Dr. Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, or Kē Dìhuá (柯棣华) as he is fondly remembered in China, was a true symbol of selflessness and international cooperation. Born in the Indian state of Maharashtra, Dr. Kotnis was one of five doctors sent to China in 1938 to provide medical assistance during the Japanese invasion of China. It was a mission that would change his life forever and earn him the undying love and respect of the Chinese people.
Dr. Kotnis arrived in China at a time of great turmoil and conflict. He and his team were warmly welcomed by Mao Zedong, Zhu De, and other top leaders of the Communist Party, as they were the first medical team to come from another Asian country. Dr. Kotnis quickly established himself as a frontline doctor with extraordinary surgical skills and supreme dedication to his mission of saving the lives of Chinese soldiers.
His tireless efforts and extraordinary dedication to his work earned him the nickname “Dr. Thoughtful” and “Old Ke” from the Chinese people. In 1940, he reportedly performed surgeries for up to 72 hours and treated more than 800 patients in just 13 days. Such feats of endurance and dedication endeared him to the Chinese people and made him a household name in the country.
In 1941, Dr. Kotnis was appointed as the director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital, named after the famous Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune. He performed about 2,000 operations during his tenure, further cementing his reputation as a gifted and dedicated doctor.
Dr. Kotnis was married to a Chinese lady named Guō Qìnglán (郭庆兰), she gave birth to their son less than four months before his death. The boy was named “Yinhua”印华, literally meaning “India” and “China”. (Yinhua died in 1967 at the age of 24 as a result of medical malpractice, shortly before graduating from medical college.)
A series of epileptic seizures killed him on 9 December 1942. Dr. Kotnis was buried in the Heroes Courtyard in Nanquan Village. At that time, Mao Zedong mourned his death by observing that “the army has lost a helping hand, the nation has lost a friend. Let us always bear in mind his internationalist spirit.”It is said that he joined the Communist Party of China on 7 July 1942. Madame Sun Yat-sen said, concerning his role in the revolution, that “His memory belongs not only to your people and ours but to the noble roll-call of fighters for the freedom and progress of all mankind. The future will honor him even more than the present because it was for the future that he struggled.”
During his mission, he was also a lecturer at the Dr. Bethune Hygiene School of the Jinchaji (晉察冀) Military Command, and the first director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital, Yan’an.A bronze statue of Dr.Kotnis was erected outside a medical school in north China. Everyone knows the name ” Kē Dìhuá “. Kē Dìhuá is a household name in China. Apart from the school named after him as the Shijiazhuang Ke Dihua Medical Science Secondary Specialized School, there are memorials of Kotnis in both Shijiazhuang, the capital of China’s Hebei province, and Tangxian county where he once worked.
In conclusion, Dr. Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis was a true hero, whose dedication and selflessness in the face of great adversity earned him the love and respect of the Chinese people. He will always be remembered as a shining example of Sino-Indian friendship and cooperation, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.