Fantastic Finds for Friday: Chinese Tradition of Third Day Bathing Ceremony, 1911

This week our Fantastic Find for Friday comes as a result of a tidy-up session! Last summer, following office refurbishments here at the RCOG, some interesting photographs and prints were transferred to the Archive, complete with their frames and quite a lot of dust from years of being hung on office walls and in corridors.

A lovely and willing work experience student removed the items from the frames and placed them all in clean secol sleeves, putting them in a nice safe place ready for me to catalogue. Fast forward six months, and that nice neat pile finally beckoned!

Chinese silk painting depicting the Third Day Bathing Ceremony
Chinese silk painting depicting the Third Day Bathing Ceremony

This lovely pen and ink drawing on silk was one of these pictures which had adorned the College walls here for many years. Dated 1911, it depicts the third day bathing ceremony celebrated in China: rich Chinese families, celebrating the birth of a child, would invite the midwife to wash the baby on the third day after the birth. The family, relatives and friends would come to congratulate and watch the washing of the baby.

The delicate and vivid colours of the painting prove that this picture certainly has not suffered from being exhibited for all these years, and we will continue to preserve it in the College Archive (Reference S130), hopefully bringing it to the notice of many more people – it is surprising how little we see the things that we pass by every day!

Just as interesting as the picture, is the person who gave it to the College! It was presented to the RCOG in November 1954, six years before the College moved to its present site in Regents’ Park, by Foundation Fellow, Professor John Preston Maxwell. John Preston Maxwell was born on 5 December 1871 in Birmingham, where his father, Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell, practiced medicine. He attended University College School, Hampstead and University College London, before taking his clinical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, from which he emerged with a gold medal in obstetrics and went on to work as a resident at St Bartholomew’s.

Then, following his devout Presbyterian faith, Maxwell became a Medical missionary for the English Presbyterian Church and, in about 1898, went to Yungchun Hospital at Fujian in China, where he spent the majority of his professional life. He specialised in obstetrics and was a leading authority on foetal osteomalacia. He became a Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Peking Union Medical College (a teaching hospital funded by the Rockerfeller Foundation), President of the Chinese Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and worked as secretary to the medical committee of the Lord Mayor’s Fund for the Relief of Distress in China.

We are privileged to hold in the RCOG Archive Professor Maxwell’s photograph albums of cases of osteomalacia encountered in China, with a collection of bound related articles from medical journals, 1830-1947 (Reference S64). These were presented to the College at the same time as the Chinese drawing. A unique man and a wonderful collection for the RCOG to have in its custody.


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