Dr. Norman Bethune, China’s Canadian Hero, Fate or Destiny? (Part II)

By Ramona McKean Part II

Bethune International Peace Hospital, Shijiazhuang, China

Bethune International Peace Hospital, Shijiazhuang, China

If ever a Western foreigner could provide a “bridge” of appreciation and understanding between China and Canada, it is Dr. Norman Bethune. Though he’s been gone for 75 years now, the mention of his name in China can still cause many to stop what they’re doing and acknowledge him with respect. To this day, due to the eulogy Mao Zedong wrote about the “selfless” Canadian doctor, hundreds of millions of Chinese can tell you who Norman Bethune was and how he helped their country. Mao’s tribute was mandatory reading in all schools for decades and maybe still is. Some Chinese I’ve met in Canada can still recite it by heart. Bethune was not popular in the West, nor was he particularly acknowledged for his contributions to medicine. Few Canadians have heard his name.

When I consider the gratitude the Chinese feel towards Dr. Bethune, I ask: Was it Bethune’s fate to offer his medical services to a war-torn China, die there prematurely and be immortalized a humanitarian hero? Or was it his destiny? Please see Part I of this blog post, wherein I define the terms fate and destiny and distinguish their differences. Here, in Part II, I continue my exploration of the question: Was it a matter of fate or of destiny that Norman Bethune became a hero in China?

Henry Norman Bethune, 1890 – 1939

Norman Bethune, a controversial Canadian physician who turned to communism toward the end of his life, felt compelled to follow a path he vaguely understood, a path marked by passion, tenacity, defiance and danger. Though the path was marked also by courage, great deeds and high ideals, Bethune instinctively knew it would lead to his doom. In a letter to a friend, he wrote: You must remember my father was an evangelist and I come of a race of men, violent, unstable, of passionate convictions and wrong-headedness, intolerant yet with it all a vision of truth and a drive to carry them on to it even though it leads, as it has done in my family, to their own destruction — as it did my father. (to Marion Dale Scott, Oct. 8, 1935).

Two Powerful Forces: Ego and Spirit

Two powerful forces, both operative in Bethune, led to his self-destruction and his greatness. One force was ego, and the other was Spirit. Ego I connect with fate, and Spirit I connect with destiny. Bethune’s awareness of ego and Spirit was minimal. Before his death, he started to understand.

What is to give light must endure burning, Viktor Frankl

Ego provides the fuel; spirit provides the flames.

1. Ego force: Bethune’s ego was dominated by unresolved emotional wounds, which drove him to self-sabotage. His unhealed wounds manifested in compulsive behaviour, impatience and volatility. (To clarify: in using the term “ego,” I’m referring to the unhealthy aspects of ego.) Many who knew him would say he was not a “nice man.” He didn’t understand the uncontrollable urges that drove him but did know they were inter-generational, inherited through his father’s line. And, like father, like son, rejection was the all-too-predictable outcome.

Consequences of Bethune’s behaviour had an inevitable quality like fate. Self-sabotage followed by rejection was his fate—an unconscious “human-made fate.” (Please see Part I.)

Proudly identifying himself a “man of action,” he rarely took time to self-reflect and learn from his mistakes. In this regard, he was irresponsible. His ego and fate were so enmeshed that he was like a bewildered bird caught in a cage of its own construction. Bethune’s shadow side was apparent and often dominant, it is true; however, his light was apparent too. In fact, his light was so triumphant, it still lives, three quarters of a century after his death.

2. Spirit Force: Spirit’s force uplifts humans to let their lights shine and be used for “holy” work. Bethune’s light was a tender compassion for those in need of care; it was also an earnest desire to empower disadvantaged people to believe in themselves. Spirit inspired Bethune’s Higher Self, his true self, the part of him akin to an angel. When Bethune was a little boy, Spirit spoke to his heart: “You are meant for great things. Will you be mine?” He answered “yes.” He longed to help humankind in the biggest way possible when he grew up. His devout Presbyterian parents had undoubtedly instilled in him a sense of duty in this regard as well. Spirit is the force that works with humans called to create (co-create) a destiny.

A Chinese artist's rendition of Bethune

A Chinese artist’s rendition. 白求恩 “Báiqiú’ēn” is Bethune’s name in Mandarin.

While ego pushed and shoved, Spirit magnetically drew Bethune forward so God/Universe could use him to the max, weaknesses included. He welcomed Spirit as it helped him identify his unique purpose as preserver of life in the midst of widespread killing. Spirit used the bottled up power of Bethune’s ego and saw him successfully landed in areas of extreme risk—the trenches of WWI as a stretcher-bearer, the battlefront of the Spanish Civil War as head of a mobile blood transfusion unit, and the front lines of China’s War of Resistance against the Japanese as a battlefront surgeon.

In a letter to his ex-wife before leaving for China, Bethune expressed his commitment to following the path his light illumined. My path is set on a strange road, but as long as I feel it is a good road I will go down it. (to Frances Penney Bethune, Sept. 14, 1937). By surrendering to his impulse to take on bigger and riskier medical challenges, Bethune grew in awareness that his destiny would be realized in China.


Fascist Japanese forces aimed to take over China. Following is a sampling of information from which you may get a flavor of:

  • the misery and horror faced by the Chinese
  • the battle Bethune waged within himself and upon others
  • the squalid conditions in which he operated, taught and wrote
  • the transforming effect of the Chinese on Bethune
  • his own personal voice as revealed in passages from his writing

1. On January 8, 1938, Bethune set sail from Vancouver on a medical mission. Jean Ewen, a Canadian nurse familiar with China and fluent in Mandarin, stayed with him a short time.

