Chinese Physic

by Unknown

The Chinese are a clever people, very clever indeed, and in some things they must be acknowledged to show more wisdom than the nations of the West; but they are decidedly peculiar in their way of treating the sick. Progress is not the rule with the Chinese, and, while medical art or skill is quite different now in England from what it was, the Chinese have made hardly any improvement. Matters come rather hard on the Chinese doctors, for we are told that sometimes they are punished if a patient dies, or when he does not seem to be getting better. This certainly is unfair to a doctor, for he cannot cure everything. With accidents, of course, much may depend upon how the doctor acts, and it is generally agreed that the Chinese are bad surgeons, so that in an emergency it would be better to trust to nature than be treated by a Chinese doctor, if other help was not to be had. We cannot wonder, therefore, that some of them refuse to visit sick people, if it is likely there will be danger in the case. Chinese books tell us that their system of medicine is exceedingly old, in fact, nearly as old as the monarchy, and it is attributed to a husbandman, whose name was Shin-nung. He studied what plants were the best food for the body, and what would cure it when 'out of sorts.' By him, or by some one soon after him, a list was prepared of the different complaints, and the proper medicine for each, with the dose to be given, so that any one can start upon being a doctor if he follows the instruction given. But should he try giving medicine on a plan of his own, he is likely to get into trouble.

The fees are mostly small, and the large cities have what we call dispensaries, where the poor are treated free. Still, there are a great many doctors in China; some are settled in one place, but hosts of them travel about, offering to the people quack physic. Boluses or large pills are favourite medicines, so big that sometimes persons are nearly choked in swallowing them. Much of the liquid medicine given is thick, and most nauseous to take; but usually the Chinese drink their potions without any sign of disgust. There are, however, various aromatics and perfumes prescribed, which the patients do not have to swallow; they have only to sniff them, or inhale their vapour. Dried and powdered bones of many animals are taken as physic; thus, the bones of a tiger are believed to give strength and courage. An elephant's tusk will furnish medicine for several complaints. Of the vegetables used, none is more highly esteemed than the ginseng root.