George Hatem; U.S. Physician Aided Chinese

From Times Wire Services

Dr. George Hatem, an American physician who devoted his medical career to eradicating venereal diseases and leprosy in China, has died in Beijing, state university officials said Wednesday.

Hatem, 78, who died Sunday, had been hospitalized since Aug. 4. He had been diagnosed as having cancer and diabetes.

Officials at the State University of New York at Buffalo said Hatem’s cousin, who had received a cable from the doctor’s widow, informed them of his death.

Hatem is widely credited with ridding the world’s most populous nation of most syphilis and gonorrhea, and he had hoped to eliminate leprosy from the country by the year 2000. In mainland China he was known as Dr. Ma Hai-teh, meaning “virtue from overseas.”


The son of Lebanese immigrants, Shafick Hatem--his first name was Americanized to George--grew up in Buffalo.

He received his medical degree from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. In 1933, he and two other doctors went to Shanghai to study tropical diseases. Hatem never came back.

Shortly after his arrival, Hatem became friends with journalist Edgar Snow. When Mao Tse-tung became head of the Communist Party, he sent word to Shanghai that he wanted a “Western-trained doctor and an honest journalist.” Snow and Hatem managed to get through the Nationalist army lines to the Communists, where they first met Chou En-lai, then Mao.

Hatem returned to Shanghai when the Red Army took over China in 1949.