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Dr. John Otte: Surgeon,
Evangelist, Architect, Carpenter
Last 10 Days "Hope
Manson--Father of Tropical Medicine"
Ancient China Discovered (and lost!) Surgery"
Dr. John Otte not only founded but also
designed and built (with his own hands) three hospitals, including Gulangyu’s
historic Hope Hospital. During Otte’s
copious free time he designed such Gulangyu edifices as the islet’s
most conspicuous land-mark, the red-domed “Eight Diagrams Building”
From his youth Otte wanted to preach, but diphtheria hurt his voice, and
since he loved science more than seminary, he became a missionary doctor
instead. After graduation from the University of Michigan, he did a year
of post-graduate work in Holland, which gained him experience, as well
as the financial support of the Dutch, who valued his selfless service
to their community.
Otte and his wife Frances Phelps Otte arrived in Amoy on January 13, 1888,
and began medical work in the backwater village of Xiaoxi (Pinghe County)
which had a small but thriving church under the Chinese pastor Iap Han-cheong.
Neerbosch Hospital While Otte would have preferred
Amoy or Gulangyu, he put his heart into his work. He designed and helped
build the two-storey brick hospital, and lacking a capable local carpenter,
built the wooden furniture himself. Locals initially opposed him, but
the energetic missionary doctor/architect/carpenter quickly won not only
their hearts but also their financial support. Mandarins and wealthy Chinese
happily augmented Otte’s meager $1200 building fund, and peasants
volun-teered their labor. On March 5, 1889, pastor Iap dedicated Neerbosch
Hospital, which was named after a Dutch town that donated funds for the
hospital because Otte had cared for Dutch orphans during a measles epidemic.
Eighty Chinese patients arrived the first day, and within weeks patients
were lining up at 2 a.m. each day for the 5 a.m. opening. Otte wrote,
came: the well-to-do and the beggar; the proud scholar; the attaché
of the Mandarin as well as the untutored toiler of the soil… In
the first three months of operation, 1,500 different patients visited
the hospital and received treatment 7,000 times.”
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Great Curse By the time of Otte’s 1895 furlough,
Neerbosch hospital had doubled in size and Otte had treated 50,000 out-patients,
over 2,400 in-patients, and performed over 1,500 operations. A Chinese
doctor from Zhangzhou whose son Otte had treated donated a microscope
and the local mandarin funded a refuge for addicts of opium, which Otte
called one of humanity’s greatest curses. Otte wrote,
forced opium upon China. Not a single intelligent native doubts this
from Li Hung Chang down. This is England’s sin for which all the
thousands poured into the coffers of the various missionary societies
Otte tried to reduce
addicts’ suffering by gradual reduction of opium intake, but this
did not lessen the agony and only prolonged the pain. Otte described their
pain as "indescribable…if ever I have been able to conceive
what the sufferings of hell must be,” [it was their suffering].
Otte treated 66 addicts from July 1891 to July 1892, but wrote that even
if they stayed off the drug, they would suffer physically for the rest
of their lives with indigestion, neurasthenia, bowel problems and impotency.
They would be so miserable that many would return to opium to alleviate
the pain. Still, many remained off the drug—and even returned with
addicted friends in tow.
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“Opium Refuge” “For the first five
days these patients are considered and treated as maniacs. They are
locked up, and their food is handed them through a barred window. It
is only in this way that they can be kept in the hospital.
[Of five patients] “The first day all went well, but the next
day they became raving maniacs. Night and day they did nothing but crawl
on the ground and howl like wild beasts; their room became filthy, and,
when the coolie went in to clean it, four men [were needed] at times
to watch the room to keep the patients from scaping…Whenever the
physician or assistant appeared, they would beg on their knees to be
let out, if only for a few minutes. When reasoned with, they said they
were doing their best to keep quiet, but they seemed to have lost all
control. Knowing this, they were patiently and kindly treated. When
left alone, they made strenuous efforts to escape, and finally succeeded
in wrenching off a foreign lock from the door. This was discovered in
time, and heavy iron staples were clenched on the inside, and the door
secured on the outside with a padlock. But on the fifth night they bent
the staples with their fingers, so as to open the door. They then jumped
down from a verandah twelve feet high and made their escape.”
