Hong Kong-educated PLA doctor helped bring modern obstetrics to the mainland

Elder sister of famed Hong Kong conductor Yip Wai-hong dedicated her life to improving women’s health in Mao’s China

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2017, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 11:15am

Professor Yip Wai-fong


The People’s Liberation Army is mourning the passing of an eminent obstetrician best known for her altruism rooted in South China.

Professor Yip Wai-fong, founder of the obstetrics department at the PLA 301 General Hospital died in Beijing on January 17, aged 100.

Yip spent her formative years in Guangzhou as a pupil at Pooi To Middle School, which relocated to Hong Kong in 1938 during the anti-Japanese war.

“She was raised in a Christian family with her eight siblings,” recalled the ninth and youngest brother Yip Wai-hong, Hong Kong’s renowned conductor and music educator, of his third sister.

“Our father was a medical doctor in Guangzhou and for many years was board chairman of Puiching Middle School, so the boys went to Puiching and the girls to Pooi To,” Yip told the Post.

I owe to her for my music career because she convinced my father to allow me to study music and not civil engineering,” the 87-year-old said, adding that he visited her for the last time in November.

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Yip Wai-fong was 17 when she headed north in 1934 for premedical studies at the prestigious Yenching University. Three years later, she enrolled at Peking Union Medical College Hospital for a five-year curriculum. During her 4th year study, the Japanese took over the school. Along with like-minded schoolmates, Yip quit school and became an activist in the student movement against the invaders.

In 1948, Yip resumed her studies under the renowned UK-trained obstetrician Lin Qiaozhi and finished her degree a year later. She declined her uncle’s offer to leave for Taiwan and stayed in Beijing.

In 1954, Yip was one of 12 medics who left their alma mater to join what was later to be the PLA General Hospital where three years later she became the head of the new obstetrics department.

Over the next three decades, until her retirement in 1987, Yip was instrumental in reforming maternity practices, such as introducing epidural anesthesia in childbirth. She also edited and translated more than 10 volumes of medical reference books, and mentored younger generations of obstetricians.

Wives of senior leaders, including the late Deng Yingchao, wife of premier Zhou Enlai, sought Yip’s medical advice.

But the renowned professor was not immune from suffering during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. One of her “crimes” was her overseas connections, such as having a younger brother in Hong Kong. She underwent re-education through labour by, among other things, cleaning toilets and sanitising bedpans. One way she maintained her spirits during difficult times was singing.

“She was a very good singer, both English and Chinese songs, and she played the piano too,” Yip Wai-hong recalled.

During her long retirement, she volunteered as a general practitioner as well as an English teacher, whose students ranged from children in the neighbourhood – whom she taught English songs like Jingle Bells – to young doctors doing research papers.

Yip continued giving in her later years, and her piano is now in the kindergarten of the PLA hospital.

In her will, she asked to be spared medical treatment as she approached the end of her life, and donated her body to medical use. At her funeral on Thursday, two days after her death, Edelweiss, her favourite song, was played to some 1,000 mourners at the 301 Hospital.

Yip is survived by a son and a daughter and three grandchildren in the United States.