Aid, Incorporated: American Medical Relief to China and the Development of Medical Diplomacy, 1937-1949

Aelwen Wetherby University of Oxford 2011-2012 Dissertation Research Fellow Aid, Incorporated: American Medical Relief to China and the Development of Medical Diplomacy, 1937-1949 My dissertation explores the development of private American medical relief to China from 1937 to 1949 through the work of United China Relief, Inc. (UCR) and two of its member agencies. Founded in 1941 with the backing of Time magazine founder and publishing magnate Henry R. Luce, UCR sought to coordinate the efforts of eight private agencies that had become active in promoting American relief efforts to China since the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Gaining the explicit support of the U.S. government through the National War Fund in 1943, UCR’s organisational influence helped move many of these agencies beyond their more humble, grassroots origins. I am specifically interested in this transition – from the more limited projects of a group of “medical activists”, to a national enterprise of “medical diplomacy”. Straddling the divide between political and humanitarian interests, the story of UCR medical relief promises an important chapter in the history of humanitarianism in the twentieth century, during a period of great transition in international relations. The historical study of an organisation presents a unique set of challenges, not only in its inevitable minefield of acronyms and committee titles, but also to the historian’s attempt to maintain the human elements of its story. While meeting minutes and inter-office memos can, with some patience, construct a chronological account of organisational activities, the difficulty lies in using these same records to extract more personal portraits of the people involved. Considering UCR not as an abstract organisational body, but as the sum of its human elements, requires gaining some insight into the individuals who shaped it – from the highest echelons of its leadership, to the administrative staff who made its work possible. With many of these people having lived beyond the reach of the public eye, such portraits can be difficult to craft. The extensive materials of the United Service to China Records (as UCR was renamed in 1946), housed at Princeton University’s Mudd Manuscript Library, proved substantial enough in both scope and content to offer a cornerstone for my dissertation research. In fact, with nearly 40 linear feet of material, simply choosing which parts of the collection to prioritize proved one of the most difficult aspects of my research visit! In this endeavour, Mudd Library staff were incredibly helpful, and both Dan Linke and Helene van Rossum even offered suggestions for additional Princeton collections that I might find relevant. Much of the United Service to China Records consisted of the official paperwork that has proved valuable in developing a basic profile and chronology of UCR activities. However, it was in the correspondence files of the China Office, Committee on Health and Medicine, and cooperating agencies that the more valuable personal portraits I sought slowly began to emerge. With existing studies of UCR focusing on their activities in the United States, I was interested to learn of a more substantial physical presence in China than I had initially anticipated. Maintaining an office in China from 1942 to 1950, UCR staff stationed there became an important point of contact with the numerous Chinese organisations that became recipients of UCR aid – as well as a point of controversy in parts of UCR itself. The resources of the American Philosophical Society offered more direct access to developing an illustration of two of the individuals involved in UCR’s medical work through the American Bureau for Medical Aid to China (one of UCR’s eight cooperating agencies). Both James B. Murphy and Eugene Opie were pathologists with ties to the Rockefeller Institute. While Murphy’s papers proved slightly less fruitful than I had hoped in illustrating his personal experience with UCR, his papers still gave me a worthwhile glimpse into Murphy’s own life and interests. Meanwhile, Opie’s involvement in both the Executive and Personnel Committees of the American Bureau for Medical Aid to China (ABMAC) offered a valuable glimpse into the organization’s efforts to send American medical volunteers to China. While my initial research seemed to suggest that the ABMAC never made many serious attempts to coordinate the travel of interested medical volunteers (prioritising the transmission of money and supplies instead), Opie’s collection demonstrated that, in fact, the ABMAC seriously considered the possibility of sending a unit of American volunteers to work with the Chinese Red Cross Society. In the end, however, the ABMAC only financed the return travel of a handful of Chinese doctors and nurses, who had been studying in the U.S. when the war broke out. Beyond adding detail to the story of UCR’s medical work in China, Murphy and Opie provide illustrations of the type of people who were involved in American medical relief to China. As physicians and scientists, participation in the ABMAC became an avenue for applying their professional expertise to outside interests. Understanding their own motivations – from the personal to the professional, the ethical to the political – adds meaning to the larger enterprise in which they took part. How might their involvement (alongside that of so many others) lead us to redefine diplomatic actors in the history of foreign relations? Drawing from a longstanding historical debate over the role of charity and humanitarianism in public and private spheres, their involvement may be a manifestation of political expression as much as personal ethics. As an American student based in the United Kingdom, a PACHS Dissertation Research Fellowship proved an invaluable tool in my research. Not only did it enable me to access critical archival resources in the United States, but it also introduced me to the vibrant historical community of the Philadelphia area. As a conclusion to my month in the Philadelphia area, the Introductory Symposium offered a wonderful opportunity to share my work with other scholars and receive valuable feedback, while getting a glimpse of the incredible diversity of resources available at PACHS institutions. I am incredibly grateful for the support PACHS has offered in enabling me to immerse myself in such an inspiring environment, and am eager to begin putting the material I was able to gather into writing.