October 10 sees the 110th birthday of Dr. Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, Indian surgeon, internationalist fighter, and member of the Communist Party of China.
Dr. Kotnis was one of a team of five Indian doctors, one of whom had previously served with the International Brigades in Spain, who were sent to help the Chinese people in their war of resistance against Japan by India’s Congress party, then led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose, after China’s Red Army leader Zhu De had written a request to Nehru on the suggestion of Agnes Smedley, the American internationalist who maintained deep ties with the freedom movements in both countries.
The team were seen off from Calcutta (today’s Kolkata) by Congress leaders Bose and Sarojini Naidu, who, at the conclusion of a mass meeting in Jinnah Hall, said: “You are sent to the war-stricken people of China as messengers of goodwill and sympathy. One or some of you may not return home.” Dr. Kotnis is the one who did not return.
In the spirit of the great Canadian communist, Dr. Norman Bethune, who the team had gone to replace following his death from sepsis incurred while operating behind enemy lines, Dr. Kotnis worked tirelessly, sometimes for 72 hours without sleep. He refused any special treatment, taught himself fluent Chinese, and passed on his knowledge by writing two textbooks on surgery (one uncompleted, he was actually struck by a fatal seizure as he was writing), and becoming a teacher and then the head of the Bethune Medical School.
It was while teaching at the school that he met, fell in love with and married Guo Qinglan, a nurse and nursing teacher. Their son, Yinhua, whose name means India-China was born just four months before Dr. Kotnis’s death.
Participation in the Chinese revolution had a profound effect on Dr. Kotnis. In an April 1, 1942 letter to his fellow team member, Dr. BK Basu, he wrote: “You know very well how backward I was before reaching Yan’an, my brain full of bourgeois ideas, and though full of national sentiments, hazy ideas of revolutionary methods. During over one year’s stay here, living the life of an Eighth Route Army man, ever receiving criticism from comrades, both during meetings and personal talks, I have myself been experiencing a good deal of transformation in my character, ideas etc.”
In July that year, Dr. Kotnis was admitted to membership of the Communist Party of China. When a student graduated from the Bethune School, Kotnis would write them the following words of encouragement: “Study hard for the sake of the liberation of the oppressed mankind” in English, and “Victory in the war of resistance against Japan” in Chinese.
In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, the Ke Dihua (Kotnis’s Chinese name) Medical Science Secondary Specialized School, was founded in 1992. More than 45,000 medical professionals have graduated from it. Each of the new students and staff must swear in front of a statue of Kotnis that they will work like him.
After Dr. Kotnis passed away on December 9, 1942, from epileptic seizures exacerbated by prolonged overwork, Comrade Mao Zedong, known to be an excellent calligrapher, wrote in his own hand:
“Dr. Kotnis, our Indian friend, came to China from afar to assist us in our war of resistance. He worked for five years in Yan’an and north China, giving medical treatment to our wounded soldiers and died of illness owing to constant overwork. The army has lost a helping hand, and the nation has lost a friend. Let’s always bear in mind his internationalist spirit.”
In an unusual move, in 2017, Mao’s original calligraphy was carefully restored and sent to his family members in India. Zheng Xiyuan, China’s consul-general in Mumbai, said at the time: “The calligraphy artefact sent by Chairman Mao is priceless and shows the historical friendship between the two countries and the regard for Dr Kotnis.”
These are just a couple of examples of how the Chinese people have never forgotten their Indian comrade-in-arms.
Soong Ching Ling, widow of China’s first president, Dr. Sun Yat Sen, and an important revolutionary leader in her own right, once wrote: “His memory belongs not only to your [Indian] people and ours but to the noble roll-call of fighters for the freedom and progress of all mankind. The future will honour him even more than the present because it was for the future that he struggled.”
Paying respects to the Kotnis family has consistently been a feature of every visit by a senior Chinese leader to India. Particularly, President Xi Jinping made a state visit to India from September 17-19, 2014. During his visit, Xi presented Friendship Awards to a number of personalities who had devoted themselves to the friendship between the two nations and peoples, including to Manorama Kotnis, a sister of Dr. Kotnis. The Chinese consulate-general in Mumbai specially flew the then 93-year-old and her family members to Delhi for the ceremony.