Bethune Caring for an Amputee

Bethune caring for an amputee

Heading from Hong Kong to Yan’an, they endured a nightmare journey of heavily bombed rail lines, junk travel, mule caravans, truck travel and trekking by foot, sometimes through the night. (A journey of normally a few days took them two months.)

En route they treated war casualties. The journey was an extra horrible experience for Jean Ewen. As a target for Bethune’s misdirected rage, she despised the man and could hardly wait to part company. Still she acknowledged his commitment to wounded civilians and soldiers: She referred to Bethune as treating the injured with a great tenderness, almost like a nun. And: No man ever removed so much lead from peoples’ bones, flesh and guts as he did, or set more broken bones or amputated so many extremities. Ego and Spirit co-existed fitfully. Which would ultimately prevail?

Mao and Bethune

Bethune and Mao met once in Yan’an, about 12 years before Mao became national leader.

2. After a stay in Yan’an where he met Mao, Bethune headed north and was joined for a short period by a Canadian medical missionary named Dr. Richard Brown. (Jean Ewen went elsewhere.) About this time, Bethune was also named Chief Medical Adviser for the 8th Route Army.

3. Conditions in remote villages were appalling, revealing the critical need of medical care as close to the front as possible. One so-called “hospital” Bethune wrote about had no trained staff. Patients lay lice-ridden and virtually unattended in peasant huts. Of the most serious cases, he wrote: All have old neglected wounds of the thigh and leg—most of them incurable except by amputation. Three…are lying naked …with only a single cotton quilt….all anemic, underfed and dehydrated…They are dying of sepsis. These are the cases we are asked to operate on. Such conditions made Bethune that much more impatient to get to the front.

Bethune Giving Blood Transfusion in China

Bethune demonstrating the miracle of blood transfusion

4. Later, in one obviously much better medical setting, Bethune wrote: Things are going well. A combination of shouts, tears, smiles has worked wonders here. Things are organized–daily lectures to the doctors and nurses, ‘clean up’ squads, fly control, metal identification discs for all patients, patients files… Through his efforts (and a more constructive use of his temper?), Bethune was helping to bring China’s medical care into the 20th Century.

5. The Chinese peasants, unfamiliar with blood transfusions, were reluctant to donate. Dr. Brown, before having to leave, participated in a demonstration. Bethune lay beside the operating table with Brown conducting a direct transfusion from Bethune to the patient. This was not the only time he gave his own blood. Such generosity, and from a foreigner, deeply touched those who witnessed it.

Bethune Treating a Civilian Boy

Notice how emaciated Bethune has become. Here he’s treating a civilian.

6. When Brown was recalled to other duties, Bethune remained the lone Westerner in a vast frontier area. The magnitude of his situation initially exhilarated him. He wrote: This is the centre of the Partisans…We are completely surrounded by the Japs, north, east, west and south. They hold all the towns on the railways but we still retain the enclosed country. In this great area of 13,000,000 people and with 150,000 armed troops I am the only qualified doctor!…I am cleaning up the base hospital of 350 wounded and

[with Brown before he left] have done 110 operations in 25 days. 

As enthused as he may have felt, he also knew he desperately needed more trained medical personnel and additional supplies. He later wrote, I am alone and need help. The China Aid Counsel and other organizations outside of China had pledged aid. Bethune received no response to his many letters of appeal, a grievous source of frustration. But then, with his unit’s being surrounded by the enemy, who knows what correspondence or supplies could actually get through? Bethune found support from a Christian missionary, Kathleen Hall, from New Zealand. She helped smuggle supplies to him until the risk became too great. (Bethune would eventually have to perform surgeries with no anaesthetics.)

7. Despite the exhaustion and overall intense hardship, Bethune wrote: I don’t mind the conventional hardships–heat, bitter cold, dirt, lice, unvaried familiar food…I can get along well and operate as well in a dirty Buddhist temple, with a 20-foot statue of the impassive faced god staring over my shoulder as in a modern operating room with running water, nice green glazed walls, electric lamps and a thousand other accessories.

Did Bethune provide evidence that “A man can bear any ‘how’ if he has a big enough ‘why’ “ (Friedrich Nietszche)? About travel : Last month alone, we travelled 1198 li (400 miles) in the mountains of west Hopei [now Hubei] and onto the plains of Mid-Hopei….The mountains are very fine but the travelling is arduous…along the beds of the swift mountain rivers, then up and over a mountain pass of several thousand feet into another valley and so on. We walk most of the way, although we have horses. Walking is faster. It is very hard on our feet as we wear nothing but cotton slippers. They only last a few days…We average 75 li (25 miles) a day. 

Bethune Training Peasant Soldiers to be Doctors

Bethune trained peasants and young workers to be doctors. (Note the lack of protective surgical gloves. He had none.)

8.  Bethune abhorred incompetency. Especially during his first several months in China, he treated his patients with tenderness and his “incompetent” Chinese assistants with hot temper. Which was he, one could ask, compassionate or rageful? A hero or a villain? It seems he flipped back and forth depending not only on who he was dealing with, but also on how much alcohol he’d consumed and how little sleep he’d had. How close the shrapnel was flying didn’t seem to bother him so much, though it must have had its effect.

Always the practical idealist, Bethune wanted to address the “incompetence” issue. He knew it to be based on ignorance–a lack of education and role modelling. With this in mind, he set about to empower the Chinese to be medically self-sufficient. This meant teaching them. The work I am trying to do is to take peasant boys and young workers and…make doctors and nurses out of them. He offered hands-on training and wrote and illustrated medical texts. (His one interpreter did the translation.) Bethune designed and then worked with villagers and soldiers on the construction of a training hospital. The Japanese’ destroying the hospital two weeks after its completion did not deter Bethune in his intention.

