Free Clinic in Suzhou, China


Articles / Yingying Hao, Ching-Pin Yang, Shu-Chen Wu, Hsiao-Lin Wu, ShuJu Chen, Li Hsu, Hsiao Tan, Li-Hui Tsai, Lung Wu

Photography / Wen-Fei Lin, Yin-Chun Ku, Lung Wu


The winter dawn arrived with a chill of three degrees celsius. The piercing wind greeted the Buddhist flag and Tzu Chi flag with fluttering joy. Tzu Chi Free Medical Clinic, held at Suzhou Changqiao Hospital, began at nine in the morning. 

Out of a population of 13 million in Suzhou, six million working individuals came from rural villages. With a monthly salary less than 1000 RMB (US$ 160), it is a financial burden to see a doctor when treatment can cost half-a-month salary on average. Therefore, despite the severe cold temperature, patients filled the waiting room well before 8:30am.

During the 1991 river flooding in eastern China, Tzu Chi came to offer disaster relief distributions in four counties and three provinces. Since then, free medical clinics have become a joint effort put together by Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA), Tzu Chi Foundation Medical Mission, Changqiao Hospital, and the affiliated hospitals of Suzhou University. About 100 medical professionals participated in this year’s free clinic.

Although this three-day free clinic may not have cured all maladies, practical medical service was delivered with utmost sincerity, care, respect, and a lot of good wishes. Warmth can withstand the winter cold, and welcome the New Year with joy and auspiciousness.



December 24th, 2010 was the first day of the Tzu Chi Free Clinic at the Suzhou’s Changqiao Hospital. Despite the chilling wind, long queues were formed in front of the hospital. While waiting for the clinic to open, volunteers led patients to do some hand exercises to combat the coldness; hot tea (brewed with red-dates) and vegetable buns were also served. The festive-like atmosphere and refreshment enlivened the smiles and hearts of the people. 


Quality Care with a Friendly Approach

Patients included migrant workers, low-income families and Tzu Chi charitysponsored households. There were examination rooms set up for surgeries, internal medicine, gynecology, orthopedics, and Chinese medicine. Orthopedics and Chinese medicine were the busiest in the clinic. Many elderly frequented the orthopedics rooms and were received with focused attention and care. Dr. Jui-Teng Chien, the orthopedics doctor from Tzu Chi Dalin Hospital, not only remedied the agony of his patients, but also encouraged them to have unflagging confidence in their recovery. Dr. Yi-Ying Shen listened to patients attentively and gave detailed diagnoses, treating all patients as close family members. As the burning of the herbal wormwood permeated the air, Dr.Ju-Chieh Hsu and Dr. Yi-Chen Chen, from Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, treated patients with acupuncture and sincere care.



Emergency Care and Health Education

Known as Taiwan’s “Founding-father of the Emergency Department”, Dr. ShengChuan Hu, the emergency department director from Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, conducted four first-aid demonstrations for patients who were waiting for prescription. When he had discovered that most of the local high school graduates did not have any knowledge of first-aid, he was worried that many lives would be lost without this life-saving knowledge. He explained the rescue methods with vividness and humour; helping the local population to bridge the knowledge gap.

Director Hu realized that many patients have high blood pressure and diabetes, which will lead to stoke, heart and kidney diseases if not brought under control. He urged people to adjust their diet, control their weight, and increase their physical activities to control the diseases. According to Director Hu, the patients usually feel that a doctor is good when he or she has more things to say to the patients. This has nothing to do with the medical skills of a doctor, but more to do with the perception of a caring attitude.



Seize the Opportunity to Give

An 89-year-old Grandpa Zhihao Wang, read about the event in the newspapers, came to the free clinic an hour before it ended. He befriended Dr. Tien-Hao Yeh during the visit, and left his phone number with an offer to write calligraphy for any Tzu Chi events in the future. 

In the reception area, Wanling Du volunteered to translate for people from Suzhou. She had suffered from malignant lymphoma for more than 10 years, and understood the minds of those suffering from diseases and longing for a good physician. While participating in the free clinic, she realized her blessings after seeing the suffering of the recipients, and seized the moment to serve others. 

In the reception area, Zhanhong Chen, a barber with eight years of experience, had sacrificed his vacation time to work at the free clinic. When he heard about the event, he came to Suzhou to provide hairdressing service to the patients.

Mengxiao Yin served as a coordinator for the Tzu Chi Suzhou free clinic event. She had her first contact with Tzu Chi when a leukemia patient, Xia Chen, was about to receive a bone marrow donation from Tzu Chi Stem Cell Center in Taiwan. She was among those who went to Hongqiao Airport to pick up the bone marrow. Afterwards, she felt especially close whenever she sees “Tzu Chi” (means compassion and relief in Chinese). After the first encounter, she gradually identified herself with Tzu Chi. Mengxiao wanted to write a report about the free clinic. She captured touching moments with her camera, hoping to let more people see the selfless contribution by all the volunteers.


