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Feeling part of an old woman's family

By Yang Guang in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province | China Daily | Updated: 2012-06-26 13:18

Stanley Crawford says Wang Huanwen, a 94-year-old retired pediatrician in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, is "one of the fondest memories" he has of China.

When Crawford visited China to retrace the steps of his great-great-grandfather, Virgil Hart, he found out about Wang, the physician who has worked in two of the hospitals Hart, a Methodist missionary, founded in China, through a newspaper reporter in 2008.

On their first meeting, Wang talked about her connections with the former Wuhu General Hospital (now Yijishan Hospital of the Wannan Medical College) in Wuhu, Anhui province, and how she later moved to Jiujiang to work at the former Elizabeth Skelton Danforth Hospital (now renamed Jiujiang Women and Children's Hospital).

Both were founded by Hart, who was with the American Methodist Episcopal Church.

Feeling part of an old woman's family

"At first she had difficulty speaking English," Crawford remembers, "but later she was able to rattle off short phrases after not having spoken it for over 50 years."

Crawford visited Wang regularly once a month until she broke her leg and could not get out of bed in the winter of 2009.

Wang was the daughter of a small hotel proprietor. She studied at the Wuhu General Hospital School of Nursing in 1936, after she was orphaned.

"She talked about how she used to roller skate on the roof of the hospital and had her first kiss overlooking the Yangtze River during a sunset," Crawford says. After graduating from nursing school in 1940, she worked at the former Shanghai

 Country Hospital (now renamed Huadong Hospital), where she married a Chinese pastor.

In 1944, Wang's husband was transferred to work in Jiujiang and she followed him.

After the founding of New China, Wang was selected to further her medical studies in Guangzhou, Guangdong province for three years and became one of the first pediatricians trained.

She was wrongly condemned as a rightist during the political campaigns in the late 1950s and suffered a lot during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), until she retired to take care of her sick husband and the family in 1975.

"When she told me many of her photos were burned during the 'cultural revolution', it brought tears to her eyes," Crawford says.

"I gave her copies I had of both hospitals and she held them to her breast as they brought back the many wonderful memories she had."

Wang now lives in an apartment inside the compound of Jiujiang Women and Children's Hospital. She has a replica of Thomas Lawrence's Red Boy on her nightstand and a brightly colored crayon painting by her great-granddaughter on the wall.

"I have always liked children," she says.

"I have remained happy however I was wronged. I know I am innocent, so I'm not afraid. They say I'm really good at keeping my inner balance," she says, laughing.

Crawford says, "She has a strong heart from the decades of toil she has endured. Her smile and enthusiasm make me feel a part of her family, even though I am a foreigner." 

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