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Here for Hope Hospital.
Ancient China Discovered (and lost!) Surgery
(From McGowan, 1913, pp.176-9)
was not a doctor in the Empire who knew anything of anatomy and for
any one of them to have performed a serious surgical operation would
have meant certain death to the patient. [But]…
“Tradition tells the story of one famous doctor [Huatuo], who
lived in the misty past, and whose prescriptions form part of the medical
library of every regular practitioner, that is intensely interesting.
He seems to stand out more prominently than any of the others who have
become conspicuous in the history of medicine, because he evidently
had the ambition and perhaps the genius to inaugurate a new system in
the treatment of diseases. He evidently felt there were occasions when
the knife ought to be used if life were to be saved.
“On one occasion a military officer had been severely wounded
in the arm by a poisoned arrow in a great battle in which he had taken
part. The doctor, who for long centuries has been a god, and shrines
and temples have been erected in which his image sits enshrined, was
summoned to his assistance. He saw at a glance that unless heroic measures
were at once adopted the man would die of blood-poisoning.
Contrary to the universal practice then in vogue, he cut down to the
very bone, extracted the arrow, and scraping away the poison that might
have been injected into the flesh, he bound up the gaping wound, using
certain soothing salves to assist Nature in her process of healing.
“The result proved a great success, and might have been the means
of introducing a new era in the treatment of diseases throughout China.
“Not long after a high mandarin [Caocao], who had heard of the
wonderful cure, summoned the same doctor to prescribe for him. He had
been greatly troubled with pains in his head, and no medical man that
had attended him had been able to give him any relief. His case having
been carefully diagnosed, the doctor proceeded to tell him what he thought
ought to be done.
“I find,” he said, “that what really is the matter
with you is that your brain is affected. There is a growth upon it,
which, unless it is removed, will cause your death.
Medicine in this case,” he continued, “will be of no avail.
An operation will have to be performed. Your skull must be opened, and
the growth that is endangering your life must be removed.
“The thing, I think, can be safely done, and your health will
be perfectly restored, and you may continue to live for a good many
“If you are pleased to confide in me, I have full confidence in
myself that I can do all that is needed to restore you to perfect health.
“Whilst he was talking a cloud had been slowly gathering over
the mandarin’s face. His eyes began to flash with excitement and
a look of anger to convulse his face. In a voice tremulous with passion,
he said: “You propose to split open my skull, do you? It is quite
evident to me that your object is to murder me. You wish for my death,
but I shall frustrate that purpose of yours by having you executed.”
Calling a policeman, he ordered him to drag the man to prison, whilst
he gave orders to an official who was standing by that in ten days hence
the doctor should be decapitated for the crime of conspiring against
“During the days he was in prison he so won the heart of the jailer
by his gentleness and patience that he showed him the utmost devotion
and attention. The evening before his execution, he handed over to him
some documents that he had been very carefully preserving, and said,
‘I am most grateful to you for the kindness you have shown me
during the last few days. You have helped to relieve the misery of my
prison. I wish I had something substantial to give you to prove to you
my appreciation of the sympathy and tender concern you have manifested
“’There is one thing, indeed, that I can bestow on you,
and that is the manuscripts of all the cases I have attended. These,”
he said, handing them to the jailer, “will raise your family to
wealth and honor for many generations yet to come. They explain the
methods I have employed in the treatment of disease. Never part with
them; neither let the secrets they contain be divulged by any of your
posterity, and so long as your descendants are faithful to them poverty
shall never shadow the homes of your sons and grandsons nor of their
children after them.’
“Next day this great medical genius was foully put to death merely
to satisfy the caprice of an ignorant official, and the first dawn of
surgical enterprise was eclipsed by his death, and many a tedious century
would have to drag its weary way along before the vision that had died
out in blood would again appear to deliver the suffering men and women
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