THE CHINA DOCTOR - Harry Willis Miller 米勒耳 (1879 - 1977)

Maude Amelia Thompson Miller 米莫娣 ( 1880 - 1905)

Marie Elizabeth Iverson Miller 米瑪麗 ( 1884 - 1950)

Mary Elizabeth Greer 米瑪莉 (1919 - ?? )

Lillian Ng and Bruce W. Lo, 2013

Basic Biographical Data

Harry Miller was born July 1, 1879 in Ludlow Falls, Ohio, and died January 1, 1977 in Riverside, California.

Parentage: Father John Oliver Miller, Canadian Conference President and mother Amanda Ehlers.

Siblings: Harry Miller was the eldest of five children. His siblings were: Clarence, Mabel (died as a child), Alice, and Esta Miller.

Marriage: Harry Miller married Maude A. Thompson in July 1, 1902 but she died in 1905 in China. In 1908, Harry Miller married his second wife Marie Elizabeth Iverson, who served the church with him for 42 years. Marie died in 1950. In 1954 Harry Miller married a third time to Mary Elizabeth Greer.

Children: Harry and Marie have four children. Eldest son Willis was an engineer; younger son, Clarence was a missionary to China;  and two older daughters Maude and Ethel Marie, both born in China.

Summary of Service: For seventy years, Harry Miller served as a medical missionary, surgeon, church pastor and administrator, publisher and editor of Chinese Signs of the Time magazine and other Christina publications in China.  He was well known as a philanthropist, a researcher, food scientist, manufacturer and businessman of soy milk and soy products. He established over 19 hospitals and dozens of food product factories in East Asia. He held positions as teacher, hospital administrator, director of medical missionary department, and China Conference President.

Family Background 1879-1894

Harry Willis Miller was born in a farm  in the town of Ludlow Falls, Ohio on July 1, 1879 to the home of John Oliver Miller, a school teacher, and Amanda Ehlers. He was the eldest of 5 children. As a youngster, he was required to do chores in the farm. He later wrote on reflection that while he delighted in working in the farm, he found it hard to have to kill and eat the animals he had raised. When he was 12, his parents became Seventh-day Adventists. Two years later, after a series of Bible studies at the annual camp meeting, Harry Miller himself also decided to be baptized and became a member of the Adventist church.

Education and Marriage 1894-1902

When he was fifteen years old, he enrolled in Mount Vernon Academy, an Adventist boarding academy in Mount Vernon, Ohio for his secondary education.  After graduation in 1898, at the age 19, he went on to study medicine at the newly opened Adventist-run American Medical Missionary College in Battle Creek, Michigan, which was affiliate with Battle Creek Sanitarium headed by Dr John Harvey Kellogg.

The Sanitarium was among the largest and most progressive medical institutions of its kind in America at the time, and the birthplace of modern dietetics. Instead of advocating the use of some of the popular cures of the mid-1800s, the Sanitarium recommended diet, exercise, hydrotherapy, and good mental health as the foundations of healthful living and natural healing. These teachings had a lifelong effect on Miller6. To help pay for his own tuition, Miller led guided tours through the sanitarium and food factory

As a top student of Dr. Kellogg, Miller received not only the standard medical knowledge to become a physician, he also learned the importance of preventive medicine, nutrition, vegetarian diet, exercise etc, which was the most progressive teaching at the time.  

In 1902, Harry Miller graduated from medical school and married his classmate, Dr.Maude A. Thompson on July 1, 1902.  They then interned at Rush Medical School in Chicago for one year.  Harry Miller also completed his specialty training in EENT.

Early Years in China-Henan 1903-1906

Towards the end of 1902, The Millers,  classmates Drs. Arthur Selmon and Bertha Loveland Selmon, two nurses Carrie Erickson and Charlotte Simpson made a bold and firm decision to accept the call to be self-supporting missionaries to China.  After much prayers, they were reassured and blessed with financial support from individuals,and both the Ohio and Iowa Conferences  would also contribute to the cost of their transportation and a small stipend for the first year.