He continued to teach, go on hospital inspection tours, write and operate, sometimes around the clock. In a report on July 1, 1939, he wrote: The month of April was our busiest month at the battle of Chi Huei…Our casualties were 280. Our unit was situated 7 li from the firing line and operated on 115 cases in 69 hours’ continuous work. In the same report he noted a different occasion wherein he operated at night in a dirty Buddhist temple by the light of candles and flashlights. The stress of his workload could either make or break a man. In Bethune’s case, it did both.  

For some rare footage of Dr. Bethune that gives a real sense of the traumatic conditions under which he laboured in China, this little video is excellent. (For those of you who do not know, Adrienne Clarkson was the 26th Governor General of Canada, the first Asian Canadian and only the second woman to hold this highly prestigious position.)

Adrienne Clarkson on Norman Bethune, clip from Extraordinary Canadians

How China Changed Bethune

Waiting for Dr. Bethune

Waiting for Dr. Bethune

I believe China changed Norman Bethune. In January 1938, he arrived a fiercely independent, self-absorbed and angry physician. He felt driven to do as much good as possible as fast as possible. His contentious nature dictated that he was to resist others and perceived limits were to be defied. Bethune remained driven to do good, but his manner softened when he realized others were not against him. Conversely, they were open to his leadership and truly valued what he had to offer.

On his birthday, March 4, 1939, he wrote: They are very eager to learn and to improve themselves and are constantly asking for criticisms of their work. So that although I am often irritable at their ineptitude and ignorance, their lack of order, their carelessness, yet their simplicity and eagerness to learn combined with their true spirit of comradeship and unselfishness, disarms me in the end.

In one letter home he wrote,  All is well. I did 8 operations today and two blood transfusions. I am tired but enormously content. In another he wrote, It is true I am tired but I don’t think I have been so happy for a long time. I am content. I am doing what I want to do…I am needed.

Towards the end of his life in November 1939, the fateful (as in inevitable) circumstances of war had worn down Bethune’s ego. Relentless stress, physical privation, having no one to talk to (he spoke no Chinese), homesickness and little contact from the outside world all played their part.

The Chinese people, however, and without even trying, did the most to crack Bethune’s defenses and soften his heart. They did this by enduring his temper without complaint and respecting him without reservation. Bethune, 白求恩 Báiqiú’ēn, had become their teacher, their mentor, their friend. They taught him to accept himself. In response to their love, he found himself loving them in return. How could he not? Love was the saving grace. Spirit’s greatest force of all, love, helped transform Norman Bethune in China.


How Dr. Norman Bethune found time to write as copiously as he did astonishes me: lengthy reports, essays, short stories, letters, articles. All were infused with his unique vitality, and all were descriptive and engaging. Perhaps writing for the outside world helped him feel a much-needed connection with home.

Bethune, a prolific writer, even during war

Bethune, a prolific writer, even during war, China 1938-1939

I cannot near completion of this blog post without sharing what I consider Bethune’s most powerful piece. “Wounds” stands out for its stark eloquence and compassion. In it Bethune expresses his outrage against the insidious motivation behind war – money, what he calls ”blood money.” Below the photo are some passages from the first half, which reveal the heart of this humanitarian physician.


The kerosene lamp overhead makes a steady buzzing sound like an incandescent hive of bees. Mud walls. Mud floor. Mud bed. White paper windows. Smell of blood and chloroform. Cold. Three o’clock in the morning, Dec. 1, North China…with the 8th Route Army.

Men with wounds.

Wounds like little dried pools, caked with brown earth; wounds with torn edges frilled with black gangrene; neat wounds, concealing beneath the abscess in their depths, burrowing into and around the great firm muscles like a dammed-back river, running around and between the muscles like a hot stream…

Old filthy bandages stuck to the skin with blood glue. Careful. Better moisten first. Through the thigh. Pick the leg up. Why it’s like a bag, a long loose, red stocking…Where’s that fine strong rod of bone now? In a dozen pieces. Pick them out with your fingers; white as dog’s teeth, sharp and jagged…

Next. What an infant! Seventeen. Shot through the belly…

And this one. Will he run along the road beside his mule at another harvest, with cries of pleasure and happiness? No, that one will never run again. How can you run with one leg? What will he do?…Don’t pity him! Pity would diminish his sacrifice. He did this for the defence of China. Help him. Lift him off the table. Carry him in your arms. Why, he’s as light as a child! Yes, your child, my child…

Any more? Four Japanese prisoners. Bring them in. In this community of pain, there are no enemies…Lay them beside the others. Why, they’re alike as brothers! Are these soldiers professional man-killers? No, these are amateurs-in-arms…

What is the cause of this cruelty, this stupidity?…Who is responsible…?

Death and Legacy

Bethune gave of himself completely in China. He suffered the harsh consequences of war, and lost his life while trying to save others’. During an operation, his scalpel slipped and accidentally cut his finger. In a

General Nie Rongzhen paying his respects after Bethune's death

General Nie Rongzhen paying his respects

subsequent operation, pus from a weeping wound entered the cut. Without protective gloves (he had none) and with marathon hours of performing surgery, this type of occurrence was almost inevitable. He’d healed from cuts before but with a compromised immune system, his body could not fight the infection. He refused amputation of his finger and then his arm, which might have saved his life. He died at 5:20 a.m., Sunday, November 12, 1939, with Chinese friends around him. The cause of death was septicaemia, blood poisoning. If he could, I’m sure he’d have wanted to hear people say, Don’t pity him! Pity would diminish his sacrifice.

After Bethune’s death, friends found his almost indecipherable last message, which included the lines: The last two years have been the most significant, the most meaningful years of my life. Sometimes it has been lonely but I have found my highest fulfillment here among my beloved comrades.

