Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Ceremonies/Medicine


The medical profession in China is one for which neither law nor custom demands that a man shall be specially trained. Any one who chooses to do so can practise as a doctor without registration of any kind. He reads one or two standard Chinese works on medicine, and gains a knowledge of certain drugs, which he combines in so-called prescriptions, charging his patients from ten cents to one dollar. The patient holds a consultation with some of his friends and relatives, who discuss the prescription and not infrequently decide to eliminate certain of the drugs specified and to add others. They may also come to the conclusion that the dose suggested by the doctor is too large or too small, and alter it accordingly. When they have settled these matters to their own satisfaction, the approved drugs are boiled together until the decoction is reduced to from six to ten ounces, and the patient swallows the bowlful at one draught. This is one of the most curious features of the Chinese medical system. Every man who can read regards himself as a doctor in embryo. Even in the native hospital at Hongkong it is a common practice still for the director and certain members of the committee to assemble the native doctors round a table and discuss the various prescriptions which they have given during the day.

In the Chinese pharmacopea there are numbers of useful and powerful drugs, practically unknown in Europe, only waiting for some one with time, means, and the necessary training to demonstrate their value and impress them into the service of man. Jen-tsin, for example, is a powerful tonic and cardiac stimulant, but its uses are commonly known only to the Chinese.

Major surgery is practised only to a very limited extent in China, but minor operations, such as acupuncture and dry cupping, are frequently performed. Bonesetting, the reduction of dislocations, lancing of abscesses, and dental surgery may also be mentioned as having their place in Chinese surgery.

Altogether the Chinese make a considerable claim to efficiency in their methods, and though there is a substratum of practitioners employing witchcraft and the black arts, doctors of the better class aver that their percentage of cures is very high. In the case of small-pox, for instance, they guarantee 90 per cent, of cures — the European percentage is barely as high as 70. The outstanding name on the medical roll is that of Wa To, who lived in the Han dynasty. He used the knife freely, both for amputations and for minor operations, and obtained great repute. He has now been canonised, or deified, and is worshipped as the god of medicine.