Synopsis • Healing, Romance & Revolution
Harriet Holbrook Smith (1897-1990) lived a life of adventure, education, world travel, professional accomplishments, wide friendships, and more. “Hat, ” as she was known, was widely loved and respected. Hat retired from the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, School of Nursing,
Seminal to her life was two “tours of duty” with the Yale in China Program in Changsha, China (1921 – 1924 and 1926 - 1927). These years were fraught with change: culturally, politically, socially, militarily and more. Hat was situated in the midst of these dynamics, developing herself, worldview and understanding of humanity.
Harriet evolves from a “wild eyed” student radical into a mature leader.
Following Harriet’s death, Carolyn, a great niece, knew there were several boxes containing Harriet’s letters, held captive in her brothers’ garages. With a little cajoling both gratefully released the boxes.
Exploration reveals travel, adventure, cultural discovery, friendship and romance; personal and professional growth.
We chose her 1926-1927 letters because of the radical change in China.
First, is Harriet’s dilemma of being torn between dutiful daughter helping her father in his medical practice with its boring medical procedures with “rather stupid evenings, ” or returning to her beloved China, friends, students, patients and prospects of adventure.
China wins that tug-of-war.
She arrives to Kuomintang forces (Chinese rebels) and other warring factions being mostly an annoyance; yet, as the year progresses becoming dangerous. Add radical students, unions and anarchist disrupting the region and her hospital, making management impossible as the “inmates” start running the “asylum.”
• She vacations in Kulsan; has a lost weekend with Charlie; ends in a “coil” of bathing suits doing “unscrupulous things.” cares for wounded soldiers; negotiates with “crazies; faces drought, floods, disease and internal parasites. Simultaneously, the ever-enterprising Harriet operates a small import/export business.
Always cool! Stray bullets from a nearby battle striking her porch as she enjoys a nap with total aplomb.
She associates with fascinating, impacting adventurers from around the world.
Never far from action; “I saw history in the making. . . Our friends from the South continued nearly to Wuchang. Coming on the boat from Changsha. . . A few hours from Hankou. . . Shots were fired at us. None came nearer than ¼ mile according to the captain. That was quite near enough.”
Meet Charlie, she comments, “He is fatter than before, . . . the same cheery person . . .' “He's a dear but erratic as the deuce.” “. . . I am going to marry Charlie.
” Does she?
Protesting students demand:
• “Down with Imperialism”
• “Down with Militarism”
• “Down with commodore classes”
• “Down with anti-revolutionists”
Change a few words and we have Occupy Wall Street.
Healing, Romance & Revolution doesn’t pretend to be an accurate historical record, but rather a young woman’s reflection of her times from her perspective. More important, it is the story of adventure and inspiration. A must read!
Harriet mixes everyday activities, social engagements, entrepreneurship, war, love and romance; friendship and professional responsibilities with balance, optimism, faith and hope and good humor.
Excerpts from Healing, Romance and Revolution • China 1926
(Note: 1926 – 1928, encompassed, what became known as “The Northern Expedition, ” a military campaign led by the Kuomintang (KMT) main objective was to unify China under the Kuomintang banner by ending the rule of local warlords. It led to the Being government’s demise; and, the Chinese 1928 reunification. Harriet was right in the middle of the conflict as the warring armies moved up and down the Xiang River.
The following is organized on the title themes of: Healing, Romance and Revolution
“ . . . The merest insinuation I might be thinking of fleeing to the ends of the earth instills great sorrow into the mind of both Father and Mother. Although they have brought us up under the teachings missionaries are sort of saints on earth, . . . “ . . . They seem to have a rather different feeling when the matter is. . . Applied to their daughter,. . .” “They realize I can hardly expect to spend my declining years running a diathermy machine, or turning an ultraviolet light onto a skinny baby, but the idea of going back to China . . . Is a very distressing one. . . . Despite my globetrotting tendencies, I appreciate I owe something to the peace of mind of my parents, however dull and uninteresting I may occasionally find the daily routine, and the rather stupid evenings.”
