Chinese doctor recalls decades-old bond built during his time in Africa

Updated: Mar 31, 2023 Xinhua Print
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Xue Jin, one of the earliest Chinese doctors to be dispatched to Africa for medical assistance, poses for a photo at Hubei Cancer Hospital in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, March 14, 2023. [Xinhua/Rao Rao]

WUHAN -- Xue Jin, one of the earliest Chinese doctors to be dispatched to Africa for medical assistance, vividly remembers treating numerous Algerian patients from almost six decades ago. He can recall the illnesses they suffered from, the surgical procedures they underwent, and how well they recovered.

The 86-year-old doctor keeps a small box containing black-and-white photos of him and his patients in the North African country, where he and his colleagues successfully performed thousands of operations.

"I don't know how the patients we treated are doing now. Perhaps some are no longer alive. I really miss them and the Algerian doctors we worked with," Xue said while showing the old photos to Xinhua reporters.

In 1965, Xue, a 29-year-old surgeon at the Hubei Medical College Second Hospital, became the youngest member of a Chinese medical team that was sent to assist a hospital in Saida, a city in northwestern Algeria.

Despite facing economic challenges of its own, China began sending medical aid teams to Africa in 1963, starting with Algeria as the first destination country. Xue is one of the more than 20,000 Chinese health professionals to have been sent to Africa over the decades. The hard work and dedication displayed by Xue and his colleagues have helped deepen the friendship between China and Africa.

Xue recalled that one evening in 1966, a musician rushed to the hospital with his young daughter, who accidentally cut her lower left jaw and needed surgical sutures.

The young doctor successfully completed the operation in two hours. Six months later, the musician was pleased to inform Xue that his daughter had recovered well had barely any visible scarring. To express his gratitude, the musician and his family performed folk songs for Xue and other Chinese doctors in the hospital auditorium.

These friendly locals, who treated the Chinese doctors "like family members," helped Xue overcome the biting homesickness and made his three years in Algeria an unforgettable memory.

On the New Year's Eve on Dec. 31, 1966, Xue sent a photo of him standing in front of a loquat tree to his newlywed wife in China. He wrote in neat handwriting on the back of the photo: "A year away may seem too long for a homesick man, but when it comes to helping Africa, it is not long enough and we still have much work to do."

"When the loquat tree blossoms again, we might be able to return to our beloved country!" the writing reads.

Shortly after Xue's arrival in Algeria, his eldest son was born in China. Xue named him Yafei as a symbol of China-Africa friendship, with "Ya" and "Fei" meaning Asia and Africa in Chinese.

"My father told me and my elder brother many stories about his time in Africa," said Xue Yajun, Xue Jin's second son. Inspired by his father, he also became a doctor and is now an anesthesiologist at Hubei Cancer Hospital.

Xue's influence extends beyond his family. "Xue Jin is my mentor in life. I followed his footsteps and joined the Chinese medical team," said Xue's former colleague Wu Liansheng, who joined the 18th Chinese medical team to Africa between 1999 and 2001.

Since 1963, China has sent more than 30,000 medical workers overseas to support local programs, having provided 290 million diagnoses and treatments for local people. They have earned high praise for their active participation in Africa's fight against malaria, Ebola and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chinese medical teams are currently working in more than 50 countries around the world, of which nearly half are in remote areas with harsh conditions.

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