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Honoring the Legacy of Yan Fuqing, MD, Yale School of Medicine Class of 1909

November 01, 2023
by Peggy Atherlay

Dr. Yan was the first Asian to receive a medical degree from YSM

Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) Cushing/Whitney Medical Library has a new resident, a bronze bust honoring Dr. Yan Fuqing, the first Asian to graduate YSM, Class of 1909. Donated by members of his family, and Xiangya Hospital, which Dr. Yan helped to build, the bust serves as a testament to his tireless work as a medical practitioner, public health advocate, and civil servant.

An event held Oct. 25 celebrating Dr. Yan’s life, legacy, and service to the medical profession was attended by distinguished guests and academic leaders from Xiangya School of Medicine at Central South University and Shanghai Medical College at Fudan University, delegates from the Hunan provincial government, and representatives across Yale. YSM, in partnership with the Yale-China Association (YCA), organized the tribute, which began with an academic program before a full house at the medical school, and was followed by the official installation of the bronze bust.

Upon graduating from YSM in 1909, Dr. Yan returned to China and became the founding dean of the Xiang-Ya (Hunan–Yale) School of Medicine in 1914. He went on to contribute to several public health initiatives, including the establishment of the Hunan Red Cross and the Chinese Medical Association. By the late 1920s, Dr. Yan became involved in the planning of an academic medical center in Shanghai and served as the founding dean of what is now known as the Shanghai Medical College at Fudan University. Today, both Xiangya School of Medicine and Shanghai Medical College remain among the top 10 medical schools in China.

When welcoming the gathering, Dean Nancy J. Brown, MD, stated, “I am struck by the legacy of Dr. Yan and how his work has endured, as we come together to support each other, foster understanding, and engage in the exchange of ideas.” The core values of innovation, collaboration, partnership, and cooperation are the cornerstones that underlie YSM and YCA’s enduring relationship with its medical partners in China.

Steven Wilkinson, PhD, vice-provost for Global Strategy, emphasized the importance of global engagement as core to Yale’s mission in preparing students to be global citizens and leaders. This commitment was the impetus for the creation of the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, which opened last year. In addition, Yale Center Beijing, established in 2014 as Yale’s only university-wide center outside the U.S., brings thought leaders together to address pressing issues, exchange ideas, and further deepen relationships between Yale and China.

“Through these channels, we seek to find new ways to bring people together, deepen understanding between our two countries, and find innovative solutions to address societal issues,” added Wilkinson.

John Frisbie, MBA, president of the Yale-China Association, reiterated the importance of the two countries’ collaborative partnerships in education, healthcare, and the arts. Together, they serve as an important engine that drives cooperation, mutual respect, and improvement in people’s lives. He also had the honor of recognizing former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, who joined the evening’s celebration.

I am struck by the legacy of Dr. Yan and how his work has endured.

Dean Nancy J. Brown, MD

Prior to the installation ceremony, an academic program explored Dr. Yan’s legacy and contributions to the medical community. David Luesink, PhD, associate professor of history at Sacred Heart University and Nancy Chapman, PhD, trustee of the Yale-China Association, provided historical context to Dr. Yan’s legacy. Dr. Yan’s academic and medical career spanned the many social, political, and economic developments that occurred during his lifetime, but he continued to serve as a bridge between the U.S. and China throughout, carrying the message that public health must be tied to medical education.

Service to others was a constant theme throughout the day’s events, with Dr. Yan’s two grandchildren echoing that message. His eldest granddaughter, Dr. Doreen Chen, remembers his passion, humility, and willingness to serve–attributes that she embraced during her own career as a pediatric cardiologist.

Dr. Yan’s grandson, Dr. Yan Zhiyuan, joined the delegation from China. He currently serves as an associate professor at Fudan University and vice president of the Yan Fuqing Foundation for Medical Education in Shanghai. Dr. Yan Zhiyuan shared his greatest teaching from his grandfather, advice that stands the test of time, “study hard and serve with a loving heart.”

The academic program and unveiling ceremony acknowledged Dr. Yan’s service and indelible mark on health care in China. His legacy is poised to serve as a testament to past, present, and future servant leaders.

Yale enjoys the distinction of having the deepest relationship with China of any university in the United States, with collaborations from in 1835 to the present. To learn more about Yale's partnerships in China, visit the Yale and the World website.

Submitted by Peggy Atherlay on November 01, 2023