Formosa, the Island My Father Had Never Been-The Story of Dr. Lan【Parent-Child Reading Guide】


A Q&A on David Landsborough


How many "David Landsboroughs" are there in the story?


Four. Our protagonist is the third one, who shared the same name with his grandfather, father, and son.

The first David Landsborough as well as the second were Scottish ministers and noted naturalists. David Landsborough III and IV were both missionary doctors who served in Taiwan at Changhua Christian Hospital. The locals nicknamed them Old Dr. Lan and Junior Dr. Lan.


To whom was Lan narrating his life story?


His wife, Marjorie Landsborough, née Learner.

Marjorie was herself a missionary to Taiwan from England. In her latter years, she published Dr. Lan , a chronicle of the Lans and in particular her husband’s deeds in Taiwan. The story’s setting as a conversation between Marjorie and David III while the family bathing in the sea, is in fact based on the account in Dr. Lan of the Lans’ daily after-hours ritual on the coral island of Lambay (Little Liu-chʻiu).


What did Lan do in Taiwan?


(1) He practiced medicine in Changhua in the absence of a hospital. His clinic was set up in a church and ran side by side with sermons.

(2) He reopened Dr. Gavin Russell’s clinic in Tashê, Shênkang, Tʻaichung, and based himself there for several months every year. The clinic had been discontinued after Russell’s passing.

(3) In close partnership with Rev. Campbell Naismith Moody, he expanded the church’s outreach in central Taiwan. Moody had a ringing baritone voice which he used to great effect in his powerful sermons, whereas Lan was a skillful physician who treated patients as family. There were only four congregations in central Taiwan when the pair first came to Changhua. Some ten years later, there were three-and-twenty.

(4) He introduced Western medicine by personally tutoring a generation of doctor’s assistants in chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and the philosophy of "a decent human being foremost, a doctor second."

(5) He founded what is now known as Changhua Christian Hospital, complete with consulting rooms, an operating theater, a dispensary, a chapel, and a kitchen. A centralized water supply, an X-ray machine, and a pathology laboratory were added later. The hospital’s staff enjoyed communal meals, recreational activities, praying sessions, and putting on shows to entertain the patients on special occasions.


What frustrated Lan in Taiwan?


(1) He had quite some trouble learning Taiwanese, which is a tonal language with extensive sandhi.

(2) He frequently suffered from tropical diseases; such was the fate of late nineteenth-century missionaries who came Formosa-bound. As iterated in the story, he was in fact the substitute for Russell, who succumbed at twenty-five years young. Lan himself caught malaria almost as soon as he got off the boat and fought it over many years. He was also at one point thoroughly bedridden for about a month due to dysentery and diarrhea.

(3) He had to endure the lack of transportation.

(4) The workload was impossible. He treated between 200 to 400 patients each day; there were even cases to be seen at his residence after hours.

(5) He was a bachelor for seventeen lonely years over the duration of his service in Taiwan. After Moody getting married and moving out, all he could do was throwing himself into work.

Marjorie and David: A Romance

First met:

At a meeting of the English Presbyterian Mission in South Formosa.

Mode of courtship:

Epistolary. A man and a woman seeing each other in private, both unmarried, is unbecoming to say the least, according to senior missionaries at the time.

Wedded at:

The British Consulate in Tamsui.

The limo:

A rattan sedan, carried by four Taiwanese in Royal Navy uniforms.

Honeymooned in:


Age at the time of marriage:

Marjorie was 28; David was 42.

David III: As told by his son, colleague, and patient

David IV:

"One time, when I was a kid, I walked alongside my father on a street in Changhua. There was a man lying by the side, his skin ulcerous, the wounds letting pus and blood. You could smell him scores of paces away. Father strode toward the man, picked him up, and hailed a rickshaw to take him back to the hospital."

"In the winter, Father would warm the stethoscope’s resonator in his palm before putting it on a patient. If someone with a smelly-foot condition came in, while another doctor might have kept as much distance as possible between his nose and the patient’s lower limb, my father would actually bend down and have a good sniff to determine how the patient was doing. He was not above unshoeing and unsocking a patientif the patient had a bad back or had difficulty movinghis or her body."

A fellow physician:

"While doing the rounds, Lan would chat and laugh with those patients who were recovering well, genuinely sharing their joy, and he would comfort and offer encouragement to those in pain. He truly treated every one of them as family. I have never seen him lose his temper."

A patient:

"Before the wards were built, Lan kept several bamboo beds in the consulting room for in-patients who had just had an operation. That way he could keep an eye on them day-and-night, relatives present or not."