Doctor Robert Lim and the Chinese Red Cross

Submitted by David on Mon, 08/22/2016 - 16:08

Thanks to Elizabeth Ride for sharing this speech given by her father, Sir Lindsay Ride. She writes: "My father was on the HK Red Cross committee before the war, and spent time during his leave in Australia in 1940 raising funds for this organisation.  He gave the speech below at that time."


(Dr. Robert Lim, M.B., D.Sc., F.R.S.E)

    China is a vast country extending from the tropics in the south almost to the arctic  circle in the north and from the shores of the China Sea in the east to the towering Tibetan highlands in the west;   its population is estimated at over 400 millions, and in view of the fact that in China all climates abound, the natural features of the country divide up the people into groups so markedly as to constitute almost separate races.   For centuries these races had been bound under one head, but with the revolution came the disruption of China into a number of more or less independent provinces controlled by war lords.

    Its population is for the most part illiterate and the task of rebuilding an united nation out of this chaotic legacy, a nation capable of holding its own amongst the savage races of modern civilization, is the superhuman task Chiang Kai Shek has set himself, and the success that is assuredly his will place him amongst the truly great men of all time.   Writers with more knowledge than I possess of the personalities and factors involved, will no  doubt apportion the praise variously between Chiang and his helpers, but none will be able to wrest from him the glory of being the imperturbable and unfathomable fount of energy and inspiration that has made an united China not only a possibility but a reality.   Many of his helpers are undoubtedly great men, but it must not be forgotten that it needs a great man to lead great men.   Nevertheless, however much of the credit must go to their leaders, it is an interesting paradox that much of the stimulus that lead to the astounding unification of the Chinese, came from the threat from without;   would that other national leaders could act upon this simple trait of human psychology!

    I do not propose now to deal with the huge subject of China’s national effort as a whole, but in order to give you some idea of the type of worker the Generalissimo’s personality has enlisted for the saving of their country, I intend to refer to one aspect of the effort only, namely that of the Medical Relief Corps.

    Most Australians are familiar with the thrilling story of Flynn in his almost fiction-like fight for the needy of Australia’s Inland.   In fact Flynn’s work is an epic that is rapidly becoming known and deserves to be sung the world over, and merit’s the recognition of being ranked along with that of Grenfell of Labrador and Livingston of Africa.   When the history of this present struggle of the world against universal aggression comes to be written, these immortals will be joined by yet a fourth, for China too has a medical hero in Lim of Free China.   Like Livingston and Grenfell, he is a doctor, and like Flynn his life is devoted to the needs of his fellow-countrymen, and like them all he is an indefatigable worker, a far-seeing visionary and an inspiring organiser who seems to thrive on difficulties.

    Robert Lim was born in British Malaya, educated in Scotland and completed his medical course in the Edinburgh University.   During the last war he served for over two years in France with the Royal Army Medical corps, and then returned to Edinburgh for post-graduate work.   He afterwards went out to the Peking Union Medical College where as Professor of Physiology, he built up a department famed throughout the Far East for its teaching and throughout the world for its research.   His academic field was not bounded however by the four walls of his own beautiful college, for it was mainly through his hard work that a system was evolved whereby the medical education in the rapidly developing universities throughout China was standardised and standardised on a very high level.   In the course of time an ever increasing number of men taking charge of these institutions were Lim’s men.

