Saturday, 6 October 2007

Dr Savin of Chaotong

Dr Savin was born at Faversham in Kent, England in 1864. His father was a devote member of the Bible Christian Church which was a powerful influence upon his son, Lewis Savin. As the boy grew up he was trained for and entered the teaching profession.

About 1885 the Bible Christian Church started work in Yunnan, west China. It soon became clear that for the health of the missionaries, and the Chinese, trained medical workers were required. But no qualified doctor could be found, Yunnan suggested another planet. Lewis Savin was looking at the ministry, an appeal was made and eventually he was persuaded, after qualifying as a doctor, to go to west China.

Seven weeks by liner to Shaghai, 600 miles up the Yangtse river to Hankow by river steamer, 400 miles furhter up to I-Chang by a still smaller steamer, and then several hundreds of miles by chinese junk . The river journey ended at Sui-Fu, some 1800 miles from Shanghai. From Sui-Fu it was two weeks of travel over the Yunnan Mountains, before reaching the mission at Chaotong. A journey of six months from England to Yunnan.

Arrived he had to go through the prelimary struggle with learning the Chinese language. There was no hospital, practicaly no equipment, and only small supplies of medicines. Nor was he settling in a district where he was wanted or welcome. To the Chinese all missionaries were foreign devils. Chinese doctors and vendors of native medicines spread fanastic and malicious rumours. For example as infanticide was common, baby girls were thrown outside the city walls. Foreign doctors it was aserted, and widely believed, collected the bodies to use them for their medicine.

Doctor Savin never got used to the dirt and squalor of Chinese life, the foul strench of the street, the lice and other insects. Yet at any time day or night he would give his very best attention to the poorest, most ragged or the most disreputable patient. Often going out at midnight to try and save some life, where there had been opium swallowed by a would-be suicide or an outburst of quarelling ending in the mutual slashing of knives. Always with these calls there was the possiblity that it was a trap to lure him onto darkened streets where his Chinese medical rivals could remove so powerful competitor.

What won him the respect of the common people was his quite but confirm refusal to allow Chinese notions of rank interfere with hospital arrangements. At first it was demanded by the Chinese that poor patients be turned out of his hospital to make room for those of higher rank as this was Chinese etiquette. But Dr Savin would not turn out a poor person even for a Mandarin of the highest rank.

In 1912 and for several years after Chinese life went up in the flames of revolution. Law and order disappeared. War Lords enriched themselves by indiscriminate murder and plunder, fighting each other for the spoils. Chaotong was threatened again and again, but at last an actual battle was fought outside the city. The War Lords did not bother with any army medical corp. But Dr Savin and his hospital now had a high reputation. So the wounded soldiers flocked there. The hospital built for 100 patients was besieged by thousands. It had been almost imposible to get supplies through because of the nationwide anchary. So all day long and far into the night the doctor struggled with the disorderly mob, many of whom had wounds turned gangrenous. Somehow, amid the hundreds of surgical cases and operations, one of his hands received a slight scratch which turned septic. As a result Dr Savin, soon died from typhus, it was the year 1918.

Source: Writing by C N Mylne (Sch. of Oriental & African Studies, London)

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