very grateful and determined to pass on the friendship in every way we can."

Li invited the family to visit China, and knowing that Dr Kotnis' sister loves Chinese music, he gave her a digital music player, as well as a tea set and two panda dolls at the end of their meeting.

"I hope your family will carry on your tradition and that our two countries will carry on our friendship," Li said.

Dr Kotnis started the tradition and his lifelong bonding with China decades ago. It is well-remembered today back in China.

In a large memorial hall to Kotnis in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, many large fading black-and-white photographs hang on the walls, telling his relatively short life story. Yet students and young doctors visit frequently.

"This is the family portrait of Dr Kotnis before he left for China to help the people suffering in war in 1938," said Huo Hong, a guide at the Kotnis Memorial Hall, when she led a group of medical students on Thursday.

Kotnis was born in a family of eight children in Solapur, Maharashtra, India, in 1910. Learning about the tough situation in China after the start of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, the new graduate of G.S Medical College of the University of Bombay applied to join a team of physicians sent to China in 1938.

"Mr Mehta (his headmaster) pointed out the dark side of the picture, which mainly consisted of a risk of life and also included interference with higher studies, losing a probable job, etc," he said in a letter to his father.

"I do not consider the dark side really dark. I therefore definitely decided to put in my application with the greatest possible exaggeration of my meager merits and earnestly hope for the selection."

With this strong determination, he demanded that he should be allowed to assist the wounded at the front line as soon as the team of five physicians arrived in Guangzhou in September 1938.

During the four months the physicians were stranded in Hankou and Chongqing, cities far from the northern battlefield in China, he prepared for the future medical assistance by learning Chinese and getting fit.

They finally arrived in Yan'an, the revolutionary base at the time in February 1939, where they were warmly welcomed by Mao Zedong, Zhu De and other top leaders of the Communist Party of China, since they were the first medical team to come from another Asian country.

"He was different from Norman Bethune, a resolute Canadian veteran who served the Chinese people and worked until his death. Bethune was already a globally famous chest surgeon. Dr Kotnis was a new graduate but kept learning and growing with his Chinese counterparts," said Zhang Li, 39, who works at the Bethune International Peace Hospital and knew Kotnis' wife, Guo Qinglan.

Guo married Kotnis in 1941 because she was impressed by his enthusiasm and perseverance in helping the wounded. Zhang, also a doctor, met Guo in 2002 and heard a lot of stories about Kotnis.

Guo died last year at the age of 96 and was buried alongside Kotnis at the Martyrs' Memorial Park in Shijiazhuang.

The young doctor devoted all of his efforts to treating his patients. He suffered an epileptic fit due to working many hours without a break on Dec 8, 1942, which led to the death of the 32-year-old man the next day, leaving his wife with a 3-month-old son.

At the time, Chairman Mao Zedong said: "The army has lost a helping hand, the nation has lost a friend. Let us always bear in mind his internationalist spirit."

Sun Ye in Beijing contributed to this story.