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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  • Comment number 36.

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

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    Comment number 35.

    @29. Abdul Mujeeb

    Even though there have been many Muslim scholars who fought for Indian independence, this reader is wondering why their names should be mentioned in an article that discusses Chinese-Indian relationship in general and legacy of Dr. Kotnis in particular!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Due to close proximity of course, the relationship between India and China goes back eons of years. However, recent egotistical nationalism on both sides has been the cause of problems between the two.

    If they can somehow overcome this and cultivate what is positive - instead of what is negative - good things will happen. Visiting Dr. Kotnis' sister is a step in the right direction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Why is India's Dr Kotnis revered in China? Your article reverently explains why.
    1946 film was called 'Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahaani' (The Immortal Story of Dr Kotnis was directed by V Shantaram, who portrayed Kotnis.) Indian films continue to explore India-China—from friend to foe, & suggesting potential for STRONER TIES between the two nations based on a long history of friendly interactions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    @15.Lake Lili

    Thanks for mentioning Norman Bethune, I was about to...

    regardless of political ideology or sympathies, we cannot deny the existence of goodwill and international friendship.

    Today we face a constant barrage of western & US media propaganda against fashionable villains: when convenient against China, Burma, Arabs, Syria, Iran, & recently a big hype against N Korea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Considering the history of peace treaties and the undeniable pressures on resources and environment, how can any 'army' justify it's actions in the modern era of communication ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It is all so nice to be civilized, and live in peace side by side. The question remains how much longer it will take, before people will really understand Mao and his true role in Chinese history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    There are many people who contributed so many things,however you would never find there names in the History books.For example:Many Muslims Scholars have fought to obtain freedom in India .However its sad you don't find there names either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    It's good to see the Chinese remember some aspects of the past. China is moving so fast that a lot of it's past is being forgotten or destroyed. Which is a shame as China has given so much wisdom and knowledge to the world and they don't seem to promote that aspect of their culture as much as the modernisation going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Another example of how Indians are just good people. They remain staunchly democratic, they do not make aggressive posturings to neighbours, they make a welcoming home for 100,000s Tibetans who have fled from an evil Beijing ruling clique of thugs, they honour HH The Dalai Lama. Pity China can't learn a thing or two about freedom and compassion---a vile regime and a blight on the world stage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Re: #25
    Alan, Indian culture can seem very cruel - and quite frankly it often is... The subcontinent is teeming with human life, and combinations of poverty, crowding, inequality, and cultural and religious traditions produce some horrific outcomes. But India is an enigma, for it is there also that incredible courage, kindness, and compassion are shown among its billions each and every day...

  • Comment number 25.

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

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    Comment number 24.

    In viewing this article, it was nice to see China remembering those from other countries who have helped them. There is one other doctor who is highly revered by China. The Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune died in China helping in the war against the Japanese. A poem written by Mao Ze Dong is learned by all Chinese children in school. Dr. Bethune lived for the cause of equal medical attention for all.

  • Comment number 23.

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

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    Comment number 22.

    I salute this brave and honest doctor who served in the war front. India has great ideologists like Buddha, Gandhi but the politicians are corrupt and involved in politically motivated actions including in crimes. India has lost its place in the world as a democratic nation after it collaborated with the Sri Lankan regime in committing genocide of the Eelam Tamils.

  • Comment number 21.

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

  • Comment number 20.

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    Comment number 19.

    it is really good to see positive reports like this one out of thousand negative reports of war, death, corruptions, etc. People need to see more this kind of stories which bring the world closer and more unite and loving, on the other side less disagreements, less conflicts. Because we, all the humans, are supposed to be linked very closely and live peacefully

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    Comment number 18.

    I tried to add a comment which was simply the Hindi slogan much heard in the 50's ' India China brothers brothers' but rarely since. Your world service does not accept contributions in Romaji.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Taking time to understand Culture has much to do with Success or lack thereof.
    Notably, the Nations wanting to dominate all others are the Newest without any culture of their own, hence does not set any store on Value of Culture. Both China, then India have proven they can Survive without any external contact. It affords Confidence no amount of money can buy.


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