1873  — 1951

James Maxwell

Millicent Maxwell (1871-1961)

A Scottish physician specializing in psoriasis, serving with an English Presbyterian medical mission, like his father before him. He spent his life pioneering modern medical care in Formosa (Taiwan) and China, dedicating 50 years to caring for leprosy victims and striving to eradicate the disease.

James Laidlaw Maxwell, Jr. was born in Birmingham, England, in 1876. He was the second son of Dr. Maxwell and Mary Anne Goodall. He and his older brother, James Preston Maxwell, both became medical missionaries like their father. Their mother passed away in 1918 when Maxwell was 38 years old, and his father died 3 years later when he was 41 years old.

Maxwell, Jr. was an outstanding student and received many high honors during his study at a prestigious medical school near London. He was also active in the Christian fellowship on campus and volunteered frequently. He was encouraged by his father, who was absent from the missionary field and receiving medical treatment at the time due to a severe spinal injury.[2] In 1900, Maxwell, Jr. graduated from the University of London and became an internationally renowned leprosy medical expert. His wife Millicent Bertha Saunders (1871-1961) was a professionally trained nurse. She was also an early proponent of nursing education and training in southern Taiwan.[3]

In February 1901, at the age of 28, after finishing his education and many years of medical practice, Maxwell, Jr. arrived in Tainan, a small city of Taiwan, where his father had spent more than 10 years as a medical missionary. He was warmly welcomed for two major reasons: 1) in honor of his father’s years of sacrificial service and pioneering excellent medical practices; and 2) support from the new political ruling party (as Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule). Maxwell, Jr. started his work in the new building of the Tainan Sin-lau Hospital, which was the first western-style hospital in Taiwan. It was renovated and re-constructed from the old hospital building founded by his father 36 years prior. With the help of his wife, Maxwell, Jr. introduced modern medical techniques and equipment to patients. Very quickly, the entire community became fascinated with their special techniques and attracted to their charming personalities. The rate of patients attending increased three times in the span of six years, despite the limited number of sick beds, due to wide acceptance and trust in Taiwanese society. To illustrate, the number of patients receiving treatment from the facility grew from 739 in 1901; to 1,486 in 1903; then 2,036 in 1905; and finally more than 2,400 by 1907.

According to the Chronology of Sin-Lau Hospital, released from the medical foundation owned by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan:

Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell, Jr., arrived in Tainan on Feb. 24, 1901. From the years 1901 to 1908, Dr. James L. Maxwell, Jr. introduced many new medical devices such as stream sterilization of instruments, X-ray rooms, and active treatment of opium addiction and venereal diseases. Moreover he was dedicated to the prevention and cure of leprosy. In the Spring of 1923, Dr. James L. Maxwell, Jr., resigned from his job at Sin-Lau hospital and went to Shanghai, where he was the executive secretary of the Chinese Medical Missionary Association.[4]

Dr. Maxwell, Jr. cared about all the Taiwanese, whether they were new immigrants from mainland China or the original natives. During his stay, along with daily medical practice in the hospital, he also conducted a couple of medical mission tours around the island with his assistants and medicines. In 1914, between February and March, Maxwell, Jr. and his team started their trip at Tainan, located on the west coast of Taiwan; headed south to Kaoshung, Pingtung, and Hengchun; and traveled to the east coast, before circling through the north coast and back to Tainan again. During the trip, they went deep into mountainous areas where the original natives resided. Deeply touched by what he saw, Maxwell, Jr. burned with the fire of evangelism. He began making plans to promote a massive outreach to the native group. His first missionary target was the people of Amis, the largest clan of the natives, due to their uniform language and mild, not antagonistic, attitude toward the outsiders. In April of the same year, Maxwell, Jr. submitted his proposal to British headquarters. Sadly, the plan was not approved due to the outbreak of World War I. Even worse, his work in Taiwan was suspended, and he was forced to leave after being drafted to serve in a British field hospital in 1915.

Dr. Maxwell, Jr. made major contributions to Taiwanese medicine. Several recent discussions linked numerous medical literature directly or indirectly to Dr. Maxwell, Jr. He is considered a Very Important Person in the development of Taiwan’s medical history. Local people, as well as the city government of Tainan, called him “Young Doctor Maxwell.” During his almost 24 years as a medical missionary in Taiwan, he wrote many books and published articles in medical journals. It is said that Dr. Maxwell, Jr., of all the missionaries working before World War II, may have been the most productive writer who released the most medical publications.[5]

In one of his books, The Diseases of China—including Formosa and Korea, published in 1911 and co-authored with his prestigious colleague, Dr. W. Hamilton Jefferys, Maxwell, Jr. covered and contributed many topics, including: “Nosogeography and Nosology,” “Infectious Disease,” “Leprosy; Beri-Beri,” “Diseases caused by Protozoal Organisms,” “Diseases caused by Metazoal Parasites,” “Diseases of the Alimentary Canal,” “Disease of the Liver and Spleen,” “Disease of the Nervous System,” “Disease of Bones and Joints,” and “Laboratory Methods.” All of the topics listed above were illustrated largely with photographs of diseases that Maxwell, Jr. personally encountered among the Chinese while practicing medicine in the missionary field. The majority of the work presented in the book had never been published before. One aim was to help the medical workers or missionaries who were interested in practicing medicine and serving in Asia, so that they would have first-hand knowledge of basic treatment for the possible diseases they needed to be aware of and prepare for.

