Title: The Missing Archives
Author: Li Yan
Press: The Writers Publishing House
History's hidden figures by Rena Li｜China Daily
New book uncovers aspects of the Chinese revolution, and the contribution of key people involved, that have long been overlooked domestically.
A forgotten history and a group of unknown heroes from more than 80 years ago are revealed in a new book uncovering many hidden facts about the Chinese revolution.
"The book is a tribute to those who sacrificed themselves for the goal of the harmonious coexistence of mankind," says Li Yan, author of The Missing Archives.
Li, as a professor of Chinese language and culture studies at Renison University College, affiliated to the University of Waterloo, has been committed to promoting cultural exchanges between China and Canada for more than 20 years.
Among the historical figures featured in her book are the highly admired doctor Norman Bethune and his, domestically, much lesser-known contemporary, Bishop Ronald Owen Hall, who also played a significant role in China amid the International Communist Movement.
Li's inquiries started with Hall, who had made great contributions to China's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) and believed that the Communist Party of China was a "good solution" to save the country.
According to Li, Hall worked as the bishop of Hong Kong from 1933-66, met former premier Zhou Enlai during World War II, and they became close friends. Hall had held several roles, such as chair of the International Industry Cooperation in China and leader of the International Medical Relief Team to China.
When Li started to read the biography of Hall, many questions arose.
Why was Chairman Mao Zedong's thankful letter to Hall in 1939 never recorded in Chinese history? Did Hall really send foreign doctors to help Mao's army during wartime?
Had Hall been connected to the famous Canadian doctor Bethune? What had been exposed after Bethune's secret police files were released? Why did strange rumors about Bethune's death haunt medical doctors in Canada for more than 60 years?
Li believed that there must be some sort of relationship between the two Westerners during the Chinese revolution. They were about the same age and both were born to families of Christian ministers. Both men suspended their university studies to participate in World War I, both fought in France and each was wounded in the leg. Both finished their education after the war, and, both contributed greatly to China during World War II.
Hall was invited to visit Beijing in June 1956 and had the honor of attending dinner at then-premier Zhou's home. On the train during his return trip, he wrote a long letter to his brother in England and recounted all the details of his discussion with Zhou.
"The talk involved details of the political and economic situations in Hong Kong and the diplomatic relations between China and Britain, reflecting in-depth observations that remain inspiring even today," reads the book.
However, such important historical records were all missing from China's official archives. As a result, Hall has been unknown in China for the past 70 years, according to Li.
For six years, Li has been searching for historical records and interviewing people she could reach in China and Canada, trying to solve the riddles. She finally discovered that Hall had indeed been connected to Bethune.
Li learned that since Bethune arrived in China in early 1938, Hall was trying to support him from Hong Kong by regularly providing medical supplies and personnel.
The last effort made by Hall was dispatching a European doctor to assist Bethune when he was in an extremely difficult situation. Two months later, Hall sent the European doctor again－to replace Bethune after he died on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the European doctor was blocked on his way both times and never reached the front lines.
"Had he been successful the first time, Bethune might have survived," Li writes.
"I have been an admirer of Bethune, whose heroic stories are familiar to everyone in China. I grew up reciting, by heart, Chairman Mao's article, In Memory of Dr Norman Bethune, and regarded him as the most ideal man in the world," Li says.
"When many of my classmates in the MA program went to the US, I was the only one applying for further study in Canada, with this hero's image in my mind," Li says.
Upon arriving in Canada from China 35 years ago, however, Li was shocked by some of the feedback from the hero's compatriots. Bethune was not seen as perfect as his shining image in China. Instead, he has been ignored and even hated by some in his home country just because he was a communist.
"It took me a long time before I figured out the fundamental issue leading people into endless ideological conflicts, and I actually got the inspiration from one of my students in class 20 years ago," says Li, who has taught at the university in Ontario since 1997.
In The Missing Archives, Li discusses the original, biblical meaning of Jubilee－a celebratory time, whereby, every 50th year, debts would be forgiven, there was a restitution of property and a sharing of wealth, along with the forgiveness of sins and the freeing of slaves.
After consultations with many scholars including Reverend Arnold Bethune in Guelph, Reverend Megan Collings-Moore and Reverend Scott McLeod at Renison University College, she was convinced that the idea of Jubilee was originally set up to curb the greed of human nature. The real meaning of Jubilee has been distorted and abandoned deliberately because of the uncurable human disease.
"Finally, I figured out why Bishop Hall, a Christian, and Norman Bethune, a communist, would share so much in common and had dedicated (themselves) to the same goal for improving the world," Li says. "A true Christian could easily turn into a true communist. The main problem today is that there are too many fake believers and liars (using) double standard ideological weapons to fool common people in the world."
Before Bethune traveled to China in 1938, where he became a battlefield surgeon for the Chinese Communist Army under Mao, he had worked with many medical workers and social activists in Montreal to advocate for medical care for the poor and needy. He also stated that a doctor should not be concerned with making money.
After Bethune died in 1939, he became a national hero in China.
Mao wrote: "Comrade Bethune's spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warmheartedness toward all people. … No one who returned from the front failed to express admiration for Bethune whenever his name was mentioned, and none remained unmoved by his spirit. … Every communist must learn this true communist spirit from comrade Bethune."
There have been heated discussions among scholars from China and Canada at the conferences organized by Li over the past few years. Some insisted that Bethune represented the spirit of the communist ideal.
Some argued that he was in reality a humanitarian under a red cape, and that it was better to portray him that way to defend him more easily against the negative view of communism that has long been propagated in some quarters.
"Ever since I figured out the biblical meaning of Jubilee, however, I believe that there should have been no fundamental difference between the two," Li says. "In the unprecedented pandemic facing the whole world today, it is more meaningful for everyone to learn from the spirit of Bethune."
Many of Li's writings are focused on comparative cultures, based on real figures in history. In addition to a few books on Bethune, Li has written about James Menzies, the Canadian missionary in China who discovered the site of the oracle bones and became a self-trained archaeologist. His son, Arthur Menzies, who was born in China in a missionary compound, was the Canadian ambassador to China in the 1970s.
Li also wrote about an American scholar, Thomas Arthur Bisson, who specialized in East Asian politics and economics. Bisson went to China as a missionary and interviewed Mao in 1937. He was persecuted in the 1950s in his own country and eventually set up the Chinese-language program at Renison University College.
"I am often deeply touched by those people's stories since they demonstrated to me what is supposed to be a true Christian," Li says.
In The Missing Archives, Hall says: "It is fear that sends presidents, prime ministers and special envoys around the world. Fear that dominates everywhere, fear that a rival race, a rival ideology or rival nation will take away our markets or our freedoms to live. … None of us know how today's confusion may end."
More than 60 years on, and Hall's concerns still have realistic significance today, according to Li.
"People like Bishop Hall and Norman Bethune left us decades ago, but the spirit they demonstrated should not be forgotten. The simple purpose is to understand and achieve a common destiny for all mankind," Li says.
In light of continuous battles and wars being waged, Li says she is compelled to think about what a "community with a shared future for mankind" actually means.
"By telling the true stories of these historic figures, I have made a humble effort of trying to remove the obstacles on the path to mutual understanding and a peaceful future for the world," she says.