China Daily reported: “Manorama Kotnis, in her wheelchair, grabbed Xi’s hand firmly as he presented the award to her, thanked him for particularly taking time in his busy visit to meet them, and said they were deeply moved by the Chinese government and people for always remembering Kotnis and his family. Kotnis’ niece Samangala Borkar was a proud witness at the 2014 ceremony. ‘When I shook hands with President Xi, it was a spiritual feeling,’ she said. ‘He was so calm, soothing, affectionate and confident.’ The family of Samangala Borkar and her husband, Rajan Borkar, took care of Manorama Kotnis until she died in 2015.”
On August 30 this year, China’s Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, paid homage at the Dr. Kotnis Memorial Hall in Solapur, Maharashtra state, marking the 80th anniversary of his passing and the tenth anniversary of the completion of the Memorial Hall in his hometown.
Ambassador Sun said, the Chinese nation is a nation that remembers history and cherishes friendship. At a symposium to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, President Xi Jinping said in his important speech that, Canadian doctor Norman Bethune and Indian doctor Kotnis came to China from thousands of miles away to save lives. Their touching stories and noble character will always be remembered in the hearts of the Chinese people!
Ambassador Sun went on to say that Dr. Kotnis is a great friend of the Chinese people, a great son of the people of India, and a great internationalist fighter. What we can console Dr. Kotnis is that, after his sacrifice, with the dauntless fight of the righteous forces of the world, the World Anti-Fascist War and the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression achieved great victories. With the relentless struggle of the Indian people, India got rid of colonial oppression and achieved national independence. The Chinese Communist Party led the Chinese people to overthrow the oppression of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and founded the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese and Indian people have been committed to lasting friendship, and more and more people have joined the cause of developing China-India friendship.
Ambassador Sun stressed, China and India are important neighbours to each other. Both are ancient civilizations, the largest developing countries and emerging economies. China and India have a combined population of one third of humanity. We are ready to work with India to enhance political mutual trust, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, properly handle differences, and push China-India relations forward on the right track, so as to benefit our 2.8 billion people and promote world peace, stability and development.
We reprint below the full text of Ambassador Sun’s speech, which was originally carried on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Red Salute to Dr. DS Kotnis!
Mr.P.Sivasankar, Municipal Commissioner of Solapur,
Mr.Rajendra Jadhav, Chairman of Dr. Kotnis Memorial Committee,
Members of Dr. Kotnis Memorial Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear friends,
Namaste and good afternoon!
It is my great honor and pleasure to visit Solapur, the hometown of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, and pay rich tribute to Dr.Kotnis Memorial Hall.
This is my first visit to Solapur, but it feels like I’m reunited with an old friend, and I’m feeling so familiar with everyone present here and every tree and blade of grass here.
Dr. Kotnis is well known in so many households in China. Being here today, I have fulfilled my wishes for years .
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,
The Chinese nation is a nation that remembers history and cherishes friendship.
On 3 September, 2020, at a symposium to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, President Xi Jinping said in his important speech that, Canadian doctor Norman Bethune and Indian doctor Kotnis came to China from thousands of miles away to save lives. Their touching stories and noble character will always be remembered in the hearts of the Chinese people!
I still remember, over ten years ago in Mumbai I visited Ms. Manorama Kotnis, the third sister of Dr. Kotnis. Together we paid our respects to the eulogy written by Chairman Mao Zedong for Dr. Kotnis, recalled the life of Dr. Kotnis, reviewed the history of friendly exchanges between our two countries, and talked about the future of China-India friendship.
Just now, I visited the memorial hall to review the life and deeds of Dr. Kotnis. I was very much touched to see that Chairman Mao’s eulogy is well preserved here.
Here, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Solapur Municipal Corporation and Kotnis Memorial Hall for carefully maintaining the collections and Dr. Kotnis’s relics of this memorial hall and providing us with this valuable venue to commemorate Dr. Kotnis and carry forward the traditional friendship between China and India.
I also want to thank Mr. Rajendra Jadhav, Chairman of Kotnis Memorial Committee, all the members of Kotnis Memorial Committee, relatives of Dr. Kotnis and friends from Solapur.
Over the years, you have been committed to promoting people-to-people exchanges between the two countries and made important contributions to the cause of China-India friendship.
