China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



2012 March 27 in The China Beat


Copyright 2012 David Webster.


Millions of Chinese have memorized Mao Zedong’s 1939 lines “In Memory of Norman Bethune,” written soon after the Canadian surgeon’s death amidst the war against Japan. As a result, Bethune remains the best-known Canadian in China, still outstripping comedian Dashan (Mark Rowswell).

“Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warm-heartedness towards all comrades and the people,” Mao wrote, extolling Bethune’s “spirit of absolute selflessness.” If Bethune was pure selflessness and internationalist heroism after coming to China, it was only after arising phoenix-like from a selfish, dissolute life plagued by betrayal, self-aggrandizement, brushes with death and perhaps mental illness, according to the authors of a new biography.