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Need For Medical Missions In China

( Originally Published 1913 )

We are reminded of a Chinese proverb which aptly shows the opinion held by the Chinese with reference to their Medical profession—" Medicine, fortune-telling astrology, physiognomy, are taken up as a trade or profession (for diversion) by scholars ; the last-named only is respectable." Anyone can be a doctor in China. Often a man who has been engaged in some other calling, and failed, resolves perhaps to take up medicine. He obtains a pair of large Chinese spectacles, buys one or two medical books, hangs out a sign, puts on a thoughtful expression, and professes to be able to heal the sick. It may be that one of his ancestors was a " doctor," and if so the young recruit to the profession will enhance his prestige by obtaining as his share in the family heirlooms some secret prescriptions and methods of treatment which may be his sole medical library.

The last two terms are names of absolutely imaginary organs ! When disease arises it is supposed to be due to a dispute between the twin powers of nature, named respectively Yong and Yin, or male and female. One of their beliefs is that the heart is the husband (i.e. abode of the Yong principle) and the lungs are the wife (i.e. abode of the Yin principle) ; if these two main organs cannot be brought into harmony, evil at once ensues. There is also a widespread and implicit faith in the presence of bad humours and in the powerful operations of evil spirits in the production of sickness.

Chinese doctors have been roughly divided into two great classes—" Internal body " doctors, and " outside body " doctors, of which the former are the more numerous. In addition there are " eye doctors," " smallpox doctors," etc. How these distinctions work out to the oft-time detriment of the poor patient is illustrated by a case reported by Dr Duncan Main, of Hangchow. A Chinese carpenter pierced his foot with an ugly splinter. An " outside doctor " being at hand, said that for the usual gratuity he would attend to the foot. This being paid the splinter was promptly cut off level to the surface of the foot, and then a plaster made and stuck on ! The patient being still in great pain, asked if the splinter were out. The only reply he received was that the doctor, not being an " inside doctor," would not presume to remove the rest of the wood !

The same Medical Missionary relates how, on one occasion, a servant employed in a mission house left suddenly, because his grandfather, who was a native doctor, had died, and he was to take up his practice at once. Within twenty-four hours the erst-while servant had donned a new silk coat, cloth waistcoat and pea-green trousers, and with the addition of spectacles, was the fully fledged doctor ! Imagine such men called to the bedside of the sick ; and it is easy to realise how grievous is the plight of the latter !

These sad instances of Chinese medical ignorance leads us on to touch for a moment upon their pharmacology and surgery which, it will not be surprising to learn, reveals equally an utter lack of any scientific knowledge. The most that can be said in the matter of their drugs is that " they possess some knowledge of herbs, of which it is only fair to say there is a considerable field for research." In addition to herbs, Chinese physicians employ to a great extent animal products, such as dried snake skins, deer horns, and tiger bones. The following example of their prescriptions will not, we think, inspire a desire to seek their treatment

" Powdered snakes 2 parts.
" Wasps and their nests 1 part.
" Centipedes . 6 parts.
" Scorpions 4 parts.
" Toads 20 parts.

" To be mixed with honey and made into small pills. One to be taken four times a day."

The most popular tonic is tiger bones, taken either as pills or tincture, the argument being that as the tiger is a very strong animal, and the bones the strongest part, what is made from them must be strengthening ! It is, however, in the direction of surgery that Chinese doctors exhibit the greatest ignorance and practice the most shocking methods of treatment. Their books on surgery teach that there are three hundred and sixty places in the human body into which "needles" can be inserted without harm. These needles, it should be added, are used hot or cold and without the slightest idea as to cleanliness. Often they are very dirty, and too frequently, alas, communicate disease rather than cure it. Some of the places above referred to are in the neighbourhood of big joints, in the region of the stomach, and around the eyeball ! The idea is that by making these stabs, the " wind or humour " will be let out ! Sad indeed is it to relate that many a poor Chinaman has lost his eyesight, his hearing and the use of his joints, if not worse, through such maltreatment. For indigestion, the treatment has often been to insert a needle into the stomach and blister round the hole thus caused. Verily counter irritation with a vengeance ! For headache, alas, the drum of the ear has not infrequently been punctured.

Another lamentable example of the absolute lack of any knowledge of surgical pathology is afforded by the frequent treatment prescribed for an abscess. This is the application of black pitch plasters, which, instead of allowing the discharge to escape, prevent its doing so. The result is that the pus burrows underneath, entailing widespread destruction of the tissues, and in the end often the loss of a part. If the discharge tries to escape at another point, promptly fresh plasters are applied.

The treatment of eye diseases gives yet a further in-stance of this terrible " surgery " ! Blindness in China is very great, and, in the vast majority of cases, might have been prevented had the simplest care been given in infancy and childhood. For cataract, Chinese surgeons will frequently insert a dirty needle into the opaque lens, with the idea of letting in the sight. Ulcers on the front of the eye have actually been scraped with crude and dirty instruments, and the opaque parts clipped with scissors !

In all this appalling quackery, superstition takes a very prominent place, and is responsible for much of the absurd and debasing practices that are carried on in the search for healing. One of the idols worshipped by the Chinese is a god of medicine, and sometimes his help is solicited in the following manner—A friend of the patient will go to the temple, and after he has tickled the god's ear " to arouse him," the part of the image that corresponds to the part affected in the patient will be rubbed, in order that the god may know exactly the seat of the disease, and where his help is required. Incense and candles will then be burnt before the idol, and the friend will return home carrying with him some of the ashes left in the censer which stands before the idol.

At other times the method employed will be that observed by Professor Dr Martyn Edwards, at Foochow, and which he describes in the following words :

Foochow has a god which is known all over the entire province, this god being able, so a sign outside the temple says, to cure ` every disease known to the human race.' In this temple I saw a woman who seemed to be in the last stage of tuberculosis. She came in and kowtowed before the god, and then took from a small bowl a rod with a certain number on it. Then kowtowing again, she picked up two pieces of bamboo root, with one side flat and one round, threw them up in the air, bowed her head to the ground, and then looked at the bamboo roots as they had fallen to the ground. They had fallen, she saw, the smooth side up. That shewed that the number she had chosen was wrong. So she chose another number, then again kowtowed and prayed, and threw the roots up in the air. They came down one flat and one round. That was the right number ! She turned to the priest, handed him the number and paid him some money. He drew out prescription number 13 from the drawer, and gave it to her to have filled at the drug store. This surely would cure her, for had not the god shown her the right number ! Such are the conditions found all about China today."

And so we might proceed, citing instances ad nauseam of the degree in which superstition enters into the conception of the Chinese in regard to sickness. Charms, weird incantations and ceremonies, in which Taoist priests take a large share, all are supposed to be efficacious in ridding the sick person of one or other of the malignant spirits which are believed to have occasioned the sickness. Veritably a terrible nightmare of superstition ! Truly the very shades of the Evil One ! And in the midst of it all, sad indeed is it to remember there are sinking into their graves in China thousands of lives every day, numbers of whom might never have died if only they had had proper treatment. Is there not a need, we ask again, for Medical Missions ?

It is only right, however, that mention should here be made of the fact that the present Chinese Government are now endeavouring to found Medical Schools, and to raise up a new and scientifically trained race of doctors. Quite recently a China Medical Association has been formed in China " composed of all Chinese properly qualified medical men at home and abroad." We rejoice at these signs of progress, and wish every success to the attempt to promote true medical knowledge. At present the chief difficulty lies in the absence of suitable teachers ; and the existence of this vital deficiency lays upon the Christian Church a great opportunity and a serious responsibility.

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