On behalf of the Chinese Embassy and Consulates General in India and all the Chinese friends, I thank you!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
Dr. Kotnis is a great friend of the Chinese people.
He was so much cordial to the Chinese people and fully involved with everyone. He lived together with them, sharing joys and sorrows, and learning to speak fluent Chinese.
He was not afraid of fatigue. From day to night, he worked nearly 20 hours a day. He encouraged and affected everyone around him with his enthusiasm, and had won the genuine reverence of the Chinese people and army.
Dr. Kotnis is a great son of the people of India.
He was completely dedicated to his work. Under the circumstances of extreme hardship and severe shortage of medicines, and facing the fires and bullets from the battlefield, he had completed over 900 surgeries in four years.
With excellent medical skills, he not only saved a large number of lives with his own hands, but also served as the first director of Bethune International Peace Hospital and trained a large group of skilled medical staffs for China.
Dr. Kotnis is a great internationalism warrior.
Dr. Kotnis was fearless of difficulties and dangers. He gave up a comfortable life in his hometown, and volunteered to join the World Anti-Fascist War to support the just cause of the Chinese people in fighting against Japanese militarist aggression.
Dr. Kotnis was fearless of sacrifice. He repeatedly crossed the blockade, set up the hospital closest to the front line, and performed surgery under storms of fires and bullets.
In December 1942, Dr. Kotnis became seriously ill after a long period of hard work and passed away in Tang county, Hebei Province, sacrificing his young life in China.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the passing of Dr. Kotnis and the 10th anniversary of the completion of Dr. Kotnis Memorial Hall in his hometown.
Dr. Kotnis was buried at Martyr Cemetery of North China Military Region in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, resting in the land where he once battled.
Before coming to Solapur, my colleagues in the Chinese Embassy in India specially contacted the People’s Government of Hebei Province and Bethune International Peace Hospital where Dr. Kotnis had worked. They took pictures of Kotnis’ tomb. Chinese people still laid flowers in front of his tomb.
Today, I will gift Kotnis Memorial Hall with these pictures.
This is the picture of the full-length statue of Dr. Kotnis erected in front of the tomb.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
This statue, which was completed in 1979, is shining bright as brand-new and represents the Chinese people’s endless yearning and immeasurable reverence for Dr. Kotnis.
Dr Kotnis’s eyes stared into the distance and future. We can feel his expectation for the progress and freedom of mankind, the maintenance of world peace and the promotion of China-India friendship.
What we can console Dr. Kotnis is that three years after his sacrifice, with the dauntless fight of the righteous forces of the world, the world Anti-Fascist War and the Chinese people’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression achieved great victories.
The purposes and principles of the UN Charter, to maintain international peace and to develop friendly relations among nations, have become the fundamental principles of international relations.
Despite facing various risks and challenges, peace and development still remain the theme of the time.
What we can comfort Dr. Kotnis is that five years after his sacrifice, with the relentless struggle of the Indian people, India got rid of colonial oppression and achieved national independence.
This year, India celebrated its 75th anniversary of independence with grand ceremonies. I wish to extend my congratulations to all the Indian friends and wish India greater success on the path of independent development and revitalization.
What we can solace Dr. Kotnis is that seven years after his sacrifice, the Chinese Communist Party led the Chinese people to overthrow the oppression of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism and founded the People’s Republic of China.
Over the past 70 years, the Chinese people unswerving explored our own path. Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era and will embark on a new journey.
What we can reassure Dr. Kotnis is that after his sacrifice, the Chinese and Indian people have been committed to lasting friendship, and more and more people have joined the cause of developing China-India friendship.
China and India are important neighbors to each other. Both are ancient civilizations, largest developing countries and emerging economies. China and India have a combined population of one third of humanity.
We are ready to work with India to enhance political mutual trust, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, properly handle differences, and push China-India relations forward on the right track, so as to benefit our 2.8 billion people and promote world peace, stability and development.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
Although Dr. Kotnis has left us for 80 years, his deeds will shine in history and will always be cherished and remembered.
A person’s life is limited, but as long as his spirit is inherited by the people, he will always live in our hearts!
We should carry on Dr. Kotnis’s legacy and continue to advance the cause of China-India friendship.
May the friendship between the Chinese and Indian peoples last forever!