    During the earlier Japanese campaign in China, Lim helped to organise the Chinese Red Cross, and there learned to accommodate his extensive experience gained in France with the unique conditions and requirements of China.   It was there that he most probably formulated the plans which the so-called ‘China Incident’ has given him the opportunity to put into practice.   Immediately after the outbreak of the present Sino-Japanese war, Lim slipped away from Peking and was soon established behind the Chinese lines, the peace-time scientist and teacher becoming the capable organiser and inspiring war-time leader.   In order to view in its true perspective the real magnitude and importance of Lim’s achievements one must realise not only that China was dismally unprepared, both politically and militarily, to withstand the invasion which befell her, but that her civilian and army medical services were only in the embryo stage of development, and by no means fit for the terrible strain that Japan’s unprovoked assault imposed upon them.   A National Health Administration had been set up by the Chinese Government before the war started, but its function was mainly to fight epidemics, to spread the elements of hygiene amongst the people and to improve standards of sanitation;   the war brought the additional problem of millions of refugees and the National Relief Commission was set up to succour, feed, house and rehabilitate this immense crowd of innocent sufferers;   the medical care of these millions, almost all of them suffering from malnutrition of a type unbelievable in this country of plenty and to an extent that made it impossible for them to stand the extra strain of war, the medical care of the war wounded and sick, be they regular soldiers, guerrillas or peasants, the medial care of the thousands of civilians bombed in defenceless villages and towns throughout Free China, all this tremendous work falls to the lot of the Chinese Red Cross.   The whole of the field work involved in this stupendous task is done through the Medical Relief Corps of the Red Cross, and the brain, the driving force and the inspiration of this huge organisation is its Director, Dr. Robert Lim, and all he had to start with was just a mere handful of his own students and graduates, imbued with his own infectious zeal and the worthy desire to be of service to their own needy fellow-countrymen.

    In countries where public health is highly organised on modern lines it is very hard to appreciate the conditions in a country where such work is just in its infancy and where the population as a whole is not yet educated up to realising the factors responsible for epidemics.   Add to these primitive conditions the disorganisation caused by an influx of hundreds of thousands of starving and weakened refugees, and one can gain some small idea of the horrors that arise as a consequence of the activities in China.   A D.B.S. service (Delousing-Bathing-Scabies) has been hastily but efficiently organised to combat typhus and relapsing fevers and scabies.   By now more than 130 of these will have been established, and those that were operating during the first six months of 1939 did their work so well that only 37 cases were reported;   considering the facilities for diagnosis and the conditions of service this is a wonderful achievement, although it is certain that the actual number of cases must have been higher due to the fact that many of the sufferers must have been too ill to negotiate the combatant and roadless zones to reach medical aid.   Malaria has spread to such an alarming extent that the lack of supplies necessary for its prevention and treatment makes the control of this scourge one of the greatest problems facing China.   With the advent of summer, measures against cholera loom large in the anti-epidemic programme;   during the 1939 season nearly half a million individuals were inoculated by the Red Cross and over two million doses of vaccine were distributed to other organisations;   the dysentery diseases form a group second in importance only to malaria, and all of them are aided and abetted by malnutrition which is almost universal amongst soldiers and peasants alike;   is this any wonder when the ration of the soldier is based on an allowance of about one penny per day, and so, lest efforts in other directions should be of no avail, a Red Cross Social Diet Service had to be instituted whereby the allowance might be raised to nearly two pence!

    But Lim’s work did not stop here;   with characteristic foresight he realised that the demands on his organisation would be ever increasing while the war lasted, and also for some time afterwards;   he knew only too well that the peculiar conditions prevailing in China - the lack of transport, the almost complete absence of instruments, appliances and medicines usually found in all modern hospitals and aid stations, together with the universal prevalence of malnutrition and epidemics - made it essential that his helpers should have additional and special training to fit them for their unusual tasks;   and so, at his already over-worked headquarters he founded a Training School where doctors, assistants and orderlies might be given intensive instruction under rigid war-time conditions and discipline.   The objectives of the training as laid down are ‘to familiarise qualified personnel with the requirements and methods of war service, to improve the technical knowledge of those already in service, and to provide additional personnel for the Army Medical Service, Civil Health Service and Red Cross Medical Relief Corps’.   Each course lasts for two months, and in its first six months, June 1938 to January 1939, this school trained 1432 Red Cross workers, of whom over 1000 were distributed to the Red Cross and the rest to the Army Medical Corps and to the Health Administration of China.   And as though this were not enough to tax any ordinary person’s administrative powers, the fortunes of war made it necessary to shift this school no less than three times.   But now, since March 1939, it has been established (and finally we hope) near Kweiyang in Kweichow province, and there it continues to perform its wonderful work for some of the most needy and pitiful of all humanity.