Going to China:
“I see I did not mention, 155 dead Chinese abroad, being taken home for burial; also six coffins in case any others die en route! ”
“One “Britisher” was captured by some Chinese and for a couple of weeks held for ransom of $75,000, which was finally reduced to $5,000 cash. After all, that is no more desperate than what happened to many people in the great and glorious USA. ”
Conditions in China:
“Last year there was such a drought the rice was ruined and the whole country full of starving refugees. Now it seems like there may be peril for flood. ”
On vacation in Kuling:
·“ . . . Many little falls and a chute of racing water I sat and slid. I wore holes in my bathing suit and developed bruises on my bony hips where I tried going "belly flop." It was grand fun, and we scrambled over rocks, got sunburned and had a merry time altogether. ”
· “She survived until this morning when she passed 46 worms at one time and then died. Goodness knows how many more animals she may have had in her interior. ”
Healing and War:
“We have had one of General Ye Ting's soldiers in the hospital for several weeks. He was discharged this morning, but left behind him all his identification tags and his hat so no one would know he had been on that side. ”
· Mr. Archer, now known as Paddy, and I had a little playful contest this morning swinging as high as we could to see who could kick the ceiling flat-footed in the fewest pumps on the swing. Is not that what you would call a delicate pastime? The picture of your long-legged daughter pumping the swing over the young gentleman's head was quite merry. You would doubtless have been edified. ”
· “As for my heart condition, so to speak, it's just adventuring with another sort of fire I never played with quite so before. He is an odd genius. . . He's Les, that's enough, about my own size, blonde and some five or four years younger, was a teacher here, now he's nothing but a . . . . He’s clever and has lots of brains but is a . . .. I may never see him again; rather hope I don't because . . . It was all probably immoral from the standpoint of regulating society and all that - this business of . . . I shan't be doing it again very soon, but in the meantime . . ."
“ . . . The result was Les and I sat on the porch until after 4 am in the coil of bathing suits, counting the stars and being much more scandalous. . . Honestly, I don't know why it is I get such crazy streaks now and then out here whereas at home I more or less behave.”
· “We are meant to be entirely under Chinese supervision, and all is merry. Sarah Ching says she is afraid they will replace foreigners with Chinese-trained until the standard will drop. She practically considers herself a foreigner and speaks quite scathingly of "these Chinese."
· “I understand . . . the soldiers have been instructed not to lay hands on any students, and if they do they will be beheaded . .“. To be sure the threats and fulfillment of the beheading business are not very kind and seem a bit savage, but I cannot help but think it would not be a bad idea to introduce it into some of our civilized countries. ”
· “There are always wars somewhere in China, but there seems to be a fair amount of murder, theft and general strikes in other parts of the world to counterbalance it. ”
· “. . . Today they bought off Wuchang for $60,000. They made the offer yesterday with the ultimatum that if it were not accepted, and the northerners out of the city in 24 hours they would shell the whole city. ”
· “southern troops now here are a well-traveled, weather-beaten outfit, some from Kwangtung and some from provinces. Their officers are quite neat and snappy, and each general has a Russian advisor.”
· “. . . One could hear the constant scurry of feet through the streets, a regular Pied Piper of Hamlin sort of exodus from the Chinese city. They said it had been much worse a few days before. Rickshaws had stopped running and people were trying to transport their own possessions. . . Their fear is the retreating army. If the northern soldiers are defeated at Wuchang as they probably will be, they will retreat across the river and flee through Hankou. That will mean looting and perhaps burning,. . . As it is an old custom soldiers do so to prevent the invaders enjoying their prize . . .
Healing, Romance & Revolution: Letters from an American Nurse in 1926 China compiled by Carolyn and Dennis Buckmaster, covers a year of a young woman’s experience as a nurse in Changsha, China.
Harriet Hollbrook Smith (1897 - 1989) lived a full life in many aspects of her vocation, nursing. Healing, Romance & Revolution covers her second tour of duty in her beloved China as she served with the Yale-in-China Program, a missionary nursing school and hospital in Hunan Province. “Hat,” as she was known to friends, observes with wry humor the cultural, political and social changes in China. Most changes seemed to come about because of foreign interference and influence.
The candid letters, written mostly to her mother, but with a few to friends and other family members, show Hat’s genuine love for the Chinese. As Superintendent of Nurses, she maintains a delicate balance of cultural sensitivity of her nursing staff while responsibly maintaining medical care of the hospital patients. Hat is obviously well educated, well-traveled and culturally sensitive and makes keen observations without the need to ridicule. Even as the school and hospital’s discipline and organization fall apart due to revolution, Hat strives to do her duty, all the while maintaining a sense of humor and a sense of fairness.
Also enjoyable are Hat’s associations with other expatriates serving in China in a variety of capacities. The book offers an interesting pre-World War Il naivete, attitudes not commonly seen today. Without a doubt, one of the wonderful aspects of the book is the almost lost art of letter writing as a means of connecting with family and friends to share unique, heartfelt experiences and day by day thoughts and opinions.
I highly recommend this book. It will be of interest to many, but especially to those who have served in foreign countries. Healing, Romance & Revolution offers a different view of China than is presented today. Bravo to Carolyn and Dennis Buckmaster for their efforts in bringing to light these precious letters of the past.