On October 3, 1903, this small band of young missionaries boarded the ocean liner Canadian Pacific's Empress India with a priced possession the Franklin printing press and  began their voyage to China.  After enduring over two weeks of severe seasickness, they made a brief stop in Yokohama  Japan where Miller bought 3,000 blocks of Chinese character.  He also tasted soybean tofu which particularly impressed him to pursue the development of soymilk and soybean by-products later in his career.

Upon arrival in Hsintsai, Henan deep in Central China, they immediately "dressed like Chinese even to wearing queues and  studied Chinese."  A year later, 1904, the group separated, the Millers settled in Hsintsai and set up the first printing press.  Just when their hard work was being realized, Maude contracted a deadly illness and passed away on March 14,1905.  With the help of a Chinese colleague, the now heart broken and lonely Miller privately buried his beloved wife in a foreign land.  For the  next two years, he worked mostly alone until Selman and Allum joined him.   His hard works yielded a dispensary, printings of Chirstian tracks, church hymnal, Sabbath school lessons and the famed "Signs of the Times" monthly journal. However, by 1907, he was advised to return to America for furlough as his own health was also in jeopardy.

Second Time to China- Shanghai & Henan 1907-1911

While in America, Dr Miller spoke  at camp meetings the work and the tremendous needs in China. Shortly after  remarrying, his new bride Miss Marie Iverson a nurse accompanied him to Shanghai where he would be assuming  the position of conference president while Pastor J. N. Anderson was on leave.  The Franklin printing press was already transported from Henan and put in a house which he rented from an American educated Christian Mr. Charlie Soong.  Mr Soong was the father of three famous daughters, and two of them  were married to Shin Yat Sun and Chang Kai Shek, China's political leaders.  Because of his long time relationship with the Soong family, Dr. Miller and the Adventist institutions enjoyed great respect and privileges which in turn gave the church ample opportunities to advance the gospel.  

In 1911, he returned to Henan and built a new training institute which accepted about 50 students from all walks of life.  Unfortunately, he became seriously ill again that forced him to immediately leave China for treatment  in America.  By the time he arrived at San Francisco, he was already too weak to walk.  He was admitted to St. Helena Sanitarium Health Center for a condition later known as Sprue a vitamin deficiency disease.  A few months later, he went to Ohio to seek work even before he was fully recovered  from his ailment.  

In Washington D.C. 1912-1925

While in Ohio,  Dr Miller taught  Bible at Mt. Vernon Academy, his former alma mater for a few months. He then set up private practice after meeting with Dr.George Harding Sr. of Harding Pyschiatric Hospital in Worthington Ohio.

In 1913, he was appointed both medical secretary of the General Conference and head of the Washington Sanitarium. Simultaneously, he was also taking up surgical residency in Thyroidectomy  at John Hopkins University Medical School.  The new surgical techniques he pioneered and implemented reduced the fatalities from 50 to less than 1 %. According  to D. A. Roth, Miller had performed 6,000 thyroidectomies, and 30,000 all surgeries during his professional life. During the  twelve years under Dr.Miller's leadership, The Washington Sanitarium retired its debt as the facility grew tremendously in capacity and in reputation.

In 1917, because of America's involvement with WWI, local farms were required to supply cow's milk to military hospitals exclusively.  Therefore, Washington Sanitarium faced major shortage of cow's milk.  Out of necessary and of his own dismays to the problems associated with animal products, Dr. Miller was equally convinced that a good alternative to cow's milk was essential and possible.  In 1921, he and his son Willie began experimenting with soy milk and tofu in their own farm, the tofu was then added to peanuts for more processing in the hospital food plant.  By 1923,

soy in the form of soy flour was widely used for food in the Sanitarium.

Third Time to China-Hospitals & Soy Milk 1925-1939

After attending the annual conference business meeting in Ohio in 1925, he once again accepted the urgent calls to return to china. He went directly to assist Roger Paul with his clinic in Shanghai and collaborated with E.C. Wood to erect a sanitarium on a piece of donated land. 

On January 1, 1928, The Shanghai Sanitarium, being the first Adventist hospital built outside of America opened its door to the public.  Shortly afterward, a six story clinic was also completed.  For the next ten years, with large monetary donations from the rich and powerful, Dr. Miller was able to treat the poor and construct more hospitals in other cities like Wuhan, Shangyang, Lanchow, Chang   ,Canton,etc.  During the war with Japan, Wuhan Hospital once became the sanctuary for over 20,000 Chinese refugees.

