During the days of the one-party state, every Nov. 12 was celebrated as the birthday of Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), lauding him as the founder of the Republic of China and the “father of the nation.”
In those days, few people mentioned that Nov. 12 was also Doctors’ Day.
Today, it is a different story. Now that Taiwan has become democratic and focused on its local culture, it is rare for anyone to mention Sun’s birthday, which has nothing to do with Taiwan.
When an election approaches, some political parties and candidates express their respect for physicians by holding Doctors’ Day celebrations.
It is a good thing to recognize the importance of doctors, but celebrating Doctors’ Day on this particular date has become a mockery, because it was chosen in the days of the National Government of the Republic of China — when its seat of government was in China. The choice of date aimed to praise Sun as a great doctor.
After Sun graduated from medical school in Hong Kong, he only practiced medicine for little more than two years, after which he fled overseas in 1895 following the exposure and failure of the First Guangzhou Uprising.
Considering how little time Sun spent practicing medicine, how can he represent the medical profession?
Besides, Sun’s activities and achievements had very little to do with Taiwan. The only connection is that when he was planning the 1900 Huizhou Uprising, he came to Japanese-ruled Taiwan with the idea of trading the city of Xiamen in Fujian Province to Japan in exchange for Japan’s support of his revolutionary cause.
However, the Japanese kicked him out of Taiwan, and he departed from Keelung aboard the Japanese ship Yokohama Maru.
Sun’s birthday was designated as Doctors’ Day during the days of the one-party state to bolster the myth of Sun as the “father of the nation” and encourage people to identify with China.
Now that Taiwan is governed by a local Taiwanese party, it seems strange that Doctors’ Day is still celebrated on Sun’s birthday.
Over the years, plenty of people from the medical profession have called for the date to be changed. The government should follow their advice and set a newm meaningful date for Doctors’ Day.
Modern medicine was first brought to Taiwan by James Maxwell, a Scottish Presbyterian missionary physician who arrived in Taiwan in 1864. He was followed by another Scottish physician, Patrick Manson, who worked in Taiwan for many years, treating people and conducting research, the results of which became renowned around the world.
Many discoveries are named after Manson, and thanks to him many medical terms include the words “Formosa” or “Formosan.” His book Manson’s Tropical Diseases is still an essential textbook of tropical medicine.
Doctor Ronald Ross, who worked with Manson researching malaria, won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902.
Sun studied at the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, which was established by Manson.
When Sun was rescued from the Chinese Legation in London after being kidnapped by agents of China’s Qing Dynasty, he was famously saved by Scottish physician James Cantlie, who had taught Sun in Hong Kong.
A key factor was that Cantlie informed Manson, who had by then founded the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Manson used his political connections to save Sun.
Taking into consideration the minority of people in Taiwan who still identify with Sun, Manson should be one of the most suitable choices for commemoration.
Another possible choice would be the date on which Presbyterian missionary George Mackay established the Huwei Mackay Hospital — the forerunner of today’s Mackay Memorial Hospital.
Another date worth commemorating would be that on which Shinpei Goto, as head of civil affairs in the Japanese colonial Government-General of Taiwan, upgraded the medical studies department at Taipei Hospital.
Goto’s efforts resulted in the medical school of the Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan, which was the forerunner of today’s National Taiwan University College of Medicine. By doing so, Goto established a place where Taiwanese students received a modern medical education before becoming physicians.
Many people also feel that the date could commemorate Tu Chung-ming (杜聰明), founder of the Kaohsiung Medical College, which later became the Kaohsiung Medical University.
Considering the countless talented physicians who have served in Taiwan’s medical field, there are plenty of historical figures and days that are worthy of commemoration. The time has come to choose a physician who made outstanding contributions to medicine in Taiwan to be commemorated on Doctors’ Day.
To do so would show real respect to doctors on Doctors’ Day each year, instead of discrediting Taiwan’s local values and democracy, as well as doctors themselves.
Tommy Lin is a physician and president of the Formosa Republican Association and the Taiwan UN Alliance.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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