Highlights of Chinese Culture and History

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Hua Tuo, the Distinguished Doctor

In ancient China, there were many famous doctors, such as Qi o in remote antiquity, Bian Que in the Warring States Period, Sun Simiao in the Sui and Tang Dynasties and Li Shizhen of the Ming Dynasty. The man that is being introduced here was a distinguished medical man who lived towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Hua Tuo.

In his childhood, Hua Tuo was very fond of reading, having at his finger-ends such works as The Book of Songs, The Book of Rites, The Confucian Analects, The Spring and Autumn Annals, together with many medical and pharmaceutical books and the biographies of eminent doctors. He often went into the mountains in search of medical herbs which he would use in treating the minor ailments of ordinary people in the neighborhood.

His father having died early and his elder brother having been press-ganged, Hua Tuo and his mother depended on each other for a livelihood. Later, his mother was taken ill by an unknown disease. It pained him to see his mother getting worse and worse from day to day, while he himself remained helpless. Several well-known doctors had been consulted, yet they all had failed to cure his mother and, before long, she died. There and then Hua Tuo made up his mind to become a doctor, a master in the profession who was able to renderhelp to the sick. After a long and arduous journey, Hua arrived at a mountain in west China where he was accepted as a student by a practitioner.

Hua proved to be a very alert student, observing carefully and asking endless questions and thinking hard by himself. In this way, six years had passed without anybody noticing it,and Hua had become a master in internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics and acupuncture. Not long after he left the mountain, he became a famous medical man. Several times he had been offered an official position, which he always declined. Night or day, rain or shine, she was ever available to cure the sick and administer medicines over several decades of his life. Hua had left his footprints in many parts of the country and succeeded in saving the lives of numerous patients. His great achievements have become part of the history of Chinese medical science, and there are many interesting folk stories about him.

One day, Hua Tuo was sent for by a governor. While feeling the latter's pulse, he inquired about his condition and examined the coating on his tongue. Then Hua pronounced, "Don't worry, My Load. You certainly will get well." The governor was very happy to hear this. Then Hua explained the case to the governor's son in private and told him what to do. When all this was done, Hua wrote out a prescription. The governor was greatly enraged when he read the prescription. He tore it up, because it contained nothing more than slanderous remarks about the governor. His eyes bulging, the governor yelled at his soldiers to arrest Hua at once and have him executed. Hardly had he finished when he started to vomit, throwing up as much dark blood as could fill several big bowls to the brim. With this, the patient felt much better. And a while later, he was fully himself again. At this, the son said to him, "That is Hua Tuo's recipe." Only then did the governor realize what had actually happened. Angry as he was, he could not help admiring Hua Tuo for what he had done.

Another time, a famous woman painter suddenly began to feel an excruciating pain in her stomach. Many skillful doctors had been consulted but to no avail. And her condition was getting worse and worse. Since many people had heard that Hua Tuo was a brilliant doctor, they sent for him to make a diagnosis. Hua asked many searching questions while giving her a thorough checkup. As last, he came to the conclusion that an immediate operation was called for. Hua took out a small packet of anesthetic named "Mafeisan," which was prepared by himself, and told the patient to take it with warm wine. In a little while, the patient grew unconscious. Hua then gave her an abdominal operation and succeeded in removing the inflamed appendix. He then sewed up the wound and applied some ointment on it. A few moments later, the patient slowly came to, and within a week, the incision was almost healed. Hua Tuo's successful surgical operations were a significant contribution to Chinese medical science. Actually he predated Western medical men by more than 1,600 years in the use of general anesthesia which was not adopted by the latter until early in the 19th century.

Hua Tuo was also a pioneer in medico-athletics in China. He believed that physical exercises could toughen the body, cure diseases, and prolong life. Imitating the movements of five kinds of animal, that is, tiger, bear, ape, deer, and horse, Hua Tuo devised a set of calisthenics called "Wuqinxi," or literally the five-beast-and-bird play which used to be very popular in China.

Cao Cao, of the Period of the Three Kingdom, often suffered from headache which could only be relieved by Hua Tuo's acupuncture. So Cao Cao wanted to retain Hua as his private doctor. Having the well-being of the people at heart, Hua was not prepared to serve one only, even if the man be Cao Cao. Under the pretext of his wife's illness, Hua went back home. When the truth later became known to Cao, he dispatched his men several times to ask Ho to come back, but without success. And at last Cao had this distinguished doctor murdered.

Although he had died ages ago, Hua Tuo has always been extolled for his superb medical skills and his humanitarian spirit in curing the diseased.


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