Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990)

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Bethune has long been a hero in China. Perhaps for reasons of politics and personality, however, his fame in North America lagged far behind. The film explores the complexity of a character... See full summary »



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Credited cast:
Frances Penny Bethune
Mrs. Dowd
Chester Rice
Mr. Tung
Da Guo ...
Dr. Chian
Marie-France Coudaire
Alan Coleman
Geoffrey Chater ...
Dr. Archibald
Zong-yao Tan ...
General Nieh
Ke-Yaw Zhang ...
Iñaki Aierra ...
Dr. Salvador
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Lorne Brass ...
Reporter 1
Norris Domingue
Nurse MacKenzie


Bethune has long been a hero in China. Perhaps for reasons of politics and personality, however, his fame in North America lagged far behind. The film explores the complexity of a character who could be narcissistic, petty, and cruel with those who loved him, yet capable of heroic generosity and creativity for those whom he scarcely knew. It was a Canada-China-France co-production, which by the time of its release had become the most expensive movie ever made in Canada. The production had been dogged by controversy over funding, politics, location, revenue, and a dispute over the script between the author, who had been with Bethune in Spain, and the leading actor who had already played Bethune in other venues. Some scenes are tinged with humor and Bethune's speeches about universal access to humane medicine have an uncanny appeal more than half a century later. With its beautiful backdrop of Chinese landscapes, Montreal snow, and 1930s nostalgia, the film is an evocative memorial to a... Written by Duffin, Jacalyn

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Release Date:

17 September 1993 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dr. Bethune  »

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First major co-venture between Canada and China. See more »

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User Reviews

As as a student of Chinese History I loved this movie.
25 July 2012 | by (San Francisco) – See all my reviews

Contrary to the guy who said that they actors should be ashamed of themselves for promoting Communist propaganda, they should be proud for telling an inspiring story about an inspiring revolution. Indeed it's refreshing to see something that doesn't try to slander socialism and Mao. Maybe that is why this film was not widely seen and promoted.

Dr. Bethune was right, and is still right even with everything we know today. The film is correct in portraying these historical events in the positive light they should be portrayed, contrary to popular Western fashion.

Mao was not a murderer, he was a revolutionary hero, like Bethune, and saved millions of lives.

Keep in mind that Mao led the Chinese revolution which lifted millions out of poverty and illiteracy. It was in fact the largest transition out of poverty in human history.

The land reform was the biggest exchange of land in human history. There were indeed mistakes made during the transition out of capitalist (even feudalistic) economic relations and into a more socialistic economy and social structure. But to be fair the capitalist transition took a long time, failed several times, and committed outright crimes. Mao led the largest land reform in world history -- changing agriculture for 500 million people and ending feudalism.

The reorganizing feudal agriculture by leading a peasant agrarian revolution did cause disruptions to the food supply, but this is not "sanctioning the killing of millions." We never hear claims that say Lincoln "sanctioned the killing of 3 million people" because his election caused the civil war, and the civil war had sweeping consequences on both civilians and soldiers. The historical documents do make clear that whatever one thinks about Mao and the short comings, they do make clear that Mao's intentions was to create a deeply democratic (for the oppressed classes) society where the masses of people would be the rulers of their own destiny. Mao led a civil war, then a radical land reform and a series of unique political movements let led to a remarkable socialist society in China for several decades.

There are lots of sensationalist books that critics quote, but if you look at the sources, and esp. the review by China specialists after they had time to review it, you will see it gets lambasted in severe ways. For example the Chang and Halliday book, "Mao: The Unknown Story," is almost always cited and in vogue. The work is regarded by specialists as "faction--fiction with a cloak of facts.' David S. G. Goodman, Professor of Contemporary China Studies for example, compared the book to "The DaVinci Code, saying that it purports to show a "a conspiracy of academics and scholars who have chosen not to reveal the truth." Goodman argued that "the 'facts' in The Da Vinci Code are about as reliable as those to be found in...Mao: The Unknown Story." Goodman argued that the book could even be thought of as a "form of fiction" where "a strong narrative" is "a substitute for evidence and argument." One of my favorite China historians, who I used to correspond with when I was doing some research on this very topic is Prof. Mobo Gao, and in his new book, he devotes a whole chapter to that sad affair of "The Unknown Story." His book is, "The Battle for China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution" by Prof. Gao. Find on Amazon.

The reviews of the Chang and Halliday work reveal a very dubious methodology, that it exaggerates numbers, fakes evidence, provides anecdotal reading to events, etc. But this work receives praise universally from everywhere except for the field the work is suppose to contribute scholarly information to, China Studies. Nearly all China Studies scholars, even those very close politically to Chang and Halliday, have in one sense rebuked this work, yet it remains popular and cited by people as if it has any scholarly validity.

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