Dr. A-Sin Tsai 1896-1990 蔡阿信 醫師
The First Taiwanese Female Doctor
By Stephen Chen 陳中潔 Posted to the Taiwanese Site
A-Sin Tsai never gave up fighting. Her first fight was against being adopted at the age of five shortly after her father died. She kept on walking back home by herself more than once. The adoption was cancelled and Tsai got to stay home for good. She also fought during the grade school where 99% were boys, all the way to the medical school in Tokyo with her brilliant and hard working life philosophy. Later she fought in the United States for further study in advanced medicine, and in Canada where she was once jailed for her 'illegal’ license to practice medicine.
Her grandfather (mother’s side) was among the first group of Taiwanese baptized by Rev. George L Mackay (http://thetaiwanese.blogspot.com/2006/03/rev-dr-george-leslie-mackay.html) and Tsai’s family had always been closely associated with the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. She entered the Tam-Sui Presbyterian School as the youngest student ever. And later she went to Tokyo Girls Medical School (東京女子醫專) as the only non Japanese student. While there were 127 entered, only 78 graduated and Tsai was among the top 25.
In 1921, Tsai came back to Taiwan as the first female doctor. Even the clothes she wore turned into an instant fashion as she became the hot news herself. Although her background was obstetrician-gynecologist, her first job at the Taipei Hospital (台北醫院, National Taiwan University Medical School Hospital) was an ophthalmologist. Tsai married to Mr. H Y Peng (彭華英) in 1924. A year later they moved to Taichung and Tsai turned herself to a successful phycisian. Tsai built a big clinic called Ching-Sing Clinic (清信醫院) in 1926. Soon Tsai was not satisfied with limited service that she performed, so she worked very hard with the locals and opened up Ching-Sing Midwife School (清信產婆學校) – the very first in Taiwan. It was said that nearly half of the new babies in the city of Taichung were the results of the Midwife School trainees and Dr. Tsai herself. She had earned a nick name “The Mother of Taichung.”
In 1937, Japan began its military aggressions toward many parts of Asia which also affected Taiwan (under Japanese control then) deeply. Since nobody wanted to enter the midwife school and ended up serving in one of the Japanese battle fields for whatever the reason, Tsai was forced to close her school and clinic. During that time, two issues also brought her attention:
• Mr. Peng was a political activist which caused unwanted visitations from the Japanese police. (Eventually Peng went to China to pursue his political interests. He stayed in political circles without much success. 1968 Mr. Peng passed away in Taiwan.)
• Dr. Tsai’s close relationship with the church and the missionaries also caused some suspicions in the eyes of the Japanese rulers. (For example, Tainan Theological College was forced to close for some years during the World War II.)
Through some arrangements and the help of Mrs. Foster (an American friend), Dr. Tsai went to USA in September of 1940. She took a train from San Francisco to the east coast and for the next several months she spent time at Harvard Medical School, Toronto and ended up in the Vancouver area when Pearl Harbor incident occurred. During that time Dr. Tsai could not obtain her passport to go back to Taiwan, so she went back to New York City. She still had hard time going back to Taiwan even with her passport because the war in Pacific and the strikes in San Francisco Bay area. So she spent time at the Columbia University Medical School and received professional training as an anesthesiologist. She then received more training in Johns Hopkins University Medical School and Hospitals in Baltimore area and moved on to Minnesota Mayo Clinic and then San Francisco.
Tsai arrived home in 1946 at last. So much had been changed in six years of war and political conflicts. The infamous 228 incident occurred the next year. Many intellectuals and local leaders were either disappeared or killed in one of the most chaotic/tragic periods in Taiwan history.
After further observations, Dr. Tsai decided to give up her clinic and medical career in Taiwan and moved on. Tsai and Mr. Peng divorced after a long time separation – they had two children. Later Tsai and Rev. Gibson, a British Canadian friend, got married before departing to England in 1953. They decided to move to Canada few years later. Again she entered the Columbia University Medical School for her study in Public Health. Gibson passed away in 1967. Tsai lived alone again.
Dr. Tsai came back to Taiwan for the last time in 1979. She was moved by all those old ladies who lived alone in a near poverty level. The next year she and her friends started the “Chi-Seng Service Foundation” (至誠服務基金會) as a center for the poor, lonely widows and senior citizens who could come and seek help. This service foundation still functions now, reflecting the love and the life of Dr. Tsai. In 1990 Dr. Tsai passed away in Canada.
It must have mattered much for Dr. Tsai to be the first in many areas when the society was dominated by men. It seems to matter even more that she strived to be the first and the best, not just to take the advantage for herself, but to give back to the needed and the less fortunate.
-- The novel “Lang Tau-Sa” (浪淘沙 by 東方白) has been a dramatized life story of Dr. Tsai.