Rebecca Chan Chung
Chinese American Military Nurse & Nurse Educator
Thank you to Rebecca’s daughter, Dr. Deborah Chung, for graciously sharing information about her mother and sharing photos and resources with us.
Rebecca Chan Chung was born in Guangzhou, China in 1920. Two of her great grandfathers were ordained Christian ministers in Southern China. Her mother was one of the earliest Chinese female doctors of Western Medicine in China (Lee Sun Chau). Her father was a senator and revolutionary in the Chinese Revolution of 1911, which was the revolution to end the imperial political system (Po-Yin Chan). Due to the Warlord Era during which Rebecca was raised, her mother raised her in Hong Kong to escape the political violence in and around Guangzhou. Rebecca graduated from the Diocesan Girls’ School in Hong Kong in 1938, but despite graduating near the top of her class, she chose to use her family’s money to send her brother to college instead.
To begin working, she received nursing training at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong from 1938 to 1941, where she received free training with a stipend. Rebecca received her nursing certification three days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and two days after the invasion of Hong Kong by Japan. To return home during the Japanese invasion, she dressed as an old woman to reunite with her mother. She later fled by boat back to Guangzhau, where they stayed at the Methodist church founded by her great grandfather before heading to Chongqing, the wartime capital of China at the time. There, she was accepted as a Nurse in the Flying Tigers headquartered at the Kunming airport.
Her hospital received injured airmen where nurses provided the wound care and administered morphine. Nurses were also responsible for evacuating patients from the hospital during air raids. When Japan cut off access to Burma Road which was used for supplies and evacuations, the only route of transportation was by air over the Himalayas, considered the most dangerous in the history of aviation. The China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) pioneered these flights on propeller planes in order to transport medical supplies. It was operated by Pan Am and China, and headquartered in India for safety. Rebecca joined the CNAC in 1943 as a flight nurse and flew between Calcutta, India, and Chinese warzones for about 50 times.
Rebecca kept the medical records of each CNAC employee, as well as performed all of the employees’ annual physical examinations. She was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1944 and received three U.S. World War II medals and a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal for her service. After the war, she moved to Shanghai with the CNAC. She continued to fly to cities to provide medical care and trained stewardesses in first aid. She became the head nurse in 1947, but resigned in 1948 so she could return to Hong Kong before China became communist. During this time, she accumulated enough savings to finance her brother’s medical education in Canada and purchase 50,000 square feet of land in Tsing Yi Island, Hong Kong for her parent’s retirement.
In 1958, Rebecca was elected President of the Hong Kong Nurses and Midwives Association and was appointed as a Member of the Hong Kong Nursing Board in 1961. She was sent to Australia by the Hong Kong government to pursue nursing education in 1962 and on her return, became head of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (established in 1870) nursing school in 1963. The nursing school was bigger than any nursing school in Britain at the time. As her daughter states: “She literally trained a generation of nurses for Hong Kong.” In her 90s, Rebecca worked on her autobiography, Piloted to Serve, with her daughters. Although she died in 2011, her book was published in 2012 in traditional Chinese, abbreviated Chinese, and English. Rebecca received a U.S. military burial ceremony.
We sourced information for this bio from the CNAC, American Legion, and the presentation by Rebecca’s daughter, Dr. Deborah Chung.
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Know Your History
- Nursing CLIO to engage with historians and scholars committed to deep work around historical accuracy in healthcare and nursing.
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- Breaking Bias in Healthcare, an online course created by scientist Anu Gupta, to learn how bias is related to our brain’s neurobiology and can be mitigated with mindfulness.
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