The Need for Medical Care and Family Support

Dr. Jui-Teng Chien from Taiwan Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital came to Suzhou and participated in the free clinic for the first time. Initially, he doubted that any patient would want to come in such low temperature. But when he saw that so many people braved the cold and filled with hope, he realized how much need there was for medical services. Dr. Chien was deeply moved while giving diagnoses and treatments.

Dr. Chien realized that even rich areas had sufferings. Without a free clinic, many people might have no chance of having their pain treated. Therefore, Dr. Chien served with patience and altruistic joy; he tried to first find out basic information about each patient’s work and family background. 

“Disease, patient, family, and the society are closely related. A doctor may cure the disease, but if a patient is careless in taking care of his or her health, the disease may recur. On the other hand, family support is even more closely related to the patient’s condition, while society provides sound protection for all people”, said Chien.

During the breaks between treating patients, Dr. Chien shared his knowledge with Suzhou doctors. His sense of humor and his understanding of Buddha’s teaching enabled the Suzhou doctors to gain more understanding about Tzu Chi.



Doctors and Volunteers Became Cheerleaders

As word of mouth spread, more and more people came to see the doctors every day. Due to the number of people waiting to see the doctors on the last day, a waiting area was set up outdoors. Volunteers served hot buns and made ginseng tea while others cared for the elderly and children. Some other volunteers shared Jing Si Aphorisms bookmarks with everyone. To foster a warm spirit in cold weather, volunteers even danced and played the song “We Are All One Family” in the plaza. In the end, everyone forgot about the cold weather and felt closer to one another.

At this time, the music of “Happy Clapping” was played and Nurse HsiangLing Chen from Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital led physicians from Taiwan and China to do aerobic exercises. Vice president of Changqiao Hospital, Yan Wang, indicated that she wanted to make a copy of the music so that the hospital staff could keep on doing the exercises in the hospital after the free clinic was over. Dr. Xia Long, an internal medicine physician at Changqiao Hospital, was very happy and serious about the exercise. She hoped that her own hospital would implement such a healthy and happy exercise routine.



A Timely Medicine in Winter

Miss Ling Gu, a patient with discomfort in her neck, was able to easily move her head after being treated by Dr. Shen.

Mr. Shan came directly from his old town to the Changqiao Hospital in the early morning after seeing a news report the night before. After seeing a doctor, he expressed regret that he did not bring his wife along. He thought that the doctor was highly skilled. After the acupuncture treatment, he felt very different. “The experience of seeing Dr. Yi-Ying Shen was totally different from my previous experiences. He treated me as if I were one of his own relatives”.

Mr. Ziqiang Chen, a 69-year-old grandfather living in Suzhou, arrived at the free clinic after it closed on the first day. He was not discouraged and got up at five am the next morning to arrive at the hospital early in the morning. He saw many health education pictures hanging in the clinic area, and even though they were just pictures of common health information, he specifically copied them down with pen and paper as if they were the most precious treasures. 

Mr. Fuyuan Xia, a grandfather from Shigong village, came to see a doctor because he had a mouthful of crumbling teeth. Dr. Yi-Pang Lee performed a total of twelve fillings. Since the man had almost lost the roots of some teeth, the remaining teeth would have fallen out if not treated in time. After the treatment, Mr. Xia was very happy and touched, and said “thank you” repeatedly.

Qinying Gu, a Suzhou high school teacher, came to see the dentist one day. The next day, she brought her daughter and a student to see the dentist because she felt that the doctor from Taiwan was phenomenal. Holding back her tears, Gu expressed her gratitude said that everyone at the clinic was like an angel. At her first time at thte clinic, she was looked after by a dentist wearing mask. Later, whe she recognized the dentist, Dr. Tsung-Hsien Tsai without his mask on, her gratitude was beyond words. Because of her experience at the clinic, she vowed to join the Tzu Chi family along with her daughter. 



The Spirit of Humanistic Medicine 

Most of the Changqiao Hospital medical professionals volunteered to participate in this free clinic. Dr. Xia Long had just donated blood the day before, and joined the free clinic the following day. She said that even though the weather was cold, her heart was warm. She also said that the majority of people had a loving heart but didn’t know how to give. She was inspired after participating in the free clinic, and other medical professionals around her all wanted to learn about Tzu Chi and become volunteers.

Vice President of Changqiao Hospital, Yan Wang, asked her colleagues to take pictures of the touching scenes of the free clinic, hoping to show the pictures to their co-workers who were unable to participate. 

