CHAPTER IX. MAINLY ABOUT CHINESE DOCTORS.

Chaotong is an important centre for the distribution of medicines to Szechuen and other parts of the empire. An extraordinary variety of drugs and medicaments is collected in the city. No pharmacopoeia is more comprehensive than the Chinese. No English physician can surpass the Chinese in the easy confidence with which he will diagnose symptoms that he does not understand. The Chinese physician who witnesses the unfortunate effect of placing a drug of which he knows nothing into a body of which he knows less, is no more disconcerted than is his Western brother under similar circumstances; he retires, sententiously observing "there is medicine for sickness but none for fate." "Medicine," says the Chinese proverb, "cures the man who is fated not to die." "When Yenwang (the King of Hell) has decreed a man to die at the third watch, no power will detain him till the fifth."

The professional knowledge of a Chinese doctor largely consists in ability to feel the pulse, or rather the innumerable pulses of his Chinese patient. This is the real criterion of his skill. The pulses of a Chinaman vary in a manner that no English doctor can conceive of. For instance, among the seven kinds of pulse which presage approaching death, occur the five following: -

  1. When the pulse is perceived under the fingers to bubble irregularly like water over a great fire, if it be in the morning the patient will die in the evening.
  2. Death is no farther off if the pulse seems like a fish whose head is stopped in such a manner that he cannot move but has a frisking tail without any regularity; the cause of this distemper lies in the kidneys.
  3. If the pulse seems like drops of water that fall into a room through some crack, and when in its return it is scattered and disordered much like the twine of a cord which is unravelled, the bones are dried up even to the very marrow.
  4. Likewise if the motion of the pulse resembles the pace of a frog when he is embarrassed in the weeds, death is certain.
  5. If the motion of the pulse resembles the hasty pecking of the beak of a bird, there is a defect of spirits in the stomach."

Heredity is the most important factor in the evolution of a doctor in China, success in his career as an "hereditary physician" being specially assured to him who has the good fortune to make his first appearance in the world feet foremost. Doctors dispense their own medicines. In their shops you see an amazing variety of drugs; you will occasionally also see tethered a live stag, which on a certain day, to be decided by the priests, will be pounded whole in a pestle and mortar. "Pills manufactured out of a whole stag slaughtered with purity of purpose on a propitious day," is a common announcement in dispensaries in China. The wall of a doctor's shop is usually stuck all over with disused plasters returned by grateful patients with complimentary testimonies to their efficiency; they have done what England is alleged to expect of all her sons - their duty.

Medicines, it is known to all Chinamen, operate variously according to their taste, thus : - "All sour medicines are capable of impeding and retaining; bitter medicines of causing looseness and warmth as well as hardening; sweet possess the qualities of strengthening, of harmonising, and of warming; acids disperse, prove emollient, and go in an athwart direction; salt medicines possess the properties of descending; those substances that are hard and tasteless open the orifices of the body and promote a discharge. This explains the use of the five tastes."

Coming from Szechuen, we frequently met porters carrying baskets of armadillos, leopard skins, leopard and tiger bones. The skins were for wear, but the armadillos and bones were being taken to Suifu to be converted into medicine. From the bones of leopards an admirable tonic may be distilled; while it is well known that the infusion prepared from tiger bones is the greatest of the tonics, conferring something of the courage, agility, and strength of the tiger upon its partaker.

Another excellent specific for courage is a preparation made from the gall bladder of a robber famous for his bravery, who has died at the hands of the executioner. The sale of such a gall bladder is one of the perquisites of a Chinese executioner.

Ague at certain seasons is one of the most common ailments of the district of Chaotong, yet there is an admirable prophylactic at hand against it: write the names of the eight demons of ague on paper, and then eat the paper with a cake; or take out the eyes of the paper door-god (there are door-gods on all your neighbours' doors), and devour them - this remedy never fails.

Unlike the Spaniard, the Chinese disapproves of bloodletting in fevers, "for a fever is like a pot boiling; it is requisite to reduce the fire and not diminish the liquid in the vessel, if we wish to cure the patient."

Unlike the Spaniard, too, the Chinese doctors would not venture to assert, as the medical faculty of Madrid in the middle of last century assured the inhabitants, that "if human excrement was no longer to be suffered to accumulate as usual in the streets, where it might attract the putrescent particles floating in the air, these noxious vapours would find their way into the human body and a pestilential sickness would be the inevitable consequence."

For boils there is a certain cure: - There is a God of Boils. If you have a boil you will plaster the offending excrescence without avail, if that be all you plaster; to get relief you must at the same time plaster the corresponding area on the image of the God. Go into his temple in Western China, and you will find this deity dripping with plasters, with scarcely an undesecrated space on his superficies.

At the yamen of the Brigadier-General in Chaotong, the entrance is guarded by the customary stone images of mythical shape and grotesque features. They are believed to represent lions, but their faces are not leonine - they are a reproduction, exaggerated, of the characteristic features of the bulldog of Western China. The images are of undoubted value to the city. One is male and the other female. On the sixteenth day of the first month they are visited by the townspeople, who rub them energetically with their hands, all over from end to end. Every spot so touched confers immunity from pain upon the corresponding region of their own bodies for the ensuing year. And so from year to year these images are visited. Fain accordingly is almost absent from the city, and only that man suffers pain who has the temerity to neglect the opportunity of insuring himself against it.