China had changed Bethune, and he changed China. By believing in the Chinese people, he helped them to believe in themselves, perhaps the greatest gift he gave. He will never be forgotten. From Mao’s In Memory of Norman Bethune, December 21, 1939:

All Dr. Bethune's worldly possessions on display after his death

Dr. Norman Bethune’s worldly possessions on display after his death

“Norman Bethune… made light of travelling thousands of miles to help us in our War of Resistance Against Japan. He arrived in … the spring of last year, went to work in the Wutai Mountains, and to our great sorrow died a martyr at his post. What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own?

Comrade Bethune and I met only once. Afterwards he wrote me many letters. But I was busy, and I wrote him only one letter and do not even know if he ever received it. I am deeply grieved over his death. Now we are all commemorating him, which shows how profoundly his spirit inspires everyone. We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him. With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people. A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.”

Today there are dozens of medical facilities throughout China that bear his name. Dr. Bethune is #1 on the list of the “Top Ten International Friends of China, for the progress of a new China,” and the most prestigious medical award in the country is named for him. The Norman Bethune Medal, established in 1991, is “the highest medical honor in China, recognizing an individual’s outstanding contribution, heroic spirit and great humanitarianism in the medical field.”

In Canada a group of humanitarian doctors and other health care workers, who wish to keep Bethune’s legacy alive, have formed the Bethune Baiqiuen Canadian Alliance. In October I will be joining this group to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Bethune’s death. We start with a conference at the Bethune International Peace Hospital in Shijiazhuang, where I will be one of the speakers. (This hospital is famous for stem cell medicine.) We will then embark on a 2 week tour “Retracing the Footsteps of Bethune.”


Dr. Norman Henry Bethune spent much of his life in the grip of ego. Spirit would lead and his ego would manage to screw things up. In China, Bethune aligned with Spirit and found a purpose satisfying to his soul, one which utilized his unique talents to the max. He needed to be needed and he was. People in dire circumstance were eager to receive his gifts, and Bethune received from them the very gifts he needed: appreciation, respect and love. His clamouring ego was able to relax, allowing him an experience of happiness and peace.

Dr. Norman Bethune was, and still is, China’s Canadian hero. It is my hope that Canadians will learn about this man, forgive his faults and accept him for the humanitarian that he was, a man who embraced his fate and lived his Destiny.

Post Script

I wish to sincerely express my thanks to four of Bethune’s biographers, Roderick and Sharon Stewart, Larry Hannant and Adrienne Clarkson. They will undoubtedly see their influence in my writing on Bethune. For those wishing to learn more about Dr. Bethune, I recommend their books, the Stewarts’ Phoenix: The Life of Norman BethuneHannant’s The Politics of Passion: Norman Bethune’s Writing and Art and Clarkson’s Extraordinary Canadians: Norman Bethune.

Thank you for reading this, my deeply processed personal views on Norman Bethune. In the comments section below, if you will, please let me know what you will take away from reading this blog. Had you heard of Bethune before? What surprised/shocked/interested you? What are your views on fate and destiny? Do you agree with me that fate and the kindness of the Chinese helped Bethune to realize his Destiny? What’s the value of knowing who this man was? Plus anything else! In advance, thank you.

About the Author:

Ramona McKean is creating a "Bridge of Light" (aka “a Bridge of the Heart”) to promote cross-cultural appreciation and awareness. An author and speaker, she lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.


  1. Roderick Stewart August 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I have just read with great interest Ramona McKean’s examination of aspects of Norman Bethune and events in his career which shaped his development. Detailed in research and provocatively thoughtful in analysis it is a sound contribution to the study of the man and his career. Hearty congratulations!

    • Ramona August 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm - Reply

      Dear Mr. Stewart,
      Thank you for reading my views on Dr. Norman Bethune. With your arguably being the world’s leading expert on Bethune, I am truly honoured to receive your thoughtful acknowledgement.
      Ramona McKean

  2. Anna August 9, 2014 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    It’s interesting to hear how his evangelical parents created a son who would be passionate and driven to help the world in a way probably quite different from them, but also similar. Good for him for doing such intense work. No wonder he was so cranky. Reading this was a history lesson!

    • Ramona August 9, 2014 at 11:29 pm - Reply

      I agree with you, Anna, that Bethune was “quite different from his parents, but also similar.” No matter how much he rebelled against them and their religion, he was just as dogmatic, just as overbearing and just as intent on “saving the world.” You mentioned that reading this blog was a “history lesson.” I hope an engaging one! Thank you for your comments.

  3. Songhe Wang August 20, 2014 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    I was born in 1964. When I was at school, I learned Mao’s tribute to Baiqiuen by heart as other students. Even today I can still remember some lines, and the image of Baiqiuen has been alive in my mind and heart. However, Baiqiuen has lived in my heart as a hero, or a perfect person due to the information or education I got in those special days (the period of Cultural Revolution). At that time, when we talked about a hero, we meant a flawless person, like a god.

    Ramona’s blog on Baiqiuen with vivid details shows me a real hero, a hero combining self-absorbed ego and self-sacrifice-for-the-wounded spirit. I think I prefer the new image of Baiqiuen presented by Ramona to the old one as the new one is true to life.

    Her blog tells me everyone needs to be needed and everybody can grow, transform and flourish in others’ need, love and respect. Our destiny is determined by ourselves, but it is more determined by the people around us.

    • Ramona August 20, 2014 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Songhe, for taking the time to read my blog and respond. Yes, I can imagine the skewed perspective on Bethune you’d have been taught in school during the Cultural Revolution. Do you think his presentation as “flawless” was designed to encourage people to be self-sacrificing? Was it a good kind of “propaganda”?