When World War I ended in 1919, Maxwell, Jr. returned to Tainan right away to continue his medical service. He found the hospital building and its medical equipment in a state of total ruin and malfunction due to the war and economic recession. Instead of becoming discouraged or disheartened, he partnered with Dr. Percival Cheal to restore the medical facility to its previous capacity.

In 1923, Dr. Maxwell Jr. was appointed the Secretary of the China Medical Missionary Association, which his father had formed in 1885. At the same time, he was hired as Executive Director of the China Missionary Association. He moved to Shanghai to take up the post after four more years of faithful service in Taiwan. In the meantime, he also became the editor of the Chinese Medical Journal, which published peer-reviewed English-language medical articles biweekly, covering health-related studies and research on various areas including technical, clinical, ethical, and social issues.[6] This journal was later renamed The Chinese Medical Journal in 1932 when it combined with another prestigious and influential medical journal, the National Medical Journal of China, due to the merge of the Medical Missionary Association of China and the National Medical Association of China.[7]

In 1931 and 1932, Dr. Maxwell, Jr. carried out two medical missionary field surveys in the “Prayer Cycle” of the missionary section of the Chinese Medical Association. He provided statistics related to the numbers of hospitals, doctors, beds, inpatients, and outpatients at the time in China.

In 1937, when the war broke up between China and Japan, Maxwell, Jr. assumed a new position as Director of the Chinese Red Cross. He worked to minimize the damage caused by the war and helped to maintain daily medical operations for missionary hospitals in central China. Unfortunately, he was forced to go back to England due to a severe foot malady in 1940.

In 1948, at the age of 75, now impaired due to his foot operation one year prior, Dr. Maxwell, Jr. and his wife returned to a hospital in the suburbs of Hangzhou, China, where he specialized in treating mental disorders and malaria. Instead of taking an administrative job, Dr. Maxwell returned to working as a physician and treating patients with his excellent medical skills and modern techniques.

In 1951, Dr. Maxwell, Jr. decided to return to the UK in November. He may have felt, due to the anti-foreign missionary acts from the new Chinese communist government, that there was not much left for him to contribute in China anymore. Unfortunately, on August 12th, he suffered cerebral malaria and passed away in Hangzhou. During his funeral, he was posthumously presented with the honor of “respect of the Government of the People’s Republic.” Additionally, the Maxwell Memorial Centre at Hay Ling Chau, Hong Kong, was dedicated to and named after him. The British National Medical Journal immediately published an obituary to pay final respects to his outstanding legacy, achievements, and contributions to both British medicine and missionary practices.

Biography Abstract of Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell, Junior

1873 Born in Birmingham, England—the second son of Dr. Maxwell and Mary Anne Goodall

1990 Graduated from the University of London

1901 Joined the First Medical Mission with his wife, Millicent Bertha Saunders, a registered nurse; and traveled to Tainan, Taiwan; sponsored by the English Presbyterian medical mission

1908 Published the article, “The Tainan Hospital, Its Story and Needs”

1911 Published the book, “The Diseases of China—including Formosa and Korea” with Dr. W. Hamilton Jeffreys

1914 Undertook the Whole Island Medical Mission Trip in Taiwan, specially attracted to developing a mission plan for native in-landers (the proposal was not approved due to the poor financial situation of his missionary organization)

1915 Left Taiwan, returning to Europe to serve as a physician in the British Field Hospital during World War I

1919 Returned to Taiwan to continue his medical missionary service

1923 Appointed as the Secretary of the China Medical Missionary Association

1923 Moved to Shanghai, China to serve as the Executive Director of the China Medical Association; became the main editor of Chinese Medical Journal and publisher of the book “Prayer Cycle”

1929 Became head of the department of field research at the Lester Institute, Shanghai

1931 Attended the first International Leprosy Association (ILA) conference in Manila as an active member of the ILA

1937 Assumed the position of the Director of the Chinese Red Cross to help all hospitals in central China remain functional during the war with Japan

1940 Returned to Europe due to a severe foot malady

1947 Began limping after undergoing foot surgery

1949 Began working as a physician, specializing in mental disorders and leprosy treatment, in the hospital near the suburbs of Hangzhou, China

1951 Died in Hangzhou due to cerebral malaria; buried in China


[1] International Leprosy Association: History of Leprosy http://leprosyhistory.org/data…

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://teach.med.ncku.edu.tw/n…, page 54

[4] http://www.sinlau.org.tw/en/mo…

[5] http://teach.med.ncku.edu.tw/n…

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…

[7] Gao Xi, “Chinese Perspectives on Medical Missionaries in the 19th Century: The Chinese Medical Missionary Journal”, Fudan University, 2014.


魏外揚著, 《中国教会的使徒行传-來華宣教士列傳》。 台北:宇宙光全人關懷機構,2006年。

Jefferys, W. Hamilton and Maxwell, James L. Jr., The Diseases of China—including Formosa and Korea. London: Oxford House, 1911.

Gao Xi, “Chinese Perspectives on Medical Missionaries in the 19th Century: The Chinese Medical Missionary Journal”. History Department, Fudan University, www.sciea.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/06_GAO.pdf

Choa, G. H., “Heal the Sick” was their Motto: The Protestant Medical Missionaries in China”. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1990.





International Journal of Leprosy, Centennial Festskrift edition, Vol 41, No 2, 1973.http://leprosyhistory.org/data…

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