Dr Wu Mengchao is 96 years old.
Most people his age would have long retired, or have moved on to the next life, or be bedridden and require the assistance of others to live.
At 96 years old, Dr Wu still conducts three surgeries every week.
He has led a busy life.
1922 Was born in Minqing County, Fujian Province.
1927 Went to Malaysia. Studied and helped his father’s work at the same time.
1940 Returned to China at the height of the war against Japanese Occupation.
1949 Graduated from Tongji University Medical School.
1958 Translated Introduction to Hepatobiliary Surgery, the first authoritative text on the subject in China.
1959 Developed the first complete model of liver vessel model. With his team, went on to develop more than 100 liver specimen.
1975 Excised an 18-kg cavernous liver haemangioma. (One apple weighs about 200 grams. So a pile of apples weighing 18 kg would contain roughly 90 apples, looking like this:
Scary to think that pile used to be inside someone’s stomach, huh?)
1983 Excised a 600-gram hepatoblastoma from a 4-month-old baby girl. (The girl grew up to become a nurse, at Dr Wu’s hospital.)
1960-1986 Treated more than 13,600 liver patients, conducted 1,019 hepatectomy surgeries with a success rate of 97%.
1993 Founded the hepatobiliary surgery department at Shanghai Changhai Hospital.
1997 Established the Wu Mengchao Foundation of Hepatobiliary Surgery with his own savings and more than four million yuan of award money granted to him.
2005 Was awarded State Preeminent Science and Technology Award, China’s highest scientific prize.
Years of holding a scalpel have bent his right forefinger permanently.
It isn’t just his superb surgical skills that earned him the respect of all his patients and millions of people in the country.
He has mentored over 260 Masters, doctoral candidates, and post-doctoral researchers.
And he treats every patient and their family with respect.
He apologises to patients if he is two minutes late. He always rubs his hands so that when he touches his patients, they wouldn’t feel cold. He rearranges patients’ shoes so they could easily reach them when they get out of bed.
Dr Wu told his head nurse, “If one day, I close my eyes in the operating room for the last time, remember to clean me up. You know I don’t like people to see my face all sweaty.”
He said, “Some doctors collect money, or plaques. I collect thanks from the patient.”
In an age where the news of a tax-evading celebrity’s disappearance worries her more than 62 million followers, nobody seems to pay much attention to anything that doesn’t have entertainment value.
In an age where 医闹 (violence against doctors) has earned its own Wikipedia entry and is still happening sporadically, relationship between doctors and patients has morphed from one of trust and reliance to one of suspicion and hostility.
If you read too much newspaper, you might believe it’s a dangerous time to be alive in China.
Babies can get substandard vaccines. When they grow older they may be fed milk powder tainted with melamine. They may be attacked with a knife when they go to kindergarten. Girls may be sexually assaulted by their schoolmaster.
So you can’t blame people for feeling this way:
But there is also Dr Wu Mengchao.
He has dedicated his entire life to saving others. He donated million-yuan award money to start a foundation. He charges less than twenty thousand yuan for a surgery, when the monthly rental in a city like Shanghai costs more than that. He treats patients like family, and visits them on the first day of Chinese New Year so they wouldn’t feel lonely.
He doesn’t seek fame, or money, or power.
He is the kind of Chinese that the rest of us look up to, and he is the kind of Chinese that we want representing our country on the international stage.
And he is the kind of Chinese that I would like the world to know about.