Why is India's Dr Kotnis revered in China?

This picture taken on May 20, 2013 shows the statue  in Shijiazhuang, central China's Hebei province of Indian doctor Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, one of five Indian physicians dispatched to China to provide medical assistance during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938 Dr Kotnis is revered in China for treating wounded Chinese soldiers

Every time a Chinese leader visits India, he usually meets the family of an Indian doctor who died while treating wounded Chinese soldiers in the conflict with Japan in the 1940s.

Dwarkanath S Kotnis was sent to China in 1938 as part of an Indian medical mission after China was invaded by Japan. He served on the frontline and saved the lives of many Chinese soldiers. After four years in China, he fell ill and died at the age of 32.

In China, Dr Kotnis fell in love and married a Chinese nurse who worked with him. Quo Qinglan, who remained in China, died last year in the city of Dalian. They had a son, who was studying to become a doctor but he died when he was 24.

"The army has lost of a helping hand, the nation a friend. Let us always bear in mind his international spirit," China's former communist leader and revolutionary hero Mao Zedong reportedly said in a tribute.

Following a long tradition, Premier Li Keqiang will visit the doctor's family in Mumbai, where his 92-year-old sister will receive him. "We are overwhelmed that even after so many years, my brother is remembered and loved by the Chinese and that the premier is taking pains to meet us," Manorama Kotnis, who has met three Chinese leaders, told the Indian Express.

At home, Dr Kotnis appears to be a little-known figure these days, although he was immortalised in a 1946 film and is still mentioned in text books.

In China, he is revered as a hero to this day: stamps bearing his picture have been printed and there is a memorial to him in Hebei province. Dr Kotnis was chosen as one of the "top 10 foreigners" in a 2009 internet poll of China's foreign friends in a century. The doctor "continues to be revered by the Chinese people," says China Daily.

Manorama Kotnis (C), sister of the late Indian doctor Dwarkanath Kotnis, Dr Kotnis's sister, Manorama, has visited China

What accounts for Dr Kotnis's popularity in China and why have the country's leaders felt the need to visit his family since 1950?

China experts like Srikanth Kondapalli say a visit to the Kotnis family by Chinese leaders is loaded with symbolism of a shared history of anti-imperial and colonial struggles long before border disputes led to a full-blown war in 1962 and soured ties between the two countries.

"By visiting the family, they are harking back to the solidarity between the two countries when both India and China were fighting colonialism and imperialism," says Prof Kondapalli.

In 1924, India's first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited China and spoke about his admiration for "its world of beauty", "wisdom" and "touch of the human". He spoke about the need for "eternally revealing a joyous relationship unforeseen" between the two countries.

In 1940 - seven years before India's independence and nine years before the Chinese revolution - Mao wrote to the man who would become independent India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and said that "our emancipation, the emancipation of the Indian people and the Chinese, will be the signal of the emancipation of all down-trodden and oppressed".

And in 1942, Mahatma Gandhi wrote to late Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek saying that he had "always felt drawn towards you in your fight for freedom, and that contact and our conversation brought China and her problems still nearer to me".

Prof Kondapalli says when Chinese leaders pay homage to Dr Kotnis they evoke the bonhomie of the high noon of Sino-Indian relations.

The world has changed since then.

China and Japan are two of the world's three biggest economies, and India does business with both. Japan's relations with China are repeatedly strained over a deadlocked territorial dispute and historical grievances. India's relations with China come under strain over the ill-defined border they share.

Through all this the memory of Dr Kotnis endures.

Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    These nation-states of modern world are more than just states of today; these are countries of culture, whose people are descendants of ancient civilization, having social value derived out of experience and analysis. Their community life was built upon more than seeking opportunities to survive until they faced with the Govt.s seeking opportunity to reflect; such remembrance no surprise 2 realise

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Dr. Kotnis is buried opposite Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune at the Revolutionary Martyr's Cemetery in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China. In 1939, Chairman Mao Zedong also published an essay regarding Dr. Bethune entitled "In Memory of Norman Bethune" (in Chinese: 紀念白求恩). Dr. Bethune's medical contribution and altruism are still taught to students.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    These two great nations are very much linked by traditional values and customs which are very similar but also under extreme stress of modern day westernization.They would do well to understand that and co operate with each other and become some of the most sensible powerful countries or trading blocks in the world.I have travelled to China a lot and have many many chinese friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.


    No, it's not the Long March. It's during the full-scale Japanese Invasion between 1937-1945.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    First heard of Dr. Kotnis when we arrived in Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province in the 1990's to teach English. We were warmly greeted by the Chinese because we were Canadian and very soon taken to the Martyr's Memorial where both Dr. Kotnis and Dr. Bethune were buried. Both doctors were, I believe, on The Long March with Mao. The military hospital in the city is named for Dr. Bethune

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I enjoyed reading this article and never knew anything about the good doctor beforehand - it is wonderful that people who sacrifice themselves one way or another in life are remembered long after their departing, and for the right reasons. There seems to be some humanity left on this planet and that can only be good for all of us, wherever we live.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    On another note, how humble of the Chinese leadership to seek out the family of Dr. Kotnis on each high-level visit. I cannot recall such a gesture by the leaders of any other nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A good story. And a good antidote to the common propaganda heard in India in favour of SC Bose's pro-Japanese, so-called "Indian National Army", which collaborated with the Japanese in WW2 and forever stained India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Another hero -- at Nanking.

    " the home of John Rabe, a Nazi Party member and employee of Siemens. In addition to sheltering people in his own compound, Mr. Rabe led a score of other foreigners in the city to form an international safety zone that shielded more than 200,000 Chinese from the Japanese."


  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I recall no word of Dr. Kotnis' contribution in our history texts, not surprising given the reluctance to cover recent history lest it hold uncomfortable truths.

    It is such individual tales of selflessness and camaraderie that one needs. Witness Dr. Kotnis marrying a Chinese nurse, something that would likely elicit many a frown on either side now as it probably did then, and yet, so human!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I hope Indian honcho politicos also show some respect to the Chinese who did such work in India - A lot of Chinese scholars have invested into studying Indian history and we need to reciprocate, although we might not believe in what they have to say and do, coz that what make us more humane and a better world to live in!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Just mentioning and talking about their good historical events and behaviors show that India and China are politically matured enough to solve their problems peacefully or, at least -for time being - put them aside for the sake of their economic and their international political issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    An article that depicts a poignant and heroic episode in history.In a time in which nearly every diplomatic act has commercial or political or vested motive,it is heart warming and wonderful to witness the gracious,grateful and humane nature of this gesture of the Chinese political leadership.Particulalry so when this wonderful gesture has been continued for decades,spanning generations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Corruption right across the piece and no such thing as an honest politician? Jim doesn' get it. Check out the Transparency International website a minute Jim and then tell us what you think. The new democracies will not get used to corruption and nor should they.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Dr Kotnis is someone to be remembered and why are political corruption claims such a big deal? in every nation from the USA to Iran to German and the UK we all know there is no such thing as an honest politician and if they were capable of getting a real job or doing honest work they wouldn't be in politics. Only new democracies are surprised by scandal, but will get used to them.


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