Long-Ago Postcards from Western China
Between the years 1912 and 1926 my maternal grandfather Dr. E. Kyle Simpson served as a medical missionary with the Canadian Methodist Church in the Province of Sichuan in Western China. After 1921 he was in charge of the Gospel hospital at the mission station in Fowchow, now called Fuling. Fuling is a small city on the banks of the mighty Yangtze River, located about 990 miles west of Shanghai.
One of the frustrating challenges faced by mission doctors in Sichuan was getting sufficient medical supplies. Until about 1930 when commercial aviation started in China, the only way to transport medical supplies to Western China from cities like Shanghai was by small sail-powered houseboats, pulled upriver by workers known as trackers or by small steamships. Sometimes such supplies were lost in river wrecks, and bandits and periodic civil war were additional dangers.
Fortunately for my grandfather the large city of Chungking (now called Chongqing), was only 53 miles away to the west, and medical supplies could be obtained there from the American-Chinese Drug Company. This company and its retail store were set up about 1915 by James McCartney, a medical doctor with the American Methodist Episcopal Mission (“MEM”), when he left that mission body after an internal dispute. It appears that this store succeeded Chungking’s American Dispensary retail store that sold foreign medicines and sundries such as soap and postcards, which McCartney had set up in 1899 as part of the Chongqing hospital of the MEM.
This introduction gives you a brief background for the postcards published by the American Dispensary and the American-Chinese Drug Company which have been passed down to me by my grandparents and parents. I have a fondness for them because they provide a respectful and unvarnished look at conditions in China in the early 20th century, then a mostly rural country whose people usually earned their living by manual labor.
Chair Traveler and Beggar
My grandfather and his wife Alice Estabrook Simpson travelled in such sedan chairs (American Dispensary). The printer of my American Dispensary cards is not known, but I suspect they were printed in England. More American Dispensary postcards can be found in the online International Mission Photography Archives at the University of Southern California.
I like the inherent humility of this image (right), plus the good quality printing of this postcard. This card and all my other American-Chinese Drug Co. postcards appear to have been printed in Japan by the Tokyo Design Manufacturing Co., whose trademark was “Kanda Tokyo.”