URS: Grandpa – The Hakka Village Doctor
曾叔叔讲故事：我的爷爷，一个客家村医 （Dixia 翻译）
Not that many people know much about their ancestors, especially from the 19th Century or earlier, and they might seem so mysterious, especially if they lived in the “old country.” So, I feel very blessed to be able to find out some information about my grandparents of that era, which is fun for me to share with you, on the presumption you might be stimulated also to find out more about your own ancestors.
Grandfather indeed grew up in the 19th century, in the same Hakka (Kejia) village in old China that my dad would later grow up in. You can read about Hakkas from URS “We are all Hakkas.” However, I can surmise his Confucian upbringing, during the time of the Qing Dynasty, was surprisingly, already becoming infused and fused with Christian values. To put this into perspective, it is recorded in missions annals, that the first Hakka Christian in his region was converted in 1865, a year before grandpa was born (during the period of the American Civil War). Basically, grandpa grew up, as Christian faith and values began their birth and growth in the area.
In the 1860s and 1870s, around 150 years ago, mission workers especially from the British Isles, had been working faithfully in many areas of China, beginning first on the coast, but reaching soon to even remote little villages further inland. In the mountain village of Wujinfu (formerly Wukingfu), my grandfather’s home village, they built, as was common, both a Mission Boys School and a Mission Girls’ School. There was even a Mission Women’s School, since women at the time were often neglected, received no formal education, and especially needed “catch up” up for their missed education.
Mission schools in China, and indeed all over the world, have been widely credited with raising whole new generations of Christian young men and women. From China, these have often subsequently migrated to many Southeast Asian countries and the world, usually bringing new perspectives of hope and discipline, from very humble beginnings, even a small village in China. My family was just one small illustration of this mission school spark.
Grandpa was also one of the very few Chinese then who became doctors in western medicine. He served most of his life primarily in the Christian Gospel Mission (Fu Yin) Hospital of Wujingfu. The doctors and nurses would include foreign Christians, so he must have had a very novel worldview perspective for his time, and I would guess some foreign language skills, even then.
He obviously earned the respect of many, both foreigners and local staff, in order to be later appointed the Hospital Director of the Wujingfu Hospital, replacing the need for a foreign director from overseas. He also became director of the nearby Taibu (Taipu) Hospital, when the Wujingfu hospital had to close for a while. This was at a time of civil war, and soldiers and guerillas roamed the areas, punishing the local population at will, even kidnapping people, especially Christians, and demanding ransom. Practically miraculously, I found a trove of great information from a book on that mission era, which had been picked up by my pathologist cousin, Lilian, in London. She just happened to be scouring a London old books store, and found the book, buying it very cheaply. Presumably many old books in the store were destined for the dustbin, but not this one, which is a treasured item in our small Newcastle home library!
Grandpa and others were appointed as elders of the newly established church, which he served faithfully for much of his life. Obviously, being selected as elder was a highly significant step, indicating great respect for him as a leader of his community. Traditionally, Asian church elders have been considered similar to ministers in terms of community “authority and respect,” except most elders were, and are, usually self-supported from another profession.
When Grandfather and Grandmother died, their funerals were very different from traditional ones. There were no Buddhist rites, no professional wailers for days, and no worship of the deceased. I am certain Christian pastors, missionaries and choirs, were a significant part of the funeral service, including a call by the minister, as always, for attendees to prepare themselves for the next life. This was revolutionary for the times, and likely may have provoked discomfort among villagers, who felt our grandparents had “eaten the foreign religion.” I am assuming, however, the respect they had from the community helped alleviate the discomfort. We understand there were huge crowds of mourners from far and wide, who may have trekked days, over hills and valleys, to come and pay their respects, mostly former patients, or Christian congregations from surrounding villages. Of course, they had all to be hosted and fed, at least for a day or two, so the effort apparently was a very taxing one, lasting by tradition, for weeks!
Photo 2: Grandmother’s Christian Tombstone in the village, with grandfather sitting elegantly in the center, my American born mother, and me in the very front of him, next to mom’s hat.
Both grandparents were commemorated, each with rather large Christian style tombstones, including the highly symbolic Christian cross. This was at a time when the Christian faith was a distinct minority, and persecuted on and off, by officials and common people. So, like the Christian funeral services, the memorials were additional bold statements of the great changes happening in the village.
At the time of his passing, grandpa also did something really shocking. He placed much of his financial legacy in a trust, with emphasis on distribution for Christian ministry. This was probably unheard of in the village before, since the custom of thousands of years (even today) was to give everything, after one dies, to children and family. Undoubtedly, he had given this great thought and consulted with wise leaders before this momentous step, since such steps are not taken lightly, against such ingrained traditions.
As another novel step, he assigned executive powers for the trust, not to the oldest son, which at least might be more consistent with tradition, but to his second son, my father, the Western trained doctor. This was, likely sensible, since he was the most scholarly son, but, understandably, objected by the eldest son, who felt that he was bypassed, and deprived of what he felt was, by tradition and culture, “rightfully his,” especially when he realized that the inheritance was mostly set up as a trust. I heard he actually was so upset he even pulled out a gun (yes, people owned guns, usually for protection against brigands, and for hunting), when grandfather’s will was announced.
The story was that he stood at the top of the stairs, brandishing the gun, in our ancestral home in the village, and threatening anyone who dared to contradict him. Fortunately, no one was harmed, things somehow calmed down, but the trust document disappeared in the chaos, and the mysteries of the past. Culture clashes often provide colorful drama, either today, or 70 years ago, especially around legacies and funerals.
Since we moved to Seattle, my mother’s birth place, I have even learned a bit more about her parents. It turns out that my maternal grandpa was also trained as a physician in Shantou, China, but he was asked to be one of the first pastors of the first Chinese church, the Seattle Chinese Baptist Church. He moved his wife, and first 2 daughters over from Shantou, while later, my own mother Josephine, and her 2 other sisters were born in Seattle.
自从我们搬家到西雅图，我母亲的出生地，我知道了更多我的外祖父母的事，发现我的外祖父也曾在汕头学过医，但后来他被邀成为西雅图第一个华人教会 — 华人浸信会的首任牧师之一。所以他携妻子和两个女儿搬到了西雅图。我的母亲，Josephine，和她的两个妹妹出生于西雅图。
While at first surprising, maybe it really isn’t surprising, that in both of my grandfathers, there is this strong connection between medicine and spiritual service, even from humble origins in China. Medicine and spiritual ministry have been tightly connected, from the time of Jesus, who was, not only the Greatest Teacher, but also the Great Physician, with many documented healings recorded in detail in the Gospels. And that is likely why wherever the faith goes round the world, there is always the combination of good teaching and medical care.
Photo 3. A page from the mission annals, The “Stranger People,” by Rev Bernard Paton. Grandfather’s name was TSEN Sit Chin. Hakkas were literally “strangers.”
图三： 宣教编年史中的一页， 在巴纳德。巴顿Bernard Paton牧师写的“异乡化外人”一书中，提到了爷爷的名字曾席珍。客家人的字面意思就是“异乡化外人”。
Which is also, likely why, for my own life, I have loved the fascinating combination of both disciplines, and to encourage young people to consider helping careers that include this meaningful interaction.