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Bethune's China Forty Years On

William C. Gibson, MD
JAMA. 1979;242(19):2091-2092. doi:10.1001/jama.1979.03300190031020.
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ON NOV 12, 1979, it will be 40 years since a Canadian surgeon, Norman Bethune, MD, died of septicemia while ministering to Mao's beleaguered troops in northwest China. As the true-to-life tapestry on the cover of this issue of The Journal records, he looked far older than his 49 years.

Why do we memorialize Bethune on this anniversary? Because he is being remembered by nearly 1 billion people in China, a country with new ties of friendship with the United States. In China's struggle Bethune became a watchword, a symbol, and an inspiration. A phonetic transliteration of his name means "white one sent," and nothing could more truly depict his role from 1937, when he crossed the Pacific, to Nov 12,1939, when he died. Buried under a large flag bearing the Stars and Stripes, for lack of Canadian ensign, Bethune found repose in a corner of the globe far from


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