Dr. Qing Yen, assistant to the Changqiao Hospital President, participated from the beginning and helped set up the site. He also volunteered to be an interpreter to ensure more accurate diagnosis between doctors and patients. In addition, he brought his devout Buddhist parents to meet Tzu Chi volunteers; the old couple had burned incense and worshipped Buddha for many years without knowing that a Buddhist can do charitable acts like the volunteers did.

A mother and son, from Anhui Province, had no medical insurance or any other protection in Suzhou. The child had a heart disease, but the mother had been very hesitant to go to a hospital since she had little money. Luckily with the free clinic, she met Dr. Yonggen Xu, Suzhou Children’s Hospital’s Deputy Director of Thoracic Surgery. At the end of the treatment, the mother held Dr. Xu’s hands emotionally, and her expressions were filled with gratitude. The joy of helping those in need brought a smile to Dr. Xu’s face. He was happy to relieve the pain and worry of this family.

In his observation and interactions with many Tzu Chi doctors, the Director of Surgery at Changqiao Hospital, Dr. Chunming Wang, admires Tzu Chi’s medical humanistic culture that the team exemplifies. He was constantly conversing with Dr. Jui-Teng Chien during the free clinic. When he heard about TIMA (Tzu Chi International Medical Association), he immediately expressed his wish to join. He also explained that Changqiao Hospital’s founding mission was to serve the migrant workers and vulnerable groups in Suzhou; therefore, he would adopt Tzu Chi’s philosophy of humanistic medicine to continue serving his own people.

Dr. Wei Gao, a doctor at the University of Suzhou, filled prescriptions for patients at the free clinic’s pharmacy. On the last day of the free clinic, the number of people that came to pick up prescriptions were more than any other days of the clinic. Dr. Gao was on her feet for that entire day without taking a break. Her interaction with many Taiwan physicians and Tzu Chi volunteers left deep impression on her; she spoke highly of their work ethics and personal philosophies. 

Zhiying Tian, a Suzhou City Hospital nurse, had gone through a lot of pain in her marriage. Her husband had experienced many setbacks in a factory business. After she came across Tzu Chi in 2008, she gradually learned to let go of her attachment. She felt that Master’s words were easy to understand and follow, and she found new meaning and direction in life. Although she had family obligations, she had strong intentions to become a member of Tzu Chi. After the participation of this free clinic, she decided to fill out the registration form to join TIMA.

Zhihui Zhong, a Changqiao Hospital nurse, was very touched when she saw Tzu Chi had built water cellars for the villagers in Gansu province. When she was in college, her classmate was from Gansu and she thought it was incredible that her classmate only showered once a week. She could not understand why until she saw the film made by Tzu Chi describing how it takes a Gansu villager the entire day to just get two buckets of water.

Lilan Chen, a nurse who fully participated in the three-day free clinic, was shocked on the first day by the volunteers’ careful and attentive service to the villagers. On the second day, she learned to serve with love and passion, and on the third day, she felt she was just like everyone else as a part of the Tzu Chi family. She filled out the registration form to join TIMA, and also encouraged her colleagues to join as well. 



Red Envelopes Filled with Joy and Blessings

Although the three day free clinic was not long, physicians and Tzu Chi volunteers from Taiwan seemed to bring spring with them and warm up everyone’s heart. The time for the closing ceremony arrived. Having been busy for three days, everyone’s spirit was still high. Through a video footage of the three days event, people were anxious to identify themselves on TV. One after another people burst out with laughter when seeing shots of colleagues on the big screen. Everyone felt like a family at this moment. Dr. Gang Ye, Vice President of Suzhou Changqiao Hospital, said, “Through this experience, he learned that Tzu Chi volunteers came to the free clinic at their own cost and expense. This is a testimony to the great love of Tzu Chi’s spirit.” Suzhou Taiwan Affairs Office Deputy Director, Ms. Jung Shen, said that this was the first free clinic in Suzhou run by the cooperation between cross-strait medical professionals. Sixty-six medical doctors from Taiwan went to China not only with superb medical skills and high-quality medicines, but also love from humanity.

When it was time to receive red envelopes of Happiness and Blessings, the host specifically introduced the commemorative coin inside the red envelope. The commemorative coin is only issued at Tzu Chi’s Year-End Blessing event; they are made from Master Cheng Yen’s book royalties. Inside the envelope, the rice grains were gathered by the medical colleagues from Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital’s rice fields during their off-hours, representing that every good thought could be immeasurable like rice crops.

The free clinic held at the local hospital came to a successful end. It seemed that everyone, medical professionals or volunteers coming from Taiwan, medical personnel from China, or the patients themselves, gained more than what they had given through the interactions with each other. Even though the three day free clinic was not long, physicians and Tzu Chi volunteers from Taiwan were like the spring season in a severe cold winter, quietly plowing and irrigating the fertile fields of every heart.