George Hatem: True pioneer of CPC’s great cause
Published: Nov 17, 2022 12:07 AM

File photo: George Hatem treats leprosy patients. Photo: Courtesy of Zhou

File photo: George Hatem treats leprosy patients. Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Youma

In October 1949, a foreigner was invited to the Tian'anmen Rostrum for the founding ceremony of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The foreigner was George Hatem, known as Ma Haide in China, the first Westerner to ever become a CPC member and later obtain Chinese citizenship.

In November 1933, Hatem, who had received his doctorate in medicine, heard about a tropical disease that was raging in Shanghai, which determined his decision to come to China from the US to relieve people of their suffering. In Shanghai, he met Soong Chingling and some Communist Party of China (CPC) revolutionaries. Under their influence, Hatem was actively involved in the CPC's revolutionary activities, his clinic often becoming a place for Party members to contact and meet.

In June 1936, recommended by Soong, Hatem arrived in northern Shaanxi where he saw the real CPC and witnessed this extraordinary people's army with his own eyes.

Hatem was impressed by the indomitable Red Army soldiers and their solidarity in the face of tremendous hardships. Once, during the march, the troops suffered from a severe shortage of necessities, and bouts of hunger and exhaustion. Seeing that Hatem was too tired to proceed, an old soldier fumbled in his pocket for a while and emerged with a small piece of rock candy, unwrapped it and gave it to Hatem. 

Against all odds, the army and the people were united as one. Such optimism was rarely seen in other places at that time in China. It inspired Hatem to remain in China for the rest of his life, as he believed that only such people could change the future of the country. 

In October 1936, after conducting interviews in Yan'an, Edgar Snow decided to leave, but Hatem decided to stay on, choosing northern Shaanxi as his base, and gave himself the Chinese name Ma Haide.

After the three main forces of the Chinese Red Army converged in October 1936, Hatem, who had been appointed as public health advisor to the Central Military Commission of the CPC, stayed with the troops. On the battlefield, Hatem saw soldiers who braved all dangers on the front line, and who held their guns tight even after death. He saw high-ranking Red Army officers such as Zhu De and He Long offer their own horses to the injured. Young soldiers laid down their lives for the noble lofty ideal about a new China. Deeply moved, Hatem made another important decision in his life: He applied to join the CPC. His application was soon approved by the Party. 

In February 1937, Hatem officially joined the CPC. He said that he felt extremely delighted to be able to participate in this great cause of liberation and to be truly and centrally involved rather than being on the sidelines.

In 1950, Hatem officially became a Chinese citizen, and was appointed Medical Consultant of the Ministry of Health of the PRC. He helped to establish the Central Dermatovenerology Institute, and devoted himself to the prevention and treatment of and research on venereal diseases and leprosy.

Global Times