Chinese medicine - Chinese-type druggists and Western chemists

In Hong Kong there are two advanced systems of living side by side, and although with the passage of years the one has borrowed much from the other, they are still poles apart. To the visitor this was evident in the contrast of Chinese-type restaurants and European-type, of Chinese-type shops and European, and in many other ways. One of the contrasts that struck me most was that between Chinese-type druggists and Western chemists.

There was about the former an air of eighteenth-century English pharmacies, an air which survives in the jars of coloured water, decorative jars, and solid dark cabinets still to be found in some chemists' shops. But here in Hong Kong, as in England, the age of the patent medicine has done much to alter things, and there were plenty of shops with European and American patent medicines on one side and Chinese medicines on the other. At first I suspected these to be survivals of herbalists' shops, but closer acquaintance showed they contained much more like the stock-in-trade of the African medicine-man. The difference lies principally in the wrapping. The Chinese druggist uses tissue-paper and good-looking containers, the African medicine-man uses leaves or some old matting bag.

Until recently Chinese medicine had almost an official existence in Hong Kong, parallel to European, just like the restaurants. The Tung Wah group of hospitals recognized and used the system to the full. But that citadel has been assailed. Such Chinese medicine as is practised in the hospitals is now on a very minor scale and no sort of recognition is allowed to the Chinese druggist. In China his qualifications have for some time been protected by law and, I am told, there are few 'quacks'. In Hong Kong the quack in Chinese medicine flourishes. None the less, Western medicine is also very greatly resorted to, but Chinese tolerance likes to have the two--just in case. I was interested the meet Chinese medical practitioners with Western qualifications who held that in some respects the Chinese system was superior, and I found Europeans who resorted to Chinese medicine for some complaints. On the whole, what seems to have happened is that Chinese medicine has remained static. So old is it that at one time it was much in advance of Western medicine, but there is no need for a layman to do more than compare a Chinese anatomical chart with a Western one in order to realize that in medicine Chinese science has stood still.

But obviously there is 'something in it'.

We'were invited one day to the consulting-room of one of the best-known practitioners in Chinese medicine in Hong Kong, Dr. C. F. Lo. From the noise and bustle of Queen's Road we climbed up a narrow flight of stairs to his waiting-room, furnished with a counter and benches. A vase of gladioli stood on a table and the room had an air of Victorian middle-class respectability. Partitioned off from the waiting-room was a small office, and behind it the consulting-room with a sofa, chairs and tables. It was here Dr. Lo received us and gave us cups of tea. He wore a grey robe and had a long, full face with roguish eyes which seemed to be saying 'What a joke life is!' He looked older than the 43 years he admitted. Extremely amiable and a good conversationalist, he would have been more convincing if it had not been for those amused eyes.

'The Chinese', he said, by way of introduction, 'have a belief in Chinese medicine, which is like a belief in religion.'

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