I was called to a case of opium-poisoning in Chaotong. A son came in casually to seek our aid in saving his father, who had attempted suicide with a large over-dose of opium. He had taken it at ten in the morning and it was now two. We were led to the house and found it a single small unlit room up a narrow alley. In the room two men were unconcernedly eating their rice, and in the darkness they seemed to be the only occupants; but, lying down behind them on a narrow bed, was the dim figure of the dying man, who was breathing stertorously. A crowd quickly gathered round the door and pent up the alley-way. Rousing the man, I caused him to swallow some pints of warm water, and then I gave him a hypodermic injection of apomorphia. The effect was admirable, and pleased the spectators even more than the patient.

Opium is almost exclusively the drug used by suicides. No Chinaman would kill himself by the mutilation of the razor or pistol-shot because awful is the future punishment of him who would so dare to disturb the integrity of the body bequeathed to him by his fathers.

China is the land of suicides. I suppose more people die from suicide in China in proportion to the population than in any other country. Where the struggle for existence is so keen, it is hardly to be wondered at that men are so willing to abandon the struggle. But poverty and misery are not the only causes. For the most trivial reason the Chinaman will take his own life. Suicide with a Chinaman is an act that is recorded in his honour rather than to his opprobrium.

Thus a widow, as we have seen, may obtain much merit by sacrificing herself on the death of her husband. But in a large proportion of cases the motive is revenge, for the spirit of the dead is believed to "haunt and injure the living person who has been the cause of the suicide." In China to ruin your adversary you injure or kill yourself. To vow to commit suicide is the most awful threat with which you can drive terror into the heart of your adversary. If your enemy do you wrong, there is no way in which you can cause him more bitterly to repent his misdeed, than by slaying yourself at his doorstep. He will be charged with your murder and may be executed for the crime; he will be utterly ruined in establishing, if he can establish, his innocence; and he will be haunted ever after by your avenging spirit.

Occasionally two men who have quarrelled will take poison together, and their spirits will fight it out in heaven. Opium is very cheap in Chaotong, costing only fivepence an ounce for the crude article. You see it exposed for sale everywhere, like thick treacle in dirty besmeared jars. It is largely adulterated with ground pigskin, the adulteration being detected by the craving being unsatisfied. Mohammedans have a holy loathing of the pig, and look with contempt on their countrymen whose chief meat-food is pork. But each one in his turn. It is, on the other hand, a source of infinite amusement to the Chinese to see his Mohammedan brother unwittingly smoking the unclean beast in his opium-pipe.

On our way to the opium case we passed a doorway from which pitiful screams were issuing. It was a mother thrashing her little boy with a heavy stick - she had tethered him by the leg and was using the stick with both hands. A Chinese proverb as old as the hills tells you, "if you love your son, give him plenty of the cudgel; if you hate him, cram him with delicacies." He was a young wretch, she said, and she could do nothing with him; and she raised her baton again to strike, but the missionary interposed, whereupon she consented to stay her wrath and did so - till we were round the corner.

"Extreme lenity alternating with rude passion in the treatment of children is the characteristic," says Meadows, "of the lower stages of civilisation." I mention this incident only because of its rarity. In no other country in the world, civilised or "heathen," are children generally treated with more kindness and affection than they are in China. "Children, even amongst seemingly stolid Chinese, have the faculty of calling forth the better feelings so often found latent. Their prattle delights the fond father, whose pride beams through every line of his countenance, and their quaint and winning ways and touches of nature are visible even under the disadvantages of almond eyes and shaven crowns" (Dyer Ball).

A mother in China is given, both by law and custom, extreme power over her sons whatever their age or rank. The Sacred Edict says, "Parents are like heaven. Heaven produces a blade of grass. Spring causes it to germinate. Autumn kills it with frost. Both are by the will of heaven. In like manner the power of life and death over the body which they have begotten is with the parents."

And it is this law giving such power to a mother in China which tends, it is believed, to nullify that other law whereby a husband in, China is given extreme power over his wife, even to the power in some cases of life and death.

The Mohammedans are still numerous in Chaotong, and there are some 3000 families - the figures are Chinese - in the city and district. Their numbers were much reduced during the suppression of the rebellion of 1857-1873, when they suffered the most awful cruelties. Again, thirteen years ago there was an uprising which was suppressed by the Government with merciless severity. One street is exclusively occupied by Moslems, who have in their hands the skin trade of the city. Their houses are known by a conspicuous absence from door and window of the coloured paper door-gods that are seen grotesquely glaring from the doors of the unbelievers. Their mosque is well cared for and unusually clean. In the centre, within the main doorway, as in every mosque in the empire, is a gilt tablet of loyalty to the living Emperor. "May the Emperor reign ten thousand years!" it says, a token of subjection which the mosques of Yunnan have especially been compelled to display since the insurrection. At the time of my visit an aged mollah was teaching Arabic and the Koran to a ragged handful of boys. He spoke to me through an interpreter, and gave me the impression of having some little knowledge of things outside the four seas that surround China. I told him that I had lived under the shelter of two of the greatest mosques, but he seemed to question my contention that the mosque in Cordova and the Karouin mosque in Fez are even more noble in their proportions than his mosque in Chaotong. In some of the skin-hongs that I entered, the walls were ornamented with coloured plans of Mecca and Medinah, bought in Chentu, the capital city of the province of Szechuen.