This historic year is vividly pictured as a young American surgeon and Canadian wife dare to enter exotic Manchu (Ch’ing) Empire only a decade after the Empress Dowager’s ‘Boxers’ massacred foreigners. Admired as missionaries, deeply in love, Nell – on the ocean liner - begins to doubt James’ judgment.
James, eager to bring modern medicine to antique China, is shocked by the shabbiness of his assigned Hospital-of-Last-Resort with only male apprentices as aides. He faces poor patients with monstrous tumors, plague, stones, does operations never observed, is opposed by unbelievable superstitions.
Astonishingly, the ‘foreign doctor’ (true) is called to Military Headquarters where the Vice-roy of the two Kwang Provinces -- as large as Germany -- has called brilliantly robed Mandarins – Ministers of Army, Navy, Law, Treasury, Literary chancellor. Why? Unknown anarchists tried to assonate the Tartar General! Is Revolution brewing? On return, James’ sedan chair is waylaid by Ming Secret Society dissidents.
Different Chinese factions seek James’ USA support. Pretty teacher, impetuous Stephanie, sponsors ‘returned student’ radicals. Medical assistants-- for Republic therefore anti-Manchu (very dangerous) -- hide a rebel in his ‘neutral’ Hospital. Chinese Officials in Manchu Administration expect support for their Self-Strengthening moderates.
Meanwhile Nell struggles with her new house knowing no Cantonese, then with intelligent cook-helper knowing no English. Sir Gladwyn, British diplomat, takes her to ancient pagoda; she climbs inside! Shocked at primitive child-birthing in this ‘medieval’ village, she’s chased as Blue-Eyed Witch!
Visiting the British Yamên they hear a threatening rocket. Returning to Hospital, James is captured by the Manchu General, is horrified at cruel but brilliant strategy, watches Manchus win historic Battle of Seventy-Two Heroes.
Mr.Colocott, Hong Kong tea exporter, Mr.Paronel, British consul, M.Zinôt, disillusioned but fluent French liaison, Mr. Fa, Hospital pharmacist, argue with the North Americans, fearful and fascinated, as this tumultuous year -1910 - will change World History.