Dr. DS Kotnis as seen by Chinese Artists

 Following is a photo-essay on Dr. Kotnis about whom a detailed article by me was published on January9, 2021, and may be read as Part-2 or as a companion-piece. Great Chinese paintings depicting his life and work are published here for the readers of CC. They show how he is venerated by China to this day though he died in 1942. Dr Kotnis was chosen as one of the “top 10 foreigners” in a 2009 internet poll of China’s foreign friends in a century. The doctor “continues to be revered by the Chinese people,” said China Daily.

 “The two sides decided to designate 2020 as year of India-China Cultural and People-to-people Exchanges” and to deepen all-sided relations, Prime Minister Modi had said in 2019 October after his Chennai summit with President Xi Jinpeng. 2020 marked 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India, and was accordingly celebrated in China, despite LAC stand-off.

Kotnis was a great symbol of friendship between India and China and was remembered by several activities on this occasion also. He is a role-model for the young generation.

On 10 October 2020,despite LAC stand-off, marking the 110th birth anniversary of Dr Kotnis, China carried out a goodwill exercise…that attracted about 300 participants, including students from 14 universities in China and India who created 54 short videos, to promote the spirit of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Chinese, Hindi and other languages. Ten of the videos won awards. (TNN Oct 12, 2020).      

Dr. Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis (1910-1942) was part of Indian Medical Mission (IMM) that went to China in1938 December to help them in their anti-fascist, anti-Japanese war. Other members were: Drs. M. Atal from Allahabad (who was also the leader of the mission), M. Cholkar from Nagpore, D. Kotnis from Sholapur, B.K. Basu and Debesh Mukherjee from Calcutta) was dispatched as the Indian Medical Mission Team in September 1938. All, except Dr. Kotnis, returned to India safely.

Kotnis1 1

Kotnis was received in Yan’an, China, by Mao Zedong, the legendary Chairman of China Communist Party and other Chinese leaders. Kotnis met Mao 10 times, one-to-one also, and was greatly inspired by their simple life and great thinking. He was personally served food and tea by Mao. When Kotnis died on 9th Dec 1942, Mao, a good calligraphist, in his own handwriting specially sent a poster, hung at the memorial meeting held a few days later, that reads:

 “Dr. Kotnis, our Indian friend, came to China from afar to assist us in our War of Resistance. He worked for five years  in Yan’an and North China, giving medical treatment to our wounded soldiers and died of illness owing to constant overwork. The army has lost a helping hand, and the nation lost a friend. Let us always bear in mind his international spirit.”


Young Kotnis in India was not an activist, but participated in anti-colonial activities. On one occasion, he refused to apologise to the college Head, and had to shift to another, Grant Medical College, in Mumbai. His home town Solapur had a militant tradition, witnessed many mass protests, and was under martial law in 1930 May-June for about 50 days, hundreds defied it, about 50 were shot dead in police firings, and four were hanged. His father worked as a clerk in a textile mill. Mill workers and students among others were active. Apparently Kotnis was impressed by such events.


The IMM was seen off by Subhas Bose, then AICC President, at Howrah railway station, and by Sarojini Nayudu in Bombay port, after several felicitations in both cities. The team left Bombay port on September 1, 1938, by ship SS Rajputana. While travelling for 17 days, Kotnis made friends with Chinese travelers, made a English-Hindi-Chinese vocabulary list and learnt a little Chinese by the time the ship reached China on sep 17. The Mission first reported at Wuhan, then the seat of Kuomintang government. In the first 15 days there, Kotnis was impatient with a corrupt system and spurious medicines, which was no secret said the local Head. Soon they demanded and went to Sichuan, the communist centre, despite Kuomointang warnings that life there would be hard and dangerous.


Kotnis as part of IMM were welcomed and hailed by a jubilant local people at revolutionary centre Yan’an, China. Soon he integrated and became one with them, sang and gave slogans in local activities as depicted in this painting.