In 1926 out of his deep concerns with wide spread malnutrition especially among infants, Dr. Miller turned serious attention to soy milk. He was determined to develop a palatable soy milk with good digestibility, low cost and long shelf life, and most importantly, it's nutritional value would be equal to breast milk.  He researched tirelessly, visited countless tofu shops in China, Korea and Japan and studied their methods.  In early 1930's, processing with the newly purchased equipment from America, the formulated soy milk was greatly improved in flavor and digestibility, however the beany flavor persisted.  Finally, in the mid 1930's, the break through came after a divine inspiration suggested that the soy milk should be cooked with live steam.  Instantly the perfect soy milk emerged and was widely consumed in Shanghai City. Dr. Miller considered the success of soy milk was his most significant accomplishment.   

With the help of his son Willis's expertise in plant design and equipment construction, a full -scale soy dairy was opened in January 1937? in Shanghai.  Tragically in just eight months, it was totally destroyed by the Japanese force on August 13, 1937.  Later that year, he retreated to Wuhan and established Wuhan Sanitarium.  Although the war was intensifying rapidly, he chose to stay behind to minister to the wounded and dying until April 1939.  

Introducing Soyfoods to America 1939-1949

With soy milk process patent in hand, Dr. Miller settled in a 140-acre farm in Mount Vernon, Ohio and set up a food company named The International Nutrition Foundation with both his sons.  Willis arrived with  soy foods equipment from his own firm in Washington DC, Clearance came on board to be the accountant and treasurer. By the fall of 1939, a solid new plant which they built with their own labor was completed, and by the end of the year soy milk was in production. However,due to the slow acceptance of the public and the resistance of the powerful US dairy industry, Dr Miller not only had to change the name Soy milk to Soyalac, but to ship the products to Asian countries in order for his business to survive. 

 Since the ultimate purpose of his business venture was to provide a sustainable and healthier diet option for the public and not to benefit himself financially, when the export of the soy products were halted because of WWII, he turned his focus back to the Americans again.

While  maintaining an active medical practice in Mount Vernon Hospital, he spent countless hours in soy research and experiment.  Repeatedly he  went to the American Medical Association to promote the universal benefits of Soyalac.  To educate the public and the medical sector, he gave numerous lectures at the conventions and published scores of articles on soybean.  Finally in April of 1951, The AMA's council on Foods approved the the use of Soyalac as a hypoallergenic infant food.  When the war ended, many foreign companies purchased equipment from him to produce comparable soymilk which later became best sellers. For that high level of success, Dr. Miller was truly pleased. His passionate mission was accomplished.

In 1948, although the civil war was looming in China, Dr Miller returned to Shanghai in a daring flight to attend the opening ceremony of the world's largest soy milk plant built with the help of Willis.  He also resumed the post of medical director for the Shanghai Hospital and Sanitarium, but by 1950, the war had become increasingly dangerous and chaotic, he had no choice but to evacuate again and returned to America.

Research Around the World 1950-1977

Within a year of returning, his second wife Marie died.  For him, in order to effectively pursue his passion of soy research and medicine, he decided to sell off  soyfoods  plant at almost no cost .  He divided his company into two parts.  The non soy meat analog section to  Worthington Foods in Worthington Ohio.  The land, building, equipment, soy milk formula and all soy related products to Loma Linda Foods in Riverside, California. He then settled in Riverside, and led the soyfood research and development department. In 1951, Soyagen a lightly fortified soy milk for adults was introduced.  

In 1953, he married Mary Elizabeth Greer and enthusiastically answered a call to Taiwan. Working hand in hand with Pastor Ezra Longway, he raised the funds  to establish Taiwan Adventist Hospital and a nursing school.  Of course  it would make sense to add a soy dairy nearby to provide for the patients and staffs alike.  On March 28, 1955, during the opening ceremony of the new hospital, Generalissimo Chang Kai-Shek awarded Dr Miller the Blue Star of China, the highest civilian award in China in appreciation for his long time selfless service to the well being of Chinese people.  For the next two years, Dr. Miller acted as the first medical director. His staff physician included Dr.E. A. Brooks, Dr. D.J. Lin and Dr. C. Chang,  Head Nurse Miss Elizabeth Redelstein and Nursing School director Miss Muriel Howe .

