John D Rockefellers Chinese Medical School and Its Unruly Anatomist Davidson Black

China in the early twentieth century was a country in economic and political chaos. The country's vastness and economic importance had prompted the imperial powers to take control of parts of the country, particularly the ports, after the Boxer Rebellion, but at the same time, Westerners and their institutions became involved in a variety of humanitarian causes in China. One large American foundation, the John D. Rockefeller Foundation, acted to fund the establishment of an English-language medical school, the purpose of which was to train young Chinese doctors. With excellent salaries, the Peking Union Medical College was staffed by adventurous faculty from all over the world, but there was a preponderance of North American professors.

Davidson Black was hired by Peking Union Medical College in 1919 as professor of anatomy.18 A Canadian, Black had an M.D. from the University of Toronto, but after a short stint in World War I, he had spent time traveling to the laboratories of prominent physical anthropologists in the United States, England, France, Holland, and Germany in order to learn as much as possible about human evolution. He had found a mentor in Dr. (later Sir) Grafton Elliot Smith, eminent professor of anatomy at University College in London. As his letters indicate, Black was interested in the China job, mainly because he would be near sites that he suspected might contain fossils of human ancestors. It is almost certain that the officers of the Rockefeller Foundation who decided to hire young Davidson Black, M.D. for the position in anatomy at Beijing had no idea that his anatomical research would involve digging for fossil bones in an old, dusty stone quarry many miles and many hundreds of thousand of years removed from the newly built medical school in Beijing. Elliot Smith wrote Black a sterling recommendation for the job.

In the first two years that Black was in Beijing he threw himself into the job of organizing and building up the medical school, particularly the anatomy department. His anatomy lectures went well, and he developed good relationships with his colleagues. One of his jobs was to obtain ca-

Sinanthropus Skull
Davidson Black at his laboratory workbench in the anatomy department of Peking Union Medical College with Sinanthropus skulls. It was here that Davidson Black died around midnight on the evening of March 15, 1934, flanked by Skull III and the Upper Cave skull.

davers for the medical students' dissection. The Beijing police were only too happy to oblige and one day sent over to the anatomy department a number of headless corpses of executed criminals. Shocked, but always diplomatic, Black visited the police and explained that he needed intact bodies for the medical school. The police chief listened and then nodded. Some days later a line of shackled prisoners arrived at Black's office from the police station with a note saying "kill them any way you like." This turn of events, of course, occasioned another trip by Black to the police station.19

Black had an engaging and outgoing personality, and he and his wife were active in the social life of expatriate Beijing. He also kept up a lively correspondence with his friends and colleagues abroad. The Peking Union Medical College was well pleased with Black, and he was appointed chairman of the anatomy department.

In 1921 Davidson Black began a collaboration with J. Gunnar Andersson at the Neolithic cave site of Shaguotun, northwest of Beijing in Manchuria. The two men had undoubtedly met on social occasions before this, because in describing their first work together Andersson calls Black "my friend."20 Andersson had been working in Manchuria assessing coal resources, but he set his assistants to excavating the interesting Shaguotun cave nearby. Returning from the coal deposits, Andersson was pleased to find that they had discovered a large number of human bones. Andersson immediately wired Black for help in the excavation and anatomical study of the human skeletons. They were only a few thousand years old (versus several hundred thousand years for the Longgushan fossils), but Black was still interested. He arrived by train at the site on June 22, 1921. The bones went back to Black's lab at the medical school where they were cleaned and studied. Black found that the bones had come from some 45 individuals, but their remains had been jumbled, broken, and probably cannibalized. He eventually published his results in the Chinese journal that Andersson had helped found, Palaeontologia Sinica.21

The Peking Union Medical College administration was not pleased with Black's newly evinced interest in physical anthropology. Dr. Henry Houghton, president of the college, told him in no uncertain terms to limit his research to medical subjects, not "mythological caves." Houghton, an M.D. trained at Johns Hopkins University, knew little about physical anthropology and its close relationship to anatomy. Unlike at most European universities and medical schools, where physical anthropology had been an established part of the curriculum for two generations, in the United States formation of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists was still in the future. (It was founded in 1930.) If Black had not been so competent in all other realms and so universally well liked, the medical school administrators would probably have found a way to rid themselves of this budding paleoanthropologist. After the skeletal remains from Shaguotun had arrived in Black's lab, he was able to strike a deal with the foundation. He agreed to delay the research on the bones for two years, during which he would spent his days teaching in the medical school and working on anatomy department business. In 1922 Black also turned down an offer from Roy Chapman Andrews to work as an anatomist for the American Museum's "Missing Link Expedition," either as part of his agreement with the medical school or because he had already established a firm working relationship with Andersson the year before.

Even after the two years were up, however, Black found that he still faced administrative objections to his paleoanthropological activities. For example, Dr. Houghton refused to pay for an invited lecture in Beijing when he learned that the lecturer was to be a well-known physical anthropologist, Ales Hrdlicka, of the Smithsonian Institution. Eventually, the Rockefeller Foundation back in New York made a contribution to the Smithsonian to cover the cost of Hrdlicka's travel. It was clear that Davidson Black had a problem, and one wonders if his fabled propensity for working on his research in the dead of night originated from his desire to keep a low profile and to avoid confrontation with medical school administra tors, all of whom could be relied upon to be home in bed when Black was working on his skulls and bones.

