This week’s profiled student is P. C. Chan, or Chan Pak Chue (陳伯賜, pinyin Chén Bócì, Jyutping Cantonese Can4 Baak3ci3). Born in 1895, P. C. Chan became an influential doctor and Christian both in the United States and China.
On 29 August 1895, or possibly 10 February 1895, P. C. Chan was born in Sai Chuen Village in Jiangsu province. However, there are also indications that he was born in Macau; at least one ship’s manifest lists him as being Portuguese (link), and the Congressional Record dealing with his citizenship claim also states that he and his family are Portuguese nationals (Serial Set Vol. No. 11819, Session Vol. No.5, Senate Report 717). Still other sources claim that he was from Yangmei, a village in the southwest of China. The previously-linked source also states that he was educated in his native village and then entered school at Xi’nan. The 1921 Who’s Who of Chinese Students in America claims that he attended Kwong Wah Medical College in Canton, China. Apart from these scant references, however, we know little about his early schooling.
P. C. Chan married young, in 1912, to a woman named Oi-Jen Tain (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11819). They had a son, Yim Tao, who was born in Canton in 1916, according to his entry paperwork from when he went to the US to study, but in truth he couldn’t have been born any later than the middle of 1915, because his father arrived in the US in 1914. P. C. Chan entered the United States in 1914, the 3rd of July by his own accounting (link to entry paperwork). He entered alone, and his wife’s and son’s first visits to the US were decades later, so the family was separated for several years while P. C. Chan completed his schooling. It seems he entered the Americas via Canada, and the entry paperwork linked is filed under “St. Albans, Vermont”. It’s possible that he entered at Vancouver, traveled across Canada via train, and then crossed into the US on the Atlantic side, but this seems a little convoluted, as he wasn’t going to Vermont at all. His destination was Wilmore, Kentucky, to attend Asbury College.
Although he didn’t graduate Asbury until 1919, he didn’t attend the school consistently from 1914-1919. His World War I draft card lists him as living in Falcon, North Carolina, a small town near Fayetteville, and he was doing ministerial work under the auspices of the Wilmington Conference of the Free Will Baptist Church (link to draft card). This is very interesting, because while my Chinese source (linked in the first paragraph) does mention that P. C. Chan became a devout Christian after meeting a missionary woman at Xi’nan, it also states that P. C. Chan’s main aim in studying in the US was to become a medical doctor, and he was not studying medicine at Asbury College (original text: “以勤学纯朴，得西南美籍传教士罗姑娘之赏识，偕赴美国并助其入医科学校学医。”, translation: “Because of his diligent and honest study, he earned the appreciation of Miss Luo, an American missionary in Xi’nan; she accompanied him to the US and helped him enter medical school to study to be a doctor.”).
After earning his AB in 1919, he entered Emory University in Georgia to study medicine. He was a sophomore in the school of medicine in the 1920-1921 Emory University Catalog (pg. 216). He visited Washington DC in August of 1921, giving a speech at Del Ray Methodist Episcopal Church, and according to the article in the Washington Times, he was still planning to return to Emory University that fall (26 August 1921). However, although the 1921 Who’s Who lists him has having an Emory, Georgia PO Box, he wasn’t listed in the 1921-22 Emory Catalog. Instead, he had transferred to George Washington University’s School of Medicine, and was in his third year, living at 330 C Street (The School of Medicine Catalog, pg. 61). He earned his MD from George Washington University on 10 June 1923 (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11819), and was licensed to practice medicine in DC on 11 August of that year (Serial Set Vol. No. 9894, Session Vol. No.E, House Report 1667). He stayed on at GW for another 2 years to do postgraduate work in surgery.
He continued to travel and give speeches to school and religious groups. For example, in 1924, he gave a speech to the Johns Hopkins YMCA during their April fellowship dinner (The Johns Hopkins Newsletter, Vol. XXVIII No. 44, 25 March 1924). But once his postgrad work was done, in June of 1925, he returned to China, possibly refusing a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship in the process (The Breeze, Vol. XXIII No. 18, 6 Dec 1946). I wouldn’t blame him at all if he had; at this point he was 30 years old and had been away from his family for 10 years. Thus, he returned to China to practice medicine.
He returned to Kwangtung (Guangdong) province and began working at Kwangpung University and Kwang Wah Medical College (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11819), where he both taught and practiced surgery. In 1929, he opened his own practice, and later his own hospital, serving as the president (Chinese source, original text: “不久独资开办福宁医院，自任院长”, translation: “Not long after, he opened an independently-owned hospital, Fu Ning [Fok Ling], and was self-appointed president”). His wife, Mrs. O. J. Tain, was trained as a midwife, and worked in her husband’s hospital (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11819). They also had two more children, daughters, in 1926 and 1928, and the family of 5 lived in Canton but often crossed over to Macau; the children were both born in Macau and thus were Portuguese like their father.