In 1959,  The Far East Division invited him to join Pastor Longway again to establish hospitals in Hong Kong.  At 80 years old, Harry Miller took up this daunting challenge in stride.   Within 14 productive years, he established Tsuen Wan Hospital in  Kowloon where patients could receive practically free medical care,  and the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital a round and stately structure on the Hong Kong Island.  There were also two buildings as staff quarter, a nursing school and dormitory named after Dr. Miller.  

Regardless of the fact the Vitasoy a packaged soymilk produced by Mr.K.S. Lo using Dr.Miller's method had already been popular in Hong Kong since 1940's, Dr. Miller insisted on setting up a soymilk dairy near the cafeteria of South China Adventist college/Sam Yuk Middle School in Clear Water Bay an Adventist boarding school.  As a result, over 200 staff members, students including this author could enjoy the freshly made soymilk every morning for breakfast.  

Besides China, Dr. Miller also left his giant footprints in the rest of the world.  He established a total of 19 medical institutions in Far Eastern countries, Tokyo Sanitarium Japan 1928, the Manila Sanitarium and Hospital Philippines 1929, and the Miller Memorial Hospital in Cebu,Philippines etc. He was licensed to practice in China,Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Libya, all over the British Commonwealth, Canada and  8 of the states in America.  All  soyfood factories in Far Eastern and Southern Asia currently owned by the Adventist church were results of his initiative and effort.

In Hong Kong, Mrs Miller worked as a teacher and choir director at the Clear Water Bay South China Adventist College, Dr. Miller continued to operate and teach the technique to medical students until May 31, 1972 when he officially retired as a medical missionary. Before returning to America, Dr.Miller made a brief trip to India to help set up a soymilk plant in Spicer Memorial College in Poona. 


Finally in August of 1973, the couple settled down in Riverside California but they were far from retiring.  Dr. Miller assumed the position as consultant in research and development at Loma Linda Foods. At 94 years old, his energy remained abundant as ever with no signs of diminishing.  For four years, besides actively working to improve the  tofu-based cheese products in Loma Linda Foods, he was also showing great interests in learning new soy development from other soy experts like William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi of Japan.  Though his body was in Riverside, his heart remained in China.  During a visit with D.A.Roth in September 1974, he discussed the progress of God's work in East Asia and the hopes for the gospel in China, he also talked about his plans to return to Hong Kong in the near future.  As a simple and humble man, he spoke lightly of any attention to himself but this statement firmly "I give God the glory for anything that He has been able to do through me.  I could never have done what I did without the guiding hand of God through the years.".(R&H) Dec 26, 1974  Apparently he had followed and practiced Peter's advice faithfully. 

In 1 Peter 4: 7-11, Peter's advice to best prepare for  the end time is to keep praying, loving , and serving so that in all things God may be praised and  glorified though Jesus Christ. 

On January 1, 1977  after a Sabbath morning walk, Dr. Harry Willis Miller "The China Doctor" passed away peacefully.


1. Andrews University (2008), The Harry Miller Collection, #252, Center for Adventist Research, James White Library, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

2. Branson, Roy (2000), Harry Miller: Adventist Hero of Social Reform, in The Heritage Series of Adventist Review, June 2000, available online

3. Columbia Union Conference (1976), China Doctor Cited- Outstanding Citizen Award Riverside County, CA, Columbia Union Visitor, July 29, 1976.

4. Moore, Raymond S. (1961), The China Doctor: The Life Story of Harry Willis Miller, Harper & Brothers Publishers: New York, NY.

5. Moore, Raymond S. (2009), Slow Boat to China: Harry W. Miller-China Doctor, Selfless Servant, Adventist World, October 3, 2009. Available online

6. Shurtleff, William & Aoyagi, Akiko (2004), Dr. Harry W. Miller: Work with Soy -A Special Exhibit - The History of Soy Pioneers Around the World, Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California. Retrieved 8/13/2013 from

7. Staple, Russell (2009) Harry Willis Miller in Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity. Retrieved 8/13/2013 from .

Last updated 03/16/2023 by Bruce Lo