By 1926 Black had published the results of his analyses of the Shaguotun remains. When Andersson asked him to participate in the scientific meeting planned for the Swedish crown prince, Black agreed, but he realized that Andersson could also help him. Andersson and Black were clearly in cahoots in organizing the media event that occurred on October 22, 1926.

Andersson handed the special lantern slides that Zdansky and Wiman had made of the two hominid teeth in Uppsala over to Davidson Black. Black worked up a short description of the teeth for Andersson to present at the meeting, and then sent the paper off to the journal Nature, which published it a month later.22 The meeting itself started with talks by the Chinese head of the Geological Society, Weng Wen-hao, a Chinese political reformer, the French Jesuit paleoanthropologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and finally Andersson, who reported on Wiman's paleontologi-cal research and his own archaeological finds. Last came the coup de grâce, the lantern slides of the Longgushan hominids.

Andersson, with feigned indifference, concluded that he had no plans to pursue these remarkable discoveries, but it would be a shame not to follow them up. He proposed that Peking Union Medical School, whose representative, Dr. Black, was at the meeting, and the Geological Survey of China, headed by Andersson's long-time friend and colleague Dr. Weng Wen-hao, collaborate to mount such a project. It was a daring move, and because of the circumstances of the meeting—it was virtually a royal hearing—all eyes turned to the crown prince for a response. The prince, an amateur archaeologist himself and intimately informed of Andersson's untiring efforts over the last 15 years, gave his enthusiastic support. Andersson, for his part, needed the prince's backing to continue legislative and funding initiatives back in Sweden to get his Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities off the ground, but the prince had no difficulty supporting Andersson's suggestion for continuing work in China. After all, he was not being asked to fund it (although it was clear to everyone at the meeting that the Swedish China Research Committee, which the prince chaired, had paid the way up to that point). The prince was also impressed with Andersson's marshaling of the scientific results from these logistically complicated and long-term explorations. Andersson's international stature was confirmed by the show of support from the obviously very capable Canadian anatomist; by the backing of both the Chinese scientific establishment and the progressive political elements in China; and by the full participation of the eminent French paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin. Andersson got what he wanted out of the meeting. It was a grand send-off from China for him.

Davidson Black also got what he wanted out of the meeting. In 1926 he had been at the Peking Union Medical School for seven years, and during that time he had done an excellent job but had shown no indication that he intended to stop anthropological research. So it was perhaps time that the Rockefeller Foundation made peace with Black and his anthropological interests. The visibility of the meeting with the Swedish crown prince; the publication in Nature, the first by any faculty member at the Peking Union Medical College; and the broad international acclaim for the importance of the new site near Zhoukoudian all combined to bring the Rockefeller Foundation around to Black's point of view. The foundation agreed to fund the formation of a "Cenozoic Research Laboratory" at the Peking Union Medical College, with Davidson Black as honorary director, and to provide funding for the excavation of Longgushan. This three-institutional collaboration of the China Geological Society, the Peking Union Medical College, and the Rockefeller Foundation was to continue at Longgushan until World War II eventually halted the research nine years later.

The meeting in Beijing for the crown prince of Sweden bequeathed one more lasting legacy to paleoanthropology. In the press coverage resulting from the meeting, the term "Peking Man" was born. In an interview immediately after the meeting, Dr. Amadeus W. Grabau, a German-American invertebrate paleontologist and professor of geology at Beijing University, was quoted as using the name to refer to the two fossil teeth discovered by Zdansky. This is the colloquial name by which the fossil hominids from Longgushan near Zhoukoudian have been known ever since. Grabau was also a close friend of Andersson, who includes a sketch of him on page one of his book Children of the Yellow Earth and describes him as "a scholar of genius, an enthusiastic teacher, and a delightful man."23

The birth of "Peking Man" was not to be without incident. The worst fears that Zdansky had harbored regarding any identifications of hominid remains from Longgushan came to pass. Someone, and not just anyone, questioned the identification. None other than Professor Father Pierre Teil-hard de Chardin wrote a letter to Andersson two days after the meeting with the prince. It was brief and to the point. In regard to the two fossil teeth from Zhoukoudian, he was "not convinced of their supposed human character," instead suggesting that both specimens might be the worn or fragmentary back teeth of carnivores. He did note that he had not examined the original specimens, only Andersson's photos, and that he hoped "intensely that my criticism will prove unfounded."24

Teilhard's criticism shot around the Beijing scientific community like an electric shock. Teilhard and his French archaeologist colleague, Emile Licent, who had also been at the meeting, had clearly not been in on

Andersson's and Black's plans. Perhaps Teilhard felt a little put out by being excluded, or perhaps he simply felt that the teeth were not hominid and that it was his duty to communicate this opinion to Andersson. In any event, the doubt over the identity of the two teeth from Longgushan threatened the whole enterprise, but particularly the reputation of Davidson Black, who had a paper in press in the most prestigious scientific journal in the world at that very moment, supporting Zdansky's identifications. But if Black was worried, he made no great show of it. And when Grabau ribbed Andersson in front of Teilhard and some visiting French scientists about whether Peking Man was a man or a carnivore, Andersson replied, for no apparent reason other than to have a quick comeback, that it was neither, but a lady.25 The jocularity helped, but a pall was to hang over Peking Man and Davidson Black until the site could produce definitive hominid remains that could silence the skeptics.

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