The Doctor Who Was Followed by Ghosts
By Li Qunying and Louis Han. ECW Press, 281 pp, $28.95, hardcover
“Come eat with us. I don’t care how they treated you.” With these words, Li Qunying defied more than a thousand years of Chinese tradition by inviting her maid to eat with the family. An uneducated “barefoot doctor” who had only basic medical training, Li survived the most traumatic period of modern Chinese history with a belief in class equality.
With the help of her youngest son, Vancouver’s Louis Han, as compiler, Li took seven years to complete The Doctor Who Was Followed by Ghosts. A memoir of family, war, and suffering, the book documents her struggles through the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, the Great Leap Forward famine, and the Cultural Revolution.
Born in 1926 in Inner Mongolia, Li Qunying offers a story about loyalty and sacrifice to family and country. A dedicated, lifelong member of the Chinese Communist Party, Li found herself betrayed numerous times, and at one point was forced to choose between divorcing her husband in order to save her children from political persecution, and staying with him and accepting life in the labour camps. This chaotic period not only claimed the life of one of her sons but ultimately took a serious toll on her husband’s health and led to his early death. She also witnessed the suffering of rural people, whose tragic stories the Chinese government continues to suppress.
Rich in both medical and political history, Li’s memoir details many of the unorthodox methods of the barefoot doctors—peasants handpicked by authorities to take the place of humiliated professional physicians who were demoted and sent to remote labour camps. And although literature about this period of Chinese history is abundant (Wild Swans and Red China Blues being the most famous), Li’s story is unique in its surprising sense of detachment. Her narrative reveals sorrow but not regret for the revolution.
Louis Han will speak about his mother’s story at 2 p.m. on Sunday (May 4), at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden.