Peter Parker: Physician—Missionary—Diplomat

“It has been said that Peter Parker opened China at the point of a lancet. When he arrived in that far country in November of 1834 at the age of thirty, after a voyage of 140 days, it was at a time in history when the Chinese were giving scant welcome to Western ‘barbarians.’ Their culture was viewed with contempt, their commercial ambitions with suspicion. But in Peter Parker’s lancet they discovered healing and relief from many conditions hitherto considered hopeless, and as thousands passed through the hospital he founded in Canton in 1835, it might be said that Parker did in truth open China in a way never achieved by the blasting guns of British men-of-war.

“Parker has been the subject of two biographies (G.B. Stevens and W.F. Markwick, 1896, and E.V. Gulick, 1973) and a number of shorter studies—most recently by C.G. Roland and J.D. Key (1978) and Peter Pitt (1971) and earlier, several by members of the Yale faculty: Samuel C. Harvey, Charles J. Bartlett, Eugene M. Blake, Harvey Cushing, the Rev. Kenneth S. Latourette, Levin W. Waters, and others interested in him as ‘initiator of modern medicine in China,’ ‘the founder of modern medical missions,’ ‘Yale’s first ophthalmologist,’ and Commissioner to the Chinese Empire, for in addition to distinguished service as physician and missionary, he represented the United States officially in his later years in fostering friendship and understanding between the two nations. This article will focus on Parker the diplomat.”