"Stamp show attracts Chinese visitors"

By Jessica Murdy - Chilliwack Progress, October 22, 2008

   China has a love and devotion for one special Canadian man. They study him, honour him and they remember all he stood for.

   But in Canada, he's not as well known. Say the name Dr. Norman Bethune in most circles, and no one will know who he is.

   But he is the father of many medical breakthroughs that we all can celebrate. He treated himself for tuberculosis, successfully. He created the world's first mobile medical unit for the battlefield, choosing to treat patients on the front lines rather than wait in hospital for them to arrive. He was the first to collect blood from donors and deliver it directly to his patients on the front lines.

   Bethune travelled to war-torn China in 1938, to put his services to work helping the soldiers and poor civilians as Japan attacked.

   His communist ideas weren't popular here in the west, but in China they hailed him as a hero. He helped to build a school, and that school still stands today, says Asai Wu-Brandt.

   She has been working for three years on an art show that honours Bethune, pulling together artwork from both Canadian and Chinese artists, artwork from a Chinese museum dedicated to the doctor, and decades of stamps on loan from the Canada Chinese Friendship Association.

   The opening was held on Saturday, and delegates from both countries were on hand to enjoy the results, on display until November 8 at the Chilliwack Museum.

   Wu-Brandt remembers learning about Bethune as a child in China.

   "When we were little, everybody had to study him," she says. "We learned about his philosophy."

   Bethune hated the way only the rich could afford to be healthy."He was thinking more like a communist (to some) but he was just thinking like a human," Wu-Brandt says. "Thinking that everyone is equal."

   The art work includes several beautiful works by local artists, including Pat Jaster, fabric artist Judy Hurley, Gary Haggquist, paper sculptor Jonathan Milne and several more.

   The gallery at the museum is alive with depictions of the doctor, including several pieces of him doing the work he was known for.

   There are images of wartime hospital rooms, surgery on the front lines, blood smeared smocks and hands busy at work. There are also patriotic portraits, and those of him lecturing outside the school he built.

   A display of the many books and movies depicting his life shows just how important he is to the Chinese even today.

   Wu-Brandt met one lady at the show's opening who comes from Bethune's hometown of Gravenhurst, Ontario. She wears a label on her backpack when traveling to China, and Wu-Brandt says she is treated like a "special guest."

   She says everyone in China knows who Bethune is, and that he will always be well respected for the way he treated Chinese people.

   "He always wanted to help poor people," she says. He lived a poor life in China, even when he could have retreated back to Canada he chose not to.

   "He said he would not go back," she says, despite living conditions that saw people sleeping in holes in the ground and traveling all night, every night to escape bombings.

   But his time there was short, as he died following a blood infection he contracted during one of his many surgeries, in 1939.

   To see the life and work of Dr. Norman Bethune, and how artists in two different countries pay tribute to him, visit the Chilliwack Museum during open hours.

   For more information, phone 604-795-5210.

   The Knowledge Network will also air a documentary on Bethune's life and work. this Friday at 11 p.m.