Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The art of war and medicine

Xinxin Wu
Omaha, Nebraska, United States


Hai Wan Wu on Lunar New Year 2003 wearing a traditional tangzhuang.

War and medicine are two vastly different fields, yet they share a common goal. In war, soldiers risk their lives to defend their country; in medicine, healthcare professionals work to heal the sick and prevent illness. Both groups deserve our gratitude and admiration.

Hai Wan Wu was the name of a fourteen-year-old boy who grew up in a village in China filled with poverty. He picked up a gun and went to fight in a war because he thought he had no other option. This child soldier was my grandfather.

At that time, the number of children in each family was the only abundance they all shared. When Wu turned fourteen, he was sent to sell a pregnant horse in a nearby village in order to provide for the family. On his journey, the horse unexpectedly went into labor and died. Wu was overwhelmed by guilt and shame over what had happened and felt he could not go back and face the consequences of what had happened. At the next village, he purchased a gun and went to fight in the Sino-Japanese War. He rose through the ranks. After the war, his dedication in the earned him a high political office.

But after the war, the government also became increasingly corrupt. My father and my uncle fought to preserve our family’s reputation but were easy targets as the sons of a former political leader in a corrupt landscape. Disillusioned by the hopelessness of the situation, my father realized that the only way to escape was to start anew. He made the difficult decision to leave everything behind and emigrate to America. He wanted to create a future for his family free from injustice in a new land.

I was born in America many years later. I was a second child at a time when the One Child Policy in China was still attempting to control the population size by limiting families to one child. Had we lived in China, my parents would have had to give up me up for adoption and take me away from my family and my siblings. So I often think about my grandfather and the lessons he passed down. His life was marked by challenges, hardships, and sacrifices that I may never fully understand.

In war and medicine, there is a strong sense of duty and a need to endure rigorous training to perform well under pressure. The art in both fields lies in the balancing act between protecting the human spirit and preserving one’s sanity from tragedy.

The death of a pregnant horse gave birth to our story. I carry my grandfather’s legacy with me as I navigate my own path of medicine. When times get tough, I remember him and realize that I also am a warrior.



XINXIN WU is a current medical student at Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska, USA. She is anticipated to graduate in 2025 with the hopes of entering academic medicine.


Submitted for the 2022–23 Medical Student Essay Contest

Spring 2023  |  Sections  |  Personal Narratives

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.