      As I researched Bethune, I could well understand how he was pretty much ignored in Western countries, and I doubt I’d have liked him much. But that’s the Bethune whose lower, wounded self dominated. When I consider Bethune’s higher self, his courage and commitment to the well-being of others, I forgive him for everything. He epitomizes the true friend that Jesus spoke of –“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

      The flawed, very real human being who achieved heroic stature is distinct from his spirit, which still lives in people’s hearts. When I am in China, Bethune’s spirit is almost palpable to me. I recognize it in the deep respect people still feel for him. When Chinese people express their appreciation and respect, it’s like their hearts open and become tender. This in turn opens my heart to them. A beautiful experience that has not even one trace of ego.

      Thank you again, Songhe. I am so glad you wrote.

  4. L. L. Reynolds August 23, 2014 at 10:16 am - Reply

    The connection you feel to Norman Bethune is most definitely “palpable” and your compassion insight into his life is remarkable. You’ve caused me to stop and ponder fate and destiny. It’s complicated, isn’t it?

    • Ramona August 23, 2014 at 11:24 am - Reply

      Hi Lois,
      Yes, it is complicated! My life is a testament to everything I write about; in other words, I write from my own personal experience. Maybe not applicable to everyone, but maybe it is.

      In the two preceding blog posts to this one I start the development of my ideas. For instance, I see fate as not only hooked to ego, but also as similar to the inexorable law of gravity–heavy, hard to resist, like the path of least resistance. I didn’t write about it, but karma–the unfavourable kind– fits in too. Destiny I link to spirit or the law of aerodynamics. Consciousness, pro-activity and creativity are necessary to get airplanes and ourselves “airborne.” In terms of gravity (fate) and aerodynamics (Destiny), I am reminded of Galatians 5:16-18: “…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (If you are inspired to work toward fulfilling your Destiny, you will not be pulled down by fate.) I find all this “stuff” fascinating!

      Thank you for the “palpable” feedback and for writing.

      🙂 Ramona

  5. Frank Zeng August 24, 2014 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    I can still recite some sentences from Mao Zedong’s In Memory of Dr.Bethune now although it has been nearly 20 years since I learned it from my Chinese textbook in elementary school.

    However, my understanding of Dr. Bethune just stopped at the fact that a foreigner came to China from overseas far away to help us in Anti- Japanese War and died at his post and we should respect and learn from him. After reading your blog, I have a detailed understanding and a bigger picture about Dr. Bethune, his family, his personality, his pre China achievements and even some unknown facts about him in China. And Dr Bethune now stands in front of me, true to life, vivid and substantial. You let me know more about the Canadian Hero to Chinese and inspire me to follow his spirits to reach self escalation.

    I am also impressed by your distinction between fate and destiny, esp, metaphors you use “Gravity” to “Fate” and “Flight” to “Destiny”! Your creative definition of the terms makes it a sufficient and unique theory to interpret Dr. Bethune’s growth to spiritual maturity and fulfillment.

    As to fate and destiny, fate is inevitable and happens without arguing with you. Destiny is what a noble man creates with his own spirit. In Chinese culture, fate is necessary to success and self-fulfillment. Nobody can succeed without experiencing hardships, rises and falls. As Mencius, a Chinese famous thinker in Warring States period said,

    “So if Heaven would give an important task to a certain person, the first thing is to temper the person’s will power, fatigue his muscles and bones, starve his stomach and deprive his body. God would make it impossible for him to succeed in anything in order to jolt his heart awake, and make his temperament persistent and dauntless, thus greatly improving his ability to do things that he was not capable of doing before."

    We think fate and destiny go hand in hand to some sense. Facing adversities, one needs a strong faith or belief, a big “why” to guide and to find opportunities from crisis.

    Thank you, Ramona. You let us to rediscover Norman Bethune in contemporary times and I have no doubt that Norman Bethune has shaped our friendship between China and Canada in the past and will continue to serve as a bridge to promote mutual understanding between us people.

    Wish you a good trip to China next month!

    • Ramona August 24, 2014 at 10:45 pm - Reply

      Dear Frank,
      Thank you for such a thoughtful response and for the wonderful quote from Mencius. It fits Norman Bethune in every way: his will was “tempered”; his body was exhausted, starved and generally depleted; and his pre-China “failures” were necessary to fully awaken his heart to the huge difference he wanted to make with the rest of his life. All this empowered him in personally unprecedented ways; his accomplishments were legendary. A perfect quote, indeed!

      I’m glad I’ve been able to help you better understand Bethune as a heroic, very human individual with strengths, yes, but also with many weaknesses. His “real” example can inspire many of us to let our lights shine, no matter how many personal problems we possess.

      Thank you also, Frank, for commenting on my views on fate and destiny. I like what you wrote: “Destiny is what a noble man creates with his own spirit.” Beautifully expressed. Destiny does involve aligning with our noble spirits. The world needs more and more of us to do that. How wonderful we have people like Norman Bethune to show us what is possible.

      As regards my trip to China next month, I have a feeling it will prove remarkable. I’m starting off by flying to Nanchang, where I’ll be picked up at the airport by the young man who was in the car accident with me. I’ve not seen him or his family since that time, 9 1/2 years ago. Seeing them and revisiting the scene of the accident will be emotional. I feel as though I’ll be standing on a precipice. Completion of the past will give me wings powerful enough to achieve whatever I set my heart on–my own Destiny in the works. I am nervous but also excited. From Nanchang I’ll go to Harbin to visit friends before making my way to Shijiazhuang to meet up with the Bethune Baiqiuen Canadian Alliance–the group of humanitarian doctors I’ll be travelling with. I look forward to sharing my experiences in the months to come.

