Michelle Renshaw’s book, Accommodating the Chinese: The American Hospital in China, 1880-1920, was published just after my teaching sabbatical in Hong Kong where I discovered my cousin had been a nurse, supervisor and instructor at the Peking Union Medical College [PUMC] Hospital and School of Nursing during the 1920s. Using Dr. Renshaw’s work I was able to contextualize the circumstances of Lucile King’s going to China and her work there on behalf of the China Medical Board. While not about any specific hospital Dr. Renshaw’s thorough coverage of the who, what, why and when Americans built hospitals in China offers insight into the work and times of these institutions, many of which survive and a few of which have re-established connections with their founding organizations. Yale-in-China [now Yale-China]established the Hsiang-ya Hospital in Changsha, Hunan and the Rockefeller Foundation (later the China Medical Board) developed PUMC in Beijing. Both institutions maintain their original buildings next to modern hospital blocks that surround them, take pride in their origins and now maintain cordial professional relations with their establishing entities.
Unlike other accounts of Americans in China, Dr. Renshaw involves the Chinese, their history and values and how they became partners first and then unique owners and users of these contemporary hospitals.
While this is a book of substantial scholarship drawn from English and Chinese language sources, the story it tells has appeal well beyond historians. Nurses, doctors, the clergy and contemporary health care administrators can all derive insights into the genesis of a system of hospitals in China so closely aligned with the west in the beginning and so far apart today.