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A visit from the Doctor – Nanjing 1891

Today I wanted to bring you something unique. This is from a diary written by a missionary who arrived in Nanjing at the end of Imperial China, and was integral in spreading western medicine in Eastern China.  I hope you’ll enjoy this moment from the past and reflect on how much China has and hasn’t changed.

August 1st, 1891 – One amusing experience was a call to the Fanti’s Yamen to treat a man who had cut his arm and fainted from loss of blood.

The Fanti is the treasurer and is a high official. The present one being a relative of the Emperor. A yamen is a palace which in Chinese style is composed of many rooms only one story high, separated by courts and connected by passageways and all surrounding a large central court which forms a beautiful garden of rare plants and flowers with grotesque stone work for which the Chinese are famous.

It being very hot we took chairs carried by 4 men which also was more dignified than riding donkeys.

On arriving we were shown into a reception room with much ceremony and etiquette though being foreigners and being they being used to foreign ways relaxed the strictness to half foreign style. We answered to our names ages and residence and whether married and how many children we had. Then we were shown to the room where the injured man lay. I will not give details of the treatment suffice to say a gaping wound in the arm had to be sewed up as it was nearly dark. I had to do it hurriedly as I could not trust them to bring a light as they would hold it right over the ether and cause an explosion. Then on going to give the man a drink of water they filled a cup with my antiseptic solution of corrosive solvent and only for my assistant would have given him a dose sufficient to be a thorough quietus. The wound was filled with flour to stop blood. After all was over they wished us to stay all night and give us a foreign supper as good as could be gotten in the Astor House Shanghai. As usual in a Chinese house there was a perfect crowd of servants and people to stare at us and as we would not drink wine they gave us foreign soda water and as each cork popped this crowd jumped as if in serious danger.

They gave us a fine bed with Chinese pillows which we would vote at home to be hard and only a roll to hurt the back of the neck but tiredness with experience in roughing it will soon to sleep anywhere.

Next morning we were shown the yamen.

In it they rooms of foreign furniture such as a piano billiard table etc.

Was called to prescribe for Fanti himself. Our entertainers were jolly fellows and all dissipated (here meaning: Overindulging in sensual pleasures) as all Chinese officials are.

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6 Comments

  1. Yaxue C. says:

    This is such a nice treat, Tom. I must be getting old: Encountering anything from the past, I get a slight pull, a tingle, somewhere inside me. At my age, life is as much about looking back as forward.

    Yamen is 衙门—for those of you who might be interested in knowing the characters. It is the old name for where the government is located.

  2. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    This is very interesting. It reminds me of my most favourite fiction book which is “The Ginger Tree” by Oswald Wynd. He was born in 1913 to Scottish missionaries whose family members worked in China and Japan. The book is about a young Scottish girl who travels to China in 1903 to join her husband at the British Legation in Beijing. The author used family diaries to describe many incidents of life then, including a visit by Legation wives to Dowager Empress Cixi. Fabulous! More please Tom!

  3. john book says:

    Old or not…. I’d sure enjoy reading/seeing more stuff like this. I am facinated by history.

  4. […] In the early 1900′s when China’s wealthy merchants were too embarrassed to visit the doctor in his clinic they […]

  5. Dulcie says:

    Thank you for this post. Can you identify the missionary doctor who wrote this? And what is the source of the wonderful photos?

  6. […] been working on transcribing the diary of a missionary doctor who lived in Hefei (then called Lu Chow Fu) around the turn of the century. This passage, written by the doctor’s […]

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