      Take care, Frank, and thank you again for responding to my blog posts on Bethune.

      Ramona, aka Lín Míng Xīn, 林明心

  6. Donna Janke August 25, 2014 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    I’ve heard of Norman Bethune, but didn’t know much about him before reading your post. He doesn’t sound very likeable, but maybe without his great ego he wouldn’t have persisted and continued his work under the difficult circumstances.

    • Ramona August 25, 2014 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      Hi Donna,
      He wasn’t particularly like-able; at least that is what I figure. I think you make a good point. A huge amount of ego drive likely helped him persist. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Jeri August 25, 2014 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    I had not heard of Bethune before, but I love to read biographies and memoirs as every life has something of worth to teach each and every one of us. Since this is my first visit here, let me add how great it is to see such an in-depth post.

    • Ramona August 25, 2014 at 9:19 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Jeri, for taking the time to read and comment on part I of my Bethune blog.

  8. Jacqueline Gum September 1, 2014 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    After reading the first post, I have been waiting for this and I must say that it did not disappoint. How interesting to note that he wasn’t remotely interested in being popular and I loved the contrary terms…a practical idealist. I am enjoying getting to know Bethune…I thank you again for bringing him to my attention.

    • Ramona September 1, 2014 at 3:34 pm - Reply

      Jacqueline, you are most welcome and it is truly my pleasure. Strange comparison but last night I saw Angelina Jolie in “Maleficent.” (She was magnificent, btw. Fascinating points made here about the female “villain” viewers want to see succeed: http://www.vox.com/2014/8/28/6078279/angelina-jolie-maleficent-summer-blockbuster )

      Without giving the story away, I’ll mention there’s an important, thought-provoking comment made about villains and heroes that had me think of Dr. Bethune. While he lived and after he died (even now), there are people who cast Bethune as villain. They lump him in with atrocities Mao committed many years after Bethune died.

      And I think you’re right about Bethune’s lack of interest in popularity. (Publicity for the cause is all that mattered.) Strange considering his extreme egotism. Contrary and contradictory he certainly was. Thank you for your response.

  9. Maxwell Ivey September 2, 2014 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Hi Ramona; Thanks so much for sharing this post. Its obvious that he was changed by china just as much as china was changed by him. it shows what can happen when you abandon the negative aspects of ego and tap into the spirit. I love that quote of nietszche. it speaks to having a passion and following it. It also meets with something my dad used to say. when people would ask us how we managed to get something loaded or fix one of the trucks by ourselves. they would ask how we were able to keep going to get the last of the carnival rides to the next town. he would say we didn’t have a choice. I don’t think the good doctor could literally do anything else other than what he did. i applaud your plans to celebrate his life with the conference. and I hope you will post a video of your presentation there. take care my friend, max

    • Ramona September 2, 2014 at 1:31 pm - Reply

      Max, I agree with what you wrote: “I don’t think the good doctor could literally do anything else other than what he did.” He sets his sights on giving his everything to China, no matter what. It really was like a force beyond himself was in the driver’s seat, and that was fine by him. You take care too, Max.

  10. andleeb September 2, 2014 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Dr. Norman Henry Bethune , such a great man, that are very rare now. Who are filled with determination of help keeping aside their comforts and lives.
    I was feeling very sad when I was reading this post about him. I was happy the way he helped many and felt sad for him as he was alone and could not share what he thought because of language. The way he died serving people. He faced all ups and down but he remained determined and finally won the hearts of people.
    His devotion , spirit was simply exceptional and indicate his greatness.. #Respect for such a great man.
    Thanks a lot for such a nice share, I am really impressed and will read more about him.

    • Ramona September 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      Drive, determination and devotion characterize Bethune’s life in China. That you want to read more about him pleases me. Thank you for being so responsive to my blog post.

  11. Susan Cooper September 2, 2014 at 10:15 am - Reply

    What a powerful story of an amazing man. As I’ve said before, I had not heard of Bethune before you chose to write about him. It was interesting to find that he wasn’t the least bit interested in notoriety. He truly was a practical idealist. Again his is a fascinating story. 🙂

    • Ramona September 2, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

      Hi Susan,
      Bethune’s devil-may-care attitude before going to China generated a degree of notoriety which didn’t seem to faze him much, if at all. A turning point in this attitude, I think, came as a result of his experience of personal defeat in Spain. From then on, he used his ego far more in the service of higher purpose. In China he still had his big personal issues, no doubt. But China afforded him the opportunity to do what he yearned to do: use every single one of his talents to the maximum. My goodness, he even married his artistic ability with his strong pragmatic sense and became an architect of a hospital! I agree, this amazing man’s life tells a fascinating and powerful story.
      I appreciate your views.

  12. Lenie September 2, 2014 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    As a Canadian who reads a lot, I have heard of Dr. Norman Bethune and always had a great deal of respect for him. However, Ramona, you did an amazing job of filling in the many blanks. Your indepth research is obvious, and your ability to write a really long post which keeps our interest right to the end speaks for itself. A wonderful description of a remarkable man.

    • Ramona September 2, 2014 at 3:34 pm - Reply

      What a wonderful, affirmative message, Lenie! Thank you so much.

  13. Beth Niebuhr September 3, 2014 at 2:26 am - Reply

    So interesting: your consideration of ego and spirit. The wound descriptions and the questioning of why they happened were moving. A very complex man. I can’t imagine having to try to get people to donate blood. Good luck on your return journey.