The hospital, called both Fok Ling and Central Hospital, was apparently a strongly Christian hospital, according to one source I found. Full disclosure, this source I’m about to share with you is a man named Ray Brubaker, and he is a bit of a nutter. He has self-published several free e-books, the titles of which include, “Will Aids Destroy America?” and “UFO’s And The Bible“. I also have no idea whether Brubaker even knew P. C. Chan, or any information about how Brubaker got these quotes, so there’s plenty of reason to take these quotes with a grain of salt. However, P. C. Chan was a deeply Christian man, so it seems very possible that these are authentic quotes. Here’s the first one about P. C. Chan’s hospital:
One such hospital was operated by Dr. Chan. He commented on his work and what had happened during those hectic days of the Revolution: “During the period from 1925 to 1949, I was working as a surgeon at civil hospitals and I found that we have no interference by Chiang Kai-shek’s government. We have even preached the gospel in our hospital. We have also employed a Bible woman to visit patients from bed to bed, room to room and then it was a very pleasant year.”
The Chans did not stay in Canton for the entirety of those 24 years. In 1934, P. C. Chan left the hospital in the hands of a Chan Pok Lau – who doesn’t seem to be a relation – to return to Washington DC. He sailed to San Francisco in October of 1934 (ship’s manifest), then from San Francisco to New York, where he arrived in December (ship’s manifest). His son Yim Tao also came to the US at this time, but he didn’t travel to DC with his father; rather, he was attending Asbury College. O. J. Tain and her two daughters stayed in Canton, since she had given birth to another son in 1932 and was pregnant with a daughter who was born in 1934 (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11819). As before, she crossed the border to Macau to give birth, thus granting her children Portuguese citizenship.
P. C. Chan lived at 3220 Hiatt Place NW in Washington DC, according to his son’s entry paperwork, and studied another postgraduate course in surgery at George Washington University (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11819). He also took up practicing medicine in DC, which caused a bit of a stir. You see, his license to practice medicine had expired in 1929, but of course he was not in the country to renew it. In fact, in 1931 the US Congress had passed an act declaring all DC medical licenses void, forcing all practicing doctors to apply for new ones. Supposedly, the DC Medical Board sent a notice of this fact to P. C. Chan at Canton, but there was a Japanese blockade going on at the time, so he never got the letter. Thus, when he tried to renew his license in 1934, he was rejected for not having it done in time (by 1933). He had to appeal to Congress to get re-licensed, an appeal that was granted in January of 1936 (US Congressional Serial Set Nos. 9894 and No. 11819). This prompted an opinion piece in the Washington Post, bemoaning the wastes of time the US Congress concerned themselves with. Actual quote from the article: “The greatest deliberative body in the world went into action on Tuesday and brought forth a piece of legislation for the District of Columbia. If accepted by the House this measure will exert considerable influence upon the life of at least one individual” (Washington Post, 11 Apr 1935, pg. 8).
There was only one problem: P. C. Chan finished his postgrad course in October of 1935 and returned to Canton. So if he couldn’t practice medicine while in DC, what was he doing outside of his coursework? Well, he was continuing the other line of his life’s work – the spreading of the Christian Gospel. Working with the DC Federation of Churches, he succeeded in setting up the Chinese Community Church in 1935, which built its first building at 1011 L Street NW in 1939 (US National Park Service, “Asian Reflections on the American Landscape”, pg. 36).
P. C. Chan returned to his hospital in Canton to his wife and 4 minor children. The 1940 Asbury College Alumni Register caught up with him here (pg. 93). However, politically things were getting more tense. This is probably why, in 1937, he decided to apply for a license to practice medicine in Hong Kong. He most likely used the address of a friend or friendly hospital (7 Victory Avenue, Homantin, Kowloon) to register and have that license in his pocket in case he and his family needed to leave Canton in a hurry (Biographical Dictionary of Medical Practitioners in Hong Kong 1841-1941). The family didn’t pull the escape lever quite yet, but P. C. Chan did make another trip to the US to do another postgraduate course in surgery (ship’s manifest, US Congressional Serial Set No. 11819). This time, he brought his family – his wife, the son and daughter who were conceived before he left for the US in 1934, as well as his two daughters, now adults, who had been born in the late 1920s. All 3 daughters entered schools in Georgia, while the rest of the family proceeded to Washington DC (The Breeze). The postgrad course was a shorter one, running from October 1946 to February 1947, but P. C. Chan still had time to give regular religious lectures (The Breeze). P. C. Chan’s son enrolled in school in Virginia, and P. C. Chan and his wife then returned to Canton.
