Edward H. Hume and the Harvard-Yenching Institute: The Positive Power of Friendship


Elizabeth J. Perry (Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government, Harvard University); Director, Harvard-Yenching Institute)

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Edward Hicks Hume (1876-1957) is best known for his pioneering role in founding and leading the Hsiang-Ya (湘雅) Medical School, Nursing School and Hospital as part of the Yale-in-China (雅 礼) initiative. A Yale graduate who had been born in Ahmednagar, India of a multi-generation medical missionary family, Dr. Hume was serving in Bombay as a member of the U.S. Public Health Service when he was invited in 1905 to join the newly established Yale Mission in Changsha. Initially reluctant to leave the familiarity of India for parts unknown, Hume was ultimately persuaded by the opportunity to pursue in China his dream of building a world-class university medical school – a prospect that appeared unattainable in India, where government medical schools were already well established.

In 1906 Edward Hume founded Yale-in-China, and for the next two decades devoted himself to the project of developing in Changsha, Hunan a university medical school on the model of Johns Hopkins, where he had received his own medical degree. Respected for his administrative ability as well as his medical expertise, Hume served for many years as President of the Yale-in-China Colleges. This was a politically tumultuous time in China, particularly in Hunan, where anti-foreign sentiments were pronounced. As president of an American-sponsored institution, Hume sought to respond to the nationalist upsurge by replacing foreign faculty and administrators with Chinese colleagues – an effort that did not sit well with the Yale-in- China Trustees back in the U.S. In 1926, exhausted by the political turmoil in Changsha and dismayed by what he viewed as a lack of understanding on the part of the American Trustees, Hume resigned his position with Yale-in-China. He left behind a pathbreaking contribution to the development of medical education in China.

These aspects of Edward Hume’s biography, sympathetically recounted by Jonathan Spence in his study of influential Western advisers in China, are well recognized (Spence 1969). Less known than his involvement with Yale-in-China is the role that Edward Hume would later play as a Trustee of the Harvard-Yenching Institute (哈佛燕京学社). In that capacity, too, Hume was a strong advocate for indigenizing Western philanthropic initiatives so as to render them more attuned to the actual needs of Asian societies.

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