A memorable journey into the past

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 08 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1353
  1. John Savin, post-retirement honorary fellow, medical and radiological sciences (dermatology section)
  1. Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh

    My grandfather worked as a medical missionary in Zhaotong, a small walled city in the Yunnan Province of China, from 1896 until his death there from typhus in 1918. My father spent his early childhood there too, returning to school in England when he was 12 years old. By then typhoid and chronic malaria had turned him into an animated human skeleton.

    Later my father described in his unpublished memoirs how hard life had been in remote China in the early 1900s. He remembered seeing the decapitated heads of malefactors, stuck on spikes near the city gates. Rats scuttled around indoors; and the howls of wolves and jackals could be heard as they dug up the corpses of the Chinese poor from shallow graves just outside the city walls. Smallpox lurked in and around the city. …

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