    But that is not all;   Lim remembered the accumulation of deformities and disabilities in Europe after the last war and the consequent problems that they presented, and he knew how much bodily damage and suffering could be prevented by early and efficient treatment, and by this means how many a severely disabled soldier  may be saved from a living death and transformed into a useful citizen.   He needed an Orthopaedic Hospital attached to his training school and he needed it at once , for both his patients and his trainees.   For neither the civilian nor for the soldier victim of aggression in China is there any gratuity or pension, and it becomes more than ever imperative that some steps should be taken to enable the thousands of disabled and crippled to learn some trade with the limbs left to them, or to be provided with some suitable appliance whereby they may earn the small pittance necessary to keep themselves and their dependents alive.   How reminiscent this if of Flynn’s far-seeing demands for Inland hospitals and flying doctors!   Lim’s perseverance, like Flynn’s, was in the end rewarded, for he got his Orthopaedic Hospital.   He established it with 300 beds but was only able to put 50 of these into commission.   The treatment of patients in a hospital such as this is a long one, and in order that the beds in the hospital should be occupied by those who are actually undergoing active treatment, it was further decided to establish a Disabled Soldiers’ Hostel to accommodate those who were waiting for operative treatment or manipulations or who were waiting for the fitting of appliances, and thus make the hospital bed space available for the more urgent cases;   this hostel accommodates a further 300 cases and thus their earlier treatment in the hospital is not vitiated by their too early removal from medical care and supervision;   not only does the Hostel thus increase the efficiency and value of the Hospital by removing from the latter those who no longer need surgical care, but it also acts as a training centre, and for this purpose it is under the direction of expert members of the Chinese Industrial Co-operative, and thus, immediately the patients are medically ready for discharge, they are also fitted by their training in the Hostel to take an active and useful part in the vast co-operative scheme which is the life blood - at present - of Free China.

    To conceive of this plan with all its intricate detail, was the work of a genius;   to put it into successful operation against all the adverse currents in a primitive China at war, was the achievement of an indefatigable and practical worker, and now as a memorial to both, this orthopaedic centre stands, the only hospital of its type in the whole of Free China, serving a population of over 400 millions.   In relation to this huge number, 300 beds - and of these only 50 as yet in commission - sounds infinitesimal, yet it has already begun to attract the world-wide attention it deserves, the begging attention from the pitiful sufferers of China and the charitable attention of beneficent helpers in other countries as well as Lim’s own.   Regarding the former, the names of nearly 30,000 disabled solders alone were already on the waiting list some months ago, and that does not take into account any civilian air-raid casualties, thousands upon thousands of whom have just been left to die or to become hopelessly crippled beggars, lying in villages or along roadsides with empty rice bowls and idle chop-sticks.   Concerning charitable helpers, the story is a more enheartening one;   the British Orthopaedic Society donated equipment to the value of £2,000 Hong Kong dollars (nearly £1,400 sterling) towards the maintenance of the hospital during the first six months of its existence;   and so impressed have foreigners in China been with the value of this work that they have relieved Lim of the burden of financial worry in order that the full force of his energies may be directed towards the professional and administrative aspects of this work;   the Foreign Auxiliary to the National Red Cross of China has accepted the full financial responsibility for this Orthopaedic centre.

    This body, whose patrons are Her Excellency, Madame Chiang Kai Shek and His Excellency, Sir Geoffrey Northcote, Governor of Hong Kong, is composed of representatives of all nations and creeds in that cosmopolitan British colony, and as a member of its committee until a few months ago, I was privileged to see something of the invaluable work it was accomplishing towards the relief of what I am certain is the greatest distress in this distressful world of our today.   This committee is in personal touch with all hospital and dispensary organisations in Free China, and, be they Red Cross or missionary of whatever denomination, when their call for help is received, it is investigated and answered to the limits of the committee’s finances and resources.   But what is almost of more importance is that this committee has the means whereby it can ensure that help despatched actually arrives in the needy areas with reasonable speed;   so much help - both in money and in kind - that has been sent by well-wishers of China direct to that country from abroad, has fallen by the way-side in that distressfully over-run country and has failed to reach its destination.   Let the following few extracts from letters written by medical representatives of the committee who are now working in China speak both for the good work the committee is attempting to do and for the crying need of help.

