Patrick Luciani: If we’re cancelling historical villains, why not Norman Bethune?

Valid question:

The Western world is toppling statues of historical villains at a furious pace. Tributes to everyone from Christopher Columbus, U.S. presidents, colonizers, Confederates, or really, anyone suspected of being on the wrong side of the current political times, are falling around the world.

But the process of eliminating bad guys tends to inevitably get out of hand. Winston Churchill’s statue in London, for instance, had to be covered up for a recent anti-racism rally before the vandals got to it; apparently, helping to defeat the Nazis no longer qualifies as being on the right side of history.

It’s even open season on Christian symbols and statues of saints. That’s reminiscent of the French Revolution, when the Robespierre-led mobs defaced and destroyed such statues as they sought to turn Notre Dame into a “temple of reason.”

Not to be left out, we in Canada are on the way to taking Sir John A. Macdonald’s name off schools and getting rid of his statues, and are now moving on to other historical figures. The alteration and return of a monument to Samuel de Champlain in Orillia, Ont., has been delayed, but statues to Giovanni Caboto will probably be spared given that few recognize his name (hint: Canada’s Columbus). In the case of educator and legislator Egerton Ryerson, who wrote a report recommending special schools for Indigenous boys, an idea that helped lay the ground for the residential school system, I suspect taking down a statue would not be enough; the name of Toronto’s Ryerson University is surely not long for this world. And petitions are out to rename the streets that honour British politician Henry Dundas, because of his weak anti-slavery position. In short, we’re doing anything to rid ourselves of anyone with the taint of past sins.

But apparently, not all history is vulnerable.

One statue that remains unmolested is the one of Norman Bethune that sits peacefully on the campus of the University of Toronto. Yet, if ever there was a statue associated with the evils of a political idea, it is the good doctor’s. While his defenders will remind us of his courageous work saving lives during the war between Japan and China through his battlefield medical innovations, a complete story tells of a nasty and reckless surgeon who never quite earned the respect of his Canadian colleagues, and who sternly defended Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, whose regimes starved and killed millions.

The mythology surrounding Bethune didn’t originate in Canada; it was created by Mao himself in a famous essay read by schoolchildren throughout China. Today, we use Bethune’s memory to attract thousands of Chinese tourists to his birthplace in Gravenhurst, Ont.

The Chinese Communist system he believed in has gone on to cause atrocities – not just during the Cultural Revolution, but also in the 1989 slaughter at Tiananmen Square, in the disastrous one-child policy, and in the continuing oppression and internment of thousands of Uyghurs. And let’s not forget that the government that emerged from that system has illegally imprisoned two Canadians on trumped-up charges to blackmail our government over the Huawei affair. One would think this might merit some reaction by the cancelling community.

There might be a reason that Bethune has been left off the list of political targets: he was a Marxist supporter, and thus a philosophical friend of the modern left. It’s the same reason others on the left, from Tommy Douglas to suffragette Nellie McClung – who both supported eugenics as a solution to extreme mental illness and poverty – are often given a free ride.

But the worm is turning on this cancel culture. In the United States, the name of feminist hero Margaret Sanger is being erased from American history because of her defence of eugenics in the 1920s, despite her position on women’s rights and her founding of Planned Parenthood. Can Nellie McClung and Tommy Douglas be far behind?

Shakespeare was right when he wrote that whatever good people do will be buried with their bones, while their sins live on forever. In a world that loses its historical memory, you’ll find no understanding, no forgiveness and no mercy.

So leave Norman Bethune’s statue in peace and let it stand, warts and all – but let’s also leave the statues of Sir John A., and the memories of Nellie McClung and Tommy Douglas. Otherwise we risk entering a brave new world where history disappears, and all ideas merely favour the present.


China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune

Silly piece, divorced from reality: For Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusFor Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been offering to send experts to China, but no invitation has come. The World Health Organization appears to be facing the same cold shoulder.

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. But two days later, an even more surprising statement: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang asked the European Union to provide medical supplies to fight the epidemic unfolding in China.

This was highly unusual – top Chinese officials are not particularly known for their willingness to ask for international aid. But it points to the gravity and severity of the situation.

China is grappling with a severe public health challenge that is now outpacing the deadly SARS outbreak in 2003. As of today, more than 31,000 people in 28 countries and territories have been diagnosed with the new virus. The vast majority of those cases have emerged in China, where more than 600 people have died.

After 2019-nCoV was identified as originating in the city of Wuhan, the Chinese government took extraordinary measures to contain the outbreak. Wuhan and 13 surrounding cities have been locked down since Jan. 23 in a quarantine that affects more than 40 million people. It might be hard for Canadians to imagine this feat, but consider that Canada’s entire population is about 37 million.

However, the biggest challenge China faces is on the front lines. Doctors and nurses are racing against the clock and struggling to treat thousands of patients with dwindling supplies. Somehow, they are standing firm despite a shortage of hospital beds, staff, medicine and protective gear – even for themselves. Many doctors have worked throughout the day without drinking, eating or going to the bathroom simply to avoid replacing their protective suits. One doctor we know wore his son’s goggles to work for protection.

That the Chinese medical community is in mourning only heightens the anxiety. Dr. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan Central Hospital ophthalmologist who was among the first to identify the disease, passed away Friday.

Canada has confirmed five cases of its own – three in Ontario, two in British Columbia – but it has been acting vigorously and vigilantly, monitoring the situation, providing travel advice and evacuating Canadians in China. It’s remarkably brave of Ottawa to follow the WHO’s recommendation not to ban Chinese and other international travellers from China from entering the country. Furthermore, as acts of racism against the Chinese-Canadian community increase, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made statements criticizing anti-Chinese sentiments and misinformation about the coronavirus. “This,” he said, “is not something Canadians will ever stand for.”

These are admirable steps. But it is our belief that Canadians will only be truly safe when China wins its battle. And history may offer a good example of what Canada can still do to achieve this goal.

In the late 1930s, Canadian physician Norman Bethune brought modern medicine to rural China. He was credited with saving thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and for this he is revered even today in China. His story confirms the most effective way to save lives: supplying Canadian medical treatment to China.

Doing so will require three courses of action. First, we would urge Ottawa to continue demonstrating respectful concern and vigorous support as China combats this virus during this critical period. Secondly, we would recommend the Canadian government play a vital role in facilitating the procurement of medical supplies for hospitals in affected regions. Trade-promotion agencies can help by adding a medical-supplies section to their information portals to connect qualified Canadian suppliers with Chinese buyers. Thirdly, we would encourage Canadian health-care professionals and specialists to work with Chinese and international experts in developing treatments and a vaccine.

Ottawa and Beijing have had their differences. A prominent Chinese executive is facing extradition to the U.S., while two Canadian citizens remain in jail in China and a crippling import ban hurts Canadian canola farmers. But Canadians remain highly respected and liked in China – in no small part because of the legacy of people like Dr. Bethune.

There is a Chinese saying: “Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” We hope we can focus on our shared humanity and give Chinese medical workers and citizens a hand during this extremely difficult time – for their sake, in the name of selflessness, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune.

Kenny Zhang is a Fudan University alumnus, Jenny Li is a graduate of Hubei University, ChiChi Wang is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia and Zhenyu Cheng is a Wuhan University alumnus. All are residents of Canada.

Source: China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune