Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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New Zealand Medical Missions in South China – Ko Tong Hospital in the Kirk Years, 1896-1917

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posted on 2021-12-09, 08:41 authored by Stevenson, Louise A.

During the rainy season of 1909, the first hospital of Western medicine opened to the public in the bustling market town of Ko Tong, Upper Panyu, China. Po Wai Yiyuen, or ‘The Hospital of Universal Love’, was a medical missionary endeavour of the Canton Villages Mission (CVM) of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, the only mission to China from any New Zealand church. This thesis presents the first in-depth biographical and institutional study of the CVM’s medical mission, from its conception in 1898 until the closure of its first temporary hospital at Ko Tong in 1917.   The thesis argues that the trajectory of the CVM’s medical mission closely followed that of earlier medical missions in a crucial era for the presence and development of Western medicine in China. It also shows how local Cantonese responses to the medical mission in Ko Tong were complex and highly pragmatic. The study highlights the importance of relationships between returned New Zealand Chinese miners and medical missionaries. It argues that, despite numerous setbacks, the CVM’s medical mission under the leadership of Dr. John Kirk achieved a level of stability and purpose it would struggle to find again. Unlike much scholarship in New Zealand Chinese history, this research does not focus on the Chinese in New Zealand. Rather, it analyses the work and interactions of Western medical missionaries of the New Zealand Presbyterian Church active in China. A study of this kind draws on and contributes to histories of missions, medicine in China, and New Zealand-China interactions.  The thesis’ three chapters contextualise the medical mission within the pre-existing Protestant missionary movement and medical missionary movement in China, consider how local Cantonese in Ko Tong viewed the ‘foreign doctor’ in their midst, and finally, analyse the influence and leadership of Dr. John Kirk, the hospital’s main superintendent. It does this by examining mission policy, the hospital’s medical care standards, and Kirk’s involvement in medical education. This research utilises primary sources from the Presbyterian Church Archives of New Zealand, highlighting an immensely rich and varied body of archival resources, which has remained largely untapped by historians.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Beattie, James; Abou-Nemeh, Catherine