    • Ramona September 3, 2014 at 4:15 pm - Reply

      Indeed Bethune was complex. His contradictory nature drove people crazy. I’m sure he was a victim of wounds inflicted, perhaps unconsciously, by his parents. When he was inebriated he apparently poured out his troubles and not in the most coherent way. Both Jean Ewen and Dr. Richard Brown, as much as they acknowledged his enormous gifts and generosity, found him extremely difficult to be around. And, thank you for the good wishes, Beth. 🙂

  14. Mina Joshi September 3, 2014 at 4:13 am - Reply

    I loved reading this Part 2 about Norman Bethune. I had not heard of him but I do admire him for what he did as a doctor in China. Good luck with your trip to China.

  15. Ken Dowell September 3, 2014 at 6:46 am - Reply

    This is a really interesting story about someone I had no knowledge of. It seems that many people who perform heroic deeds or accomplish great things are individuals who were probably hard to be around. Suspect Bethune fits that description.

    • Ramona September 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      Bethune fits the description, Ken. Thanks for your observation. 🙂

  16. Welli September 4, 2014 at 2:11 am - Reply

    What a great wrap up to the story of Dr Bethune Ramona. I did not know Dr Bethune but he sure reminds me of my grandfather who passed away a month ago and I did a short blog on him you may read here http://lessonzlearnt.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-legacy-grandpa-left.html.

    Ego and spirit, wow, you break down these matters so articulately and I believe everyone reading can identify with their own ego and spirit issues and how they impact on their life journey. I reflected on mine as I read and realized that these two usually do not pull together but contrast, well for me and Dr Bethune at least. And the “Wounds” piece I could see each wound as he described it. Took me to my childhood years growing up in rural areas where these wounds were a part of daily life due to the rough play we did and the lack of home first aid kits and proper wound care. I may identify with very tiny bits of this man, but not at the level that he immersed himself into.

    • Ramona September 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm - Reply

      Welli, I have just read your blog on your grandfather. What a remarkable man who touched the lives of many in such a good way. May the knowledge of others’ high esteem and gratitude help comfort you in your grieving.

      Thank you for letting me know that my views on ego and spirit resonated and that you could identify. Your feedback is encouraging. I too find Bethune’s “Wounds” so potent that I can visualize what he writes about. Thank goodness that you do not identify with Bethune “at the level that he immersed himself.” Your childhood sounds rough enough as it was. You take care and keep writing your amazing blogs.

  17. Tim September 4, 2014 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    The amount of research you put into this Ramona is quite impressive. There must be so many people around the world who are dedicated to saving lives yet are not remembered in the way they deserve. It is also important to the story that this was not his motivator, nor was money. nor was fame. Merely a burning desire to be needed which in turn has its own double edge. You manage to describe these components of his personality well and it is these that can be related to many great figures in history. Great story on the life and death of Dr. Bethune.

    • Ramona September 5, 2014 at 1:39 pm - Reply

      I appreciate your comments, Tim. If not for Mao, Bethune’s accomplishments would have lived only a short time in the lives of those he touched. There were 100’s of foreign unsung heroes just in China alone. For example, missionaries (from Canada, USA, England, Australia, New Zealand, India and other countries) were responsible for building many orphanages, hospitals, schools and universities. They too were not motivated by money, fame, or any other ego trapping. Sadly, these foreign humanitarians were not only unacknowledged, they were also downright vilified, attacked and expelled with the rise of communism.

      I hope the injustice of this is turned around over the course of time, largely due to the research and writing efforts of foreigners. I think the Chinese people need to know the truth behind the lies they were fed about these unsung great people who contributed so much to the welfare of their country.

      • Tim September 6, 2014 at 11:09 am - Reply

        I look forward to the articles you write in the future.

        • Ramona September 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm - Reply

          Thank you, Tim. 🙂 Perhaps not any for a couple of months as I am busy re-publishing my book and preparing a 20-minute speech partly in Mandarin, all before leaving for China in three weeks. (Gulp!) I don’t know a lot of Mandarin so must elicit help from very kind friends. The speech will be based on my Bethune blogs and my audience will be Chinese doctors. I feel daunted. The heavens must be smiling though, as it’s all good.

          I’ll be going on a tour to “retrace the footsteps of Bethune.” I believe we’ll be venturing into villages in the Wutai Shan (Wutai Mountains) of Shanxi province, where guerrilla warfare was waged many years ago. I’m sure to have lots of photos and stories to share after I return in November. It will truly be my pleasure to share! I very much enjoy your blogs on world travel http://flattiresandslowboats.com/ and appreciate your responsiveness to my blogs on China.

  18. James Chen October 12, 2014 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Dr. Norman Bethune is a great doctor to Chinese people, I think he is also a great doctor to Canadian people. Chinese people never forget Dr. Bethune. If some day I take a trip to Ontario, I will visit Dr. Bethune ‘s Birth House and museum. I learn the news from Xinhuanet of China that a group of Canadian doctors and nursers visit the hospital established by Dr. Bethune and Chinese in 1930 times, and do good things with Chinese doctors and nursers together for the local people along the road Dr. Bethune used to work and fight in the Northern China area. Dr. Norman Bethune lives in my heart forever. I wish you have good trip in China.

    • Ramona November 10, 2014 at 11:52 pm - Reply

      Dear James,
      Thank you for your warm message. I returned from 5 1/2 weeks in China just a few days ago. Travelling with the Canadian doctors and nurses and assisting them at free medical clinics conducted in villages was truly a wonderful experience! A team of Chinese doctors and nurses from the Bethune International Peace Hospital in Shijiazhuang accompanied us for a good part of the time. Villagers felt honoured, grateful and well-cared for, which pleased us very much.

      We could indeed see how highly the Chinese still regard Dr. Bethune. He lives in the hearts of millions of people and for that I am glad. Our team felt grateful to be able to follow in Dr. Bethune’s footsteps this 75th anniversary since his death on November 12, 1939. (Almost exactly 75 years ago!)