The time to pull the escape lever had come. Again from Ray Brubaker:
Another who fled China as a result of the spreading of Communism was Mrs. Pak Chue Chan who describes her special ministry to, and exodus from, China: “Yes, I have spent about forty years in China and Hong Kong, that is, I should say in the Orient, doing missionary work…. However, the Communist war began. So from’ 46 until ’49, we saw the Communists coming down from North China. We had a few brushes with them. At one time they threatened to bomb our Gospel boat [Author’s note: she apparently had a houseboat that she would use to travel to riverside villages and minister to them] and to kill all the Chinese and Americans on it if we didn’t leave that village. But we felt led of the Lord to stay there and we did. We were able to stay in China until August of 1949, just before the Communists took over. Most of the missionaries had to leave at that time. Those who didn’t, eventually ended up in prisons, or house arrest or, of course, many of them lost their lives as well. We came out to Hong Kong and carried on the same work. We were able to move some of our Gospel boats down the Pearl River to Hong Kong and carried on the boat work among the boat people in Hong Kong.”
Brubaker, R. “The Future of China”, pg. 13-14
Her husband concurred:
“So when in 1949, Mao Tse-tung and his government came and controlled Canton, the place where I was working. Of course, I knew beforehand and I got out eight months before the communists came to control the city, and then I went to Hong Kong. I left the Fok Ling hospital and went to a successor, Dr. Wong, who ran it. Then we had communication with him by letter, by telephone and then in succeeding years great persecution came to him, came to the hospital. …finally they caught him, exiled him to other places, and they even took my hospital and the hospital was closed into the communist control. From then on, they used the hospital for some other purposes other than medical and surgical and that was the aim of my hospital. ”
Brubaker, R. “The Future of China, pg. 8
P. C. Chan was finally ready to use his Hong Kong medical license. He practiced medicine in Hong Kong from January 1949 to July 1951, and then he and his wife decamped to Mauritius – a country in southeast Africa – on a medical mission (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11891). They then entered the US at New York in 1953 (entry paperwork). P. C. Chan was quickly hired at the Iowa State University Hospital, and the family moved to Ames (Ames City Directory, 1954). He also worked as an assistant professor of hygiene (US Congressional Serial Set No. 11891). And then, in a repeat of 1934, the issue of his medical license came up again.
As a new resident of Iowa, he obviously did not have a license to practice medicine. He had been granted legal residence as a condition of his employment at ISU, but he found that when he went to apply for a medical license, he was rejected due to not being a “permanent resident”. So, he met with an officer of the Immigration Service, and the officer told him that was possible to apply for permanent residence. This was trickier at that time because of the quota limit placed on Asian immigrants, but P. C. Chan was assured that there was room for him to gain his US citizenship. So he and his wife applied.
Not only was their application denied, but the Chans found out that the quote for Asian immigrants had been exhausted for several decades in the future, so there was no way they would have ever been approved. In 1955, they lost their deportation hearing. Possibly scared, possibly depressed, and possibly angry beyond belief, the Chans and their friends in the community petitioned the US Congress for relief for themselves and their two youngest children, and this petition was granted.
His position at ISU secure, P. C. Chan turned his attention to his twin interests of medicine and Christian service. He was involved in the Iowa State YMCA, giving lectures as he so liked to do (ISU Yearbook, 1955, pg. 212). He also set up a non-profit called “Promise, Inc.”, which had the objectives of: “provid[ing] modern medical facilities, to provide schools for the underprivileged, to create a self-sufficient agriculture program to feed the hungry, and to teach the Christian spirit” (Iowa State Promise Inc. Records).
P. C. Chan also started turning his thoughts to his legacy and his life’s experiences. He did a set of recorded interviews with Iowa State in which he discussed things like “Family history of the Chans”, “Adventures in faith, experiences told”, and “Philosophy and thoughts of Clinic” (Iowa State Promise Inc. Records). In 1973, his wife, Oi Jen Tain, passed away after 61 years of marriage. He remarried to an American woman, and the two of them adopted a boy from China. He also wrote his most famous work, “The Marvelous Promises: The Miracle of a Chinese Christian Doctor”, in 1974. On 8 Dec 1991, at the ripe old age of 96, P. C. Chan passed away in Ames, Iowa, and was buried in Missouri with his second wife’s family (Find a Grave link). His gravestone reads, “Oh Lord, truly I am thy servant,” a fitting Scripture for a man who dedicated his life to healing the sick and spreading his religion.