“Attack, Baiquien [Bethune] is with us!”
— Battle cry of Chinese soldiers
Norman Bethune died as he lived: at work and without thought for himself. He was operating, without gloves, on a soldier when he cut himself and contracted a fatal infection. He died November 12, 1939, in China.
It was not long before the man became a legend. This foreigner who had left home to join the fight against invading forces, who selflessly cared for soldiers and the Chinese people, always in extremely harsh conditions, was seen as a model of generosity for others to aspire to. Bethune’s image would often be used by the Chinese government to symbolize the principles of selflessness and altruism to the Chinese people.
All over China, there are tales of the famous stranger who worked ceaselessly, giving his clothes, his food and even his own blood to the wounded. The soldiers even took up a new battle cry: “Attack, Baiquien [Bethune] is with us!”
Today, Norman Bethune is considered a martyr and a hero of the Chinese Revolution. In a memorial essay, Chairman Mao Zedong cites Norman Bethune as the embodiment of selfless devotion to duty, the essential principle that his memory represents in China to this day. His remains lie in a park dedicated to the memory of those who died in the war of resistance. His tomb and a memorial statue stand across the street from the Norman Bethune International Peace Hospital.
Bethune is also warmly remembered in Spain, where he
helped both soldiers and civilians on the route from Malaga to Almeria. In 2004, the Centro Andaluz de la Fotografia created an exhibition that tells this story. Montréal's McCord Museum will be presenting this exhibition from the fall of 2008 to the spring of 2009.
In Canada, Norman Bethune is memorialized in Montréal, at Place Norman-Bethune, with a statue donated by China. The square is across the street from Concordia University, a popular choice for Chinese international students. In his birthplace of Gravenhurst, Ontario, visitors can take a tour of Bethune Memorial House, which is preserved as a National Historic Site of Canada.
Norman Bethune remains a true hero of the modern era, a model of internationalism, courage, devotion, and determination. For these qualities, this illustrious Montréaler is remembered and celebrated around the world.