Kotnis read Mao, was impressed by his work and his guideline to doctors to observe revolutionary humanitarianism. Mao told him to tell people about similar conditions of Indian peasants and people exploited, and Kotnis spoke in public meetings too. He joined the Communist Party of China in 1942 and died the same year at the age of 32.


In December 1941, Guo Qinglan, a nursing teacher, and Dr Kotnis were married. They had a son who they named Yin-hua (meaning India and China). But only three months after Yinhua’s birth, epilepsy struck Dr Kotnis. Guo was left alone with her baby son. Guo’s most memorable trip was in 1958 when she took the 16-year old Yinhua to India. Yinhua had been following his father’s footsteps and was about to graduate from a medical college in 1967 when he died of a medical mishap. Qinglan, who remarried, visited her in-laws in Mumbai 5-6 times, and passed away at the age of 96 in 2012. Kotnis family visited her in China.


Zhou en-lai with IMM members. Kotnis met Zhou, later China’s Prime minister, five times and was impressed by him. Once he saw Zhou, who fractured his right hand, struggling to write with his left hand, and he cited Zhou’s example to patients not to be demoralized when in casualty and treatment. Zhou wrote : “ Dr. Kotnis is a symbol of friendship between the great Chinese and Indian nations and a shining example of the Indian people, who are taking an active part in our common struggles against Japanese militarism and world fascism. His name will live forever in the hearts of the two great nations to whom he dedicated his life.” 


General Zhu De, later China’s President, with IMM members. Kotnis met him several times, one-to-one, was impressed by him, as he was the military commander along with Mao under whom he worked. In a tribute 1942 Dec 30, Zhu De wrote: “ he was most faithful and true to the Indian people’s cause of liberation ..and it was linked with the struggles waged by the Chinese and other oppressed peoples for liberation…His noble spirit of internationalism and self sacrifice…will be highly valued and by the people engaged in the struggles against fascism…His spirit will always live in the hearts of the Chinese people… ”


Dr. kotnis woked day and night, in frontier areas, performed surgeries on wounded soldiers with no running water and no surgical lamps. He worked 72 hours non-stop on an occasion.


Dr. Kotnis walked with Red Army contingents for long even when it rained or dead cold. For the great care he took of patients, he was loved and was called Black Mother ( he was dark- complexioned) by a grateful Chinese people, depicted in this great painting here.


Dr. Kotnis walked with Red Army contingents for long distances and treated soldiers wounded in action. He worked under great risk even when Japanese army pursued, encircled, and bombed them. He was himself injured several times and escaped death.


Kotnis explaining the use of X-ray machine. He continued and improved methods Bethune initiated in the military Medical school. Whole schools and hospitals had to be shifted within hours as enemy encircled and attacked them. Medicines and equipment were kept in containers ready to shift anytime. Class-in-arms became necessary: Students and teachers discussed the subjects walking; an advance party would write review questions on stones along the way which students would see, note, ruminate, discuss. Notes on paper were pasted on backpacks so the student walking behind would study. Classes were held when they halted, protected by student-sentries. They bought dogs and practiced surgery. When specialist surgeons were no more available (died or left), pooling resources by learning from past staff and patients was the practice. Three batches of students passed out under him, with rigorous exams conducted in war conditions. In such conditions, in one year Kotnis team performed 430 surgeries including 45 amputations and complicated abdominal surgeries. Based on experiences, he wrote two surgery text books: General Introduction to Surgery, and Surgery in Detail (left incomplete, at page 177 when he collapsed with epilepsy.)



Comrade Dr. Kotnis became a part of the Red army of China, and died of several attacks of epilepsy on Dec 9, 1942. He refused to leave the battle areas for treatment. His wife Guo, a nursing teacher with him in the military school-hospital, had delivered his son only 3 months before his death, seen in this photo. He collapsed while writing page 177 of a Text Book of Surgery.


Dr. Kotnis on the battle front, depicted in a great sculpture here. Cots and doors of abandoned homes were turned into stretchers and operating tables by the Bethune Army hospital he headed as the Director. There is a small museum on him where his papers, notes and instruments are displayed.


