In the two ‘opium wars’ faught between China and Britain between 1839 to 1860, Britain ceded the part of Hong Kong island in perpetuity. Further China was weakened due to defeat in Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95. In 1898, China signed the lease contract to give British full jurisdiction of remaining Hong Kong that was necessary to ensure proper military defence of the colony around the island. The lease agreement was for 99 years expiring on 30 Jun 1997, with zero rent. Claude MacDonald, the British representative during the convention, picked a 99-year lease because he thought it was “as good as forever.” Part ceded and part leased, made it unfeasible to return the leased land alone as it would have split Hong Kong in two parts. The Chinese also started to pressure the British to return all of Hong Kong, taking the position that they would not accept so-called “unequal treaties” that were imposed on them by colonial powers.
Hong Kong propspered in 20th century. However facing the uncertain future of Hong Kong, Governor MacLehose raised the question in the late 1970s about lease agreement. The expiry of lease in 1997 created problems for business contracts, property leases and confidence among foreign investors. In 1983, the United Kingdom reclassifed Hong Kong as a British Dependent Territory (now British Overseas Territory) when reorganising global territories of the British Empire. Talks and negotiations began with China and concluded with the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The declaration stated that Hong Kong’s sovereignty will be transfered to the People’s Republic of China on 1 July 1997, when Hong Kong would remain autonomous as a Special Administrative Region and be able to retain its free-market economy, British common law through the Basic Law, independent representation in international organisations (e.g. WTO and WHO), treaty arrangements and policy-making except foreign diplomacy and military defence. It stipulated that Hong Kong would be governed as a special administrative region, retaining its laws and a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after the transfer.
In 1938, the communist General Zhu De requested Jawaharlal Nehru to send Indian physicians to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War to help the soldiers. The President of the Indian National Congress, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose accepted the request and made arrangements to send a team of volunteer doctors. A medical team of five doctors was sent as the part of Indian Medical Mission Team in September 1938. The medical team comprised of M. Atal, M. Cholkar, D. Kotnis (28 years), B.K. Basu and D. Mukerji. All other doctors except Dr. Kotnis, returned back to India.
However, Dr. Kotnis decided to stay back and serve at the military base. He initially started his work in Yan’an and then went to the anti-Japanese base area in North China where he worked in the surgical department of the Eighth Route Army General Hospital as the physician-in-charge. His job as a battlefront doctor was stressful, where there was always an acute shortage of medicines. In one long-drawn out battle against Japanese troops in 1940, Dr. Kotnis performed operations for up to 72 hours, without getting any sleep. He treated more than 800 wounded soldiers during the battle. He was eventually appointed as the Director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital named after the famous Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune.
In 1940, Dr. Kotnis met Guo Qinglan, a nurse at the Bethune Hospital. The couple got married in December 1941. They had a son, who was named Yinhua – meaning India (Yin) and China (Hua). The hardship of the stressful job as a front-line doctor finally started to take its toll on him and severely affected his health. Only three months after the birth of Yinhua, epilepsy struck Dr.Kotnis. A series of epileptic seizures proved fatal to the young doctor and he passed away on 9 December 1942. To commemorate his death and his unparalleled contribution to humanity, the Chinese government erected a memorial hall and issued government stamps on the loving memory of his name. Dr. Kotnis has been commemorated with the Canadian Dr. Bethune in the Martyrs’ Memorial Park in Shijiazhuang with the entire south side of the memorial dedicated to Dr. Kotnis.