By: Daniel Otero
In instructing many classes, it’s surprisingly alarming how little people know about foreigners whom have done great contributions for China.
In a society that often focuses on its negatives. People like to typically see the ‘glass half- empty’ instead of ‘half-full’.
Part of that constitutes presently on how history is taught and on how people view foreigners; whether out of ignorance or through history books. Focusing often on the “Century of Humiliation” (1849 – 1949); period in which China was conquered and divided-up by superpowers and later came 1937. Oh, 1937, who can forget! With the Japanese invasion of China, the subsequent massacres have had been a profound and permanent psychological effect on its people.
However, when shouting to the winds, “Who was John Rabe?”
There are only the throes and echoes of one’s own voice, and the perpetual silence of those whom don’t know better! The masses are full of blank stares, like a ‘deer caught in the headlights’ and many shaking their heads without comprehension, total confusion or ignorance.
Without truly realizing that Rabe saved over 200 thousand Chinese between December, 1937 and January, 1938; to put it into more comprehensive words, yes, almost a quarter-of-a-million people inside a city [at that period] of half-a-million in population, Nanjing! Rabe spent almost half his life in China. He died in his country, Germany  in relative obscurity.
It gets even stranger, surreal/weird with a woman like, Pearl Buck (recognized by her Chinese name as Sài Zhēnzhū, 賽珍珠). American-born writer of the International Best Seller, “The Good Earth” (1931) and Nobel Prize Literature (1938) who lived in China for 42 years. I have to admit, I was also ignorant about her until thanks to a former colleague [Stephanie Merkens] introduced her life to me back in 2013.
However, for Chinese it should be different. Since she had lived in China for over half her life and taught Literature at Nanjing University for 13 years; a unique lady ahead of her time. One who promoted equal and humans rights for Asians; this was a moment in history when nobody seemed to care and she did.
Another one in memory goes back to my military days, Joseph Stilwell. One tough son-of-a- bitch who was overly honest and a recognized Anglophobe with many imperfections; he was too blunt and honest for most! Ahead of his time in military tactics for others! And it was thanks to him and Frank Merrell, both of them did create the contemporary Special Operations Units. But in the case of General Stilwell, he did something even greater. He trained Chinese in India and believed they could do their own fighting. Proving this fact, he fought alongside them in Burma (present-day Myanmar). The General was better known by his men as “Vinegar Joe” for his meanness. He also trained the Chindits (corrupted word that came from Chinthe, Burmese mythical beast who guards the Buddhist temples) in deep-jungle insertions. Further, “Old Two Shirts” (other acrimonious names used to describe the General) did recognize the Chinese as a valuable fighting force, well trained could easily lead and fight alongside the allied forces.
Today very little is remembered or even mentioned in the Chinese history books about his amazing life. The only thing acknowledging his service for China is his bust (sculpture) in his old home in Chongqing; presently converted into a museum honouring him.
The last one is better known to Chinese in the history books and thank goodness for small details… He was Doctor Norman Bethune, (Bái Qiúēn, 白求恩) Canadian who first served in the Spanish Civil War and later came to China to help wounded soldiers while battling the Japanese. His job was to serve and place frontline-field hospitals to help save the wounded. Sadly, as a Doctor, after a year-and-a-half in China, he cut his finger and got septicemia, which later killed him! The year was 1939.
Here are four great human beings. People who have done great things for China and when people speak of how little foreigners contribute for the Middle Kingdom, well here are four examples of greatness to remember. Therefore, don’t forget your history or it might come back to repeat itself, and now you have four names to learn about: Rabe, Buck, Stilwell and Bethune. Four humanitarians to admire as examples for Chinese and Ex-patriots alike to follow; so, get to learning and doing!