      In addition to offering free medical clinics, our group enjoyed seeing many wonderful sites in China. The Taihang Shan (Taihang Mountains) of Shanxi province were spectacular and beautiful! (If you have not been to Huangyadong in the Licheng area of Shanxi province, I highly recommend a visit.) We travelled in four provinces–Hebei, Shanxi, Hubei and Jiangsu. I myself travelled in seven provinces–those four plus Jiangxi, Heilongjiang and Shaanxi. All wonderful!

      What part of China do you live in, James? Maybe we can meet the next time I am in your country. Thanks again for your comment and I hope you visit my website again. 🙂

      Ramona (林明心)

      • Muxin Wang December 18, 2014 at 8:20 am - Reply

        Hi, I’m a international student from China and I’m doing a image essay about Norman Bethune, your review is very help for my project, and I’m looking for the photographer of the pictures.

        • Ramona December 18, 2014 at 4:51 pm - Reply

          Ni Hao, Muxin Wang,

          I am glad that my blog has been helpful for your assignment. An image essay sounds wonderful. As for the individual photographers, I mostly don’t know.

          Many photos are in what is called the “Public Domain in Canada” likely because the copyright expired more than 50 years ago. This means that there is no copyright infringement if someone wants to use the photos.

          Some photos came from Canadian Archives: the “CBC Digital Archives” or “Library and Archives Canada, Famous Canadian Physicians”

          In China Bethune was sometimes photographed by Sha Fei. He would be an interesting person to do an internet search on.

          Where in China are you from and where are you studying now? All the best to you.


  19. Chen September 3, 2015 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    I roamed into this blog just by chance. Very interesting article. Let me learn some “dark” sides of a hero, and actually respect Dr. Bethune even more as a real human being.

    In the end I guess only one thing does matter. In a very difficult time, Dr. Bethune came and helped, saved lots of lives, and sacrificed himself. That’s why we Chinese still love and respect him, regardless all the upside down changes in China in last decades, or political bs, or whatever.

    Thanks for having an interesting reading experience.

    • Ramona September 3, 2015 at 3:53 pm - Reply

      Dear Chen,
      I really appreciate your response. Many Chinese people have expressed that same feeling of greater respect. To realize Bethune was actually a human being with weaknesses is more inspiring than the godlike status foisted upon him. Regardless of everything, Bethune did do GOOD things for China. For that I am grateful.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, Chen.

  20. Nino September 7, 2015 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    And importantly!Due largely to Bethune,Chinese people generally have a good impression of Canada. Maybe Canada is the one and only Western capitalistic country that Chinese governmental leaders or school textbooks rarely criticize/ bad-mouth.

    • Ramona September 7, 2015 at 9:49 pm - Reply

      As a Canadian, I know what you say is true. I generally feel tremendous warmth from Chinese people, in China and everywhere else. In China, Canada gets a thumbs up. One time while I was travelling by train from Xiamen to Jingdezhen, I happened to share a compartment with three men. I knew enough Mandarin to say “wo shi Jiandaren” [“I’m a Canadian,” for non-Chinese readers]. Their response moved me so much I almost cried. They looked at me solemnly, bowed their heads, then said “Bai Qiu’en” [Bethune]. Because of Dr. Bethune, I was deemed a person deserving of great respect. Thank you for sharing this, Nino.

  21. John September 16, 2015 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    I didn’t realize how much there was to this guy and how interesting he was. I have enjoyed reading through your blog posts here about him. I have a new view and appreciation for Dr. Norman Bethune.

    • Ramona September 16, 2015 at 9:03 pm - Reply

      I am so glad that you gained a new appreciation for Dr. Norman Bethune. For all his shortcomings, his accomplishments were extraordinary. Truly he was a remarkable man.

      Thank you, John, for taking the time to read my blogs. It means a lot to me.

  22. David Zakus December 6, 2015 at 4:04 am - Reply

    Thanks very much Ramona for such an interesting and wonderful perspective on a great Canadian. He is one of my heroes for sure. I was just researching for a book chapter about Canada China relations in health (I’ve done and continue to do lots of work in China), and of course it’d be incomplete without mention of Dr. Bethune and his great valour, energy, inspiration and gift to us all. I wish you well, from the lobby of my hotel in Niamey, Niger, where I am for some days for other research. All best, david

    • Ramona December 6, 2015 at 10:06 pm - Reply

      Hi David,
      I’m glad you came across my blog on Dr. Bethune. I’m also glad that you found it useful! Dr. Bethune isn’t the only one to make a big difference in the world. Do you remember Dr. Bob McClure? McClure: The China Years is a most inspiring read. It sounds to me like you’re doing your share to make a difference too. 🙂

      So, you are in Niger? My first trip ever to the vast continent of Africa is fast approaching. In mid-January, I’m heading to Tanzania to work in a Maasai village. Before returning to Canada close to a month later, I’ll be sure to go on a wild-life safari. I’ll also visit Zanzibar. Should be most interesting.

      Thank you for writing, David. Best to you as well, Ramona

  23. Shania January 14, 2016 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Hi, thank you so much on this passage. It really helped a lot. I’m in 7th grade and I want to do him for the Heritage Fair because of ur passage. I would like to ask u if u think that doing him for the Canadian heritage fair is a good topic or not. Thanks, shania

    • Ramona January 14, 2016 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Shania,
      I’m glad my blog helped you. What city is your Heritage Fair in? I think that your providing information on Dr. Bethune is an excellent idea! The more people who know about him, the better, is my view. Thank you for taking this on and I wish you the best of luck!

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