    ‘Many of the sick and wounded (just outside Waichow where drugs and bandages were urgently needed and where conditions were as bad as they could be) after having been carried for days on stretchers, have to lie on the floor with a thin layer of straw under and with only one thin blanket for covering, which is poor protection against cold winter nights …   Looking at them one’s impression is that a more desolate looking lot of men could not be found anywhere …   There are no mosquito nets and a large number of soldiers are suffering from malaria and dysentery, while there is an almost total lack of such elementary necessities as quinine and Lysol’.   In Poklo ‘by bombing before they arrived and by fire before they left, the Japanese have destroyed all the main buildings and three-quarters of the houses.   Tottering brick walls are all that remain.   Six thousand of the original ten thousand inhabitants are said to have returned to live in the ruins and are gradually building them up again.   One thing, however, that made a great impression, was the tidiness and cleanliness of the streets, all brick and rubble has been cleared away and they are kept in excellent condition - a small point but one which indicates a right appreciation of simple public health measures by the Magistrate …   Throughout the district malaria is rampant.   The next most common ailments are skin diseases and eye troubles - mostly trachoma.   Dysentery has been widespread, but is on the decline.   There is no longer any quinine available and there is no hospital in the whole district.   Apart from the Red Cross Unit operating in the L.M.S. Mission compound and the units working with the front lines, there is only one small dispensary opened by the Roman Catholic Mission and supported by the Waichow Relief Committee, which operates three miles outside Poklo’.

    As a result of these representations the Foreign Auxiliary in Hong Kong decided to help this mission dispensary by sending drugs, especially quinine, and to establish and support a dispensary in Poklo and provide it with a dispenser and supplies for six months.   In Waichow the Auxiliary subsidised a number of hospitals at the rate of 50 cents per free patient per day for the next six months, and made a grant of 5,000 Hong Kong dollars for drugs to be distributed over the whole area, in addition to 14,753 dollars to buy 792,000 tablets of 2-grain and 120,000 tablets of 5-grain quinine.

    The privations endured by the wounded in China is well shown by the following extract from a letter written in February 1940 from Kweiyang by Dr. Eva Ho Tung, whose post graduate work at home has been a source of pride not only to herself but also to her own University in Hong Kong.   “Two days ago” she writes, “I met my first new case from the Kwangsi area, a young man of thirty who has been in the army for about eight years.   Before the war his division was one of many fighting the communists  in Kweichow.   Now he realises that there is a United Front and a common enemy.   … He was wounded in the hand on January 27th at Kwunlungkwan;   he received first aid treatment at his divisional dressing station about an hour after his injury, then he was given four dollars and told to move on to the rear.   It took him one day and one night to reach Kwunlungkwan, a distance of about 50 Chinese li, because the roads were so bad.   Here his wounds were again dressed and he was told he could rest a few days if he wished, but he preferred to move on and after walking another day he came to the main road where Red Cross trucks wait every night to take the wounded to Pin-yang.   Here there was a receiving station which deals with cases before sending them on to base hospitals.   After staying there a few days he got a lift on an army truck to Kweiyang”.   Such are the fortunes of those who are lucky to be only slightly wounded.

    The Chinese Ambassador to Britain, Mr Quo Tai-chai, has recently very truly said that the Allies’ battle in the East is being fought by China for the same ideals of decency and humanity against aggression and barbarism;   the truth of this statement some of you know only too well, and China’s well-wishers in Australia will be fighting their own battles as well as supporting a very worthy cause, by helping this remarkable man, Dr. Robert Lim, to help his suffering country-men.


(set in photos from slides, of Lim in Peking and Cheung Chow.   Also Freda Utley: ‘China at War’.)
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