Kotnis Memorial Medical Institute in Hebie province, China. According to Liu Wenzhu, an official of the Shijiazhuang Ke Dihua Medical Science Secondary Specialised School, since the founding of the school in 1992 more than 45,000 medical professionals have graduated from it. The Martyr’s Memorial park in that city has its west side dedicated to Dr. Norman Bethune, and the South side to Dr Kotnis, with a great statue in his honour. A small museum there has a handbook of vocabulary that Kotnis wrote on his passage from India to China; some of the instruments that the surgeons used in their medical fight for life, and various photos of the doctors, some with China’s leaders. There are other memorials of Kotnis in both Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, and Tangxian county where he once worked. The park is visited by thousands of people, more so on Tomb-sweeping Day held in April every year.


The story of his life was the subject of a Hindi film with the title Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946, English: The Immortal Story of Dr. Kotnis), scripted by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, and directed by V. Shantaram, who also portrayed Kotnis in the film. His life was also the subject of a Chinese film Kē Dì Huá Dài Fū (1982, Dr. D.S. Kotnis), with a screenplay by Huang Zongjiang. Dr Kotnis’ sacrifice was immortalised by filmmaker V Shantaram in Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani. The Chinese venerate him to this day, showering flowers upon his grave. Both China (1982 and 1992) and India (1993) have honoured him with stamps.

***           ***

Joint Medical Missions keep up the Kotnis tradition of India-China friendship

Joint Medical Missions are exchanged keeping up the Kotnis tradition of India-China friendship. In 2008, the first China-India Joint Medical Mission was by a team from China. In August 2010, JMM-II was headed by Dr. M. Mohan Reddy, All India general secretary of ICFA from Hyderabad. Dr. Reddy is far left in the photo below. Kotnis’ sister is in the middle.) Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sept. 19, 2014 in Delhi met and conferred Kotnis memorial friendship award to Indian groups and individuals, including Dr. Mohan Reddy and V. Bhaskaran, for carrying forward the friendship between the two countries.


(Acknowledgements to ICFA, India China Friendship Association, AP Unit, that published an aesthetically designed Souvenir, with these paintings and other materials in 2012, to mark the 70th death anniversary of Kotnis. It was edited by Dr. Jatin Kumar, a member of JMM-III that visited China. Joint Medical Missions between the two countries have been going on as part of people-to-people friendship activities.)

( About Dr M Bapuji : An activist who was a Retd. Senior Scientist, CSIR 1973-2002 (30 yrs), in Odisha, with vast experience across several disciplines. Born 1948, had a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, he guided six to Ph.D in varied cross disciplinary subjects, and was associated with various universities and an IIT. Has published 70 papers, holds 6 Patents, transferred 9 technologies to industry, helped stop imports of a group of chemicals. He discovered a 80 km-long ridge reef off Odisha coast, reported about 140 sponges, corals etc for the first time from this reef. Established lab for microbes associated with sedentary fauna. Studied over 1200 microbes from this resource. Was General Secretary (3 yrs) and President (3 yrs) for All India CSIR Scientific Workers’ Association (SWA) affiliated to the World Federation of Scientific Workers. He was Director of a rural PG centre at G.Mamidada for five years; senior academic consultant for Nannaya University and for The University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology (TDU), Bangalore. In recent past he was a Visiting Professor and Research Adviser, Acharya BM Reddy College of Pharmacy, Bangalore. Worked on fluorosis voluntarily with Fluorosis Mitigation Research and Resource Center (as Scientific Adviser, FMRRC, Hubli, Karnataka, founded by Dr. KS Sharma). Working on improvement of tribal schools, education, labs, faculty in W.Godavari dt(AP). Currently based at Hyderabad. Has contributed to countercurrents.org, mainly on fluorosis.

E-mail  :[email protected]
see articles by bapuji in countercurrents.org, including the latest :

Handling an Acid attack ( often on women), on Dec 31,2020, and on an unsung scientist.


Read also Dr S Jatin Kumar’s article on August 8, 2020 by India-China Border Conflict: Need For A change In Attitude Of Indian Polity.




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