In 1897, Tom Cochrane, a young doctor, arrived with his bride in Inner Mongolia, China's northernmost territory. Three years later, after labouring single-handedly in a mud-floored dispensary, he realized that his work was a drop in a sea of suffering. A radical new approach was needed. He was gripped by the vision of a Western medical college and teaching hospital in Peking.
In 1900, the Boxer uprising broke out. Fanatics roamed the countryside crying, 'Kill the foreigners! Kill them before breakfast!' The Cochranes and their three little boys fled as thirty thousand Christians and hundreds of missionaries were butchered. Undeterred, Tom returned to Peking in 1901 to treat beggars and lepers in converted mule stables.
After bringing a major cholera epidemic under control, he won allies at the imperial court. With the help of the chief eunuch, he gained the support of the dreaded Empress Dowager. In 1906, Cochrane established the Union Medical College in Peking, China's first Western medical school. It still stands today, a prestigious academic centre, its missionary origins forgotten, but it is one of countless seeds planted by Christians in China.
Andy Adam read history at Oxford, began as a journalist, changed horses in his mid-twenties and paid his way through medical school by "an unholy mixture" of freelance writing, male modelling and cabaret. He joined the RAF as a medical officer, saw the world with his family and finished his medical career as a consultant pathologist in Somerset. Thomas Cochrane was his maternal grandmother's second husband and an important figure in Andy's life; he died in 1953 when Andy was fourteen. His life as a medical missionary in Imperial China fascinated Andy even before he inherited his papers.