Remembering Father -12 Hospital visit in Hong Kong
I enjoyed my stay in Canton, but was pleased to be going back to Hong Kong. I spent a little fortune on fans and ivory work. The jewellery, some of it, especially the fretted work, is rather special. I also bought some pretty bracelets and ear-ring work, carved from crane's beaks, and set in fretted gold.
Isabella and I were invited to go with the Governor for a State Visit to the Tung–Wah Hospital. In it nothing European, either in the way of drugs or treatment, is tried. There is a dispensary connected with it, where advice is daily given to about a hundred and twenty people; and, though lunacy is rare in China, they are building a lunatic asylum at the back of the hospital.
We entered by the grand entrance, which has a flagged pavement, each flag consisting of a slab of granite twelve feet long by three wide, and were received at the foot of the grand staircase by the directors and their chairman, the six resident doctors, and Mr. Ng Choy, a rising, Chinese barrister, educated at Lincoln’s Inn, who interpreted for us in admirable English. He is the man who goes between the Governor and the Chinese community, and is believed to have more influence with the Governor on all questions which concern Chinamen than anybody else. These gentlemen all wore rich and beautiful dresses of thick ribbed silk and figured brocade, and, unless they were much padded and wadded, they had all had a good life.
Our procession consisted of the chairman and the twelve directors, the six stout middle-aged doctors, Mr. Ng Choy, the Governor, the Bishop of Victoria, and Isabella and myself; but the patients regarded the unwonted spectacle with extreme apathy.
The wards hold twenty each, and are divided into wooden stalls, each containing two beds. Partitions seven feet high run down the centre. The beds are matted wooden platforms, and the bedding white futons or wadded quilts, which are washed once a week. The pillows are of wood or bamboo. Each bed has a shelf above it, with a teapot upon it in a thickly wadded basket, which keeps the contents hot all day. A notice with the patient’s name upon it, and the hours at which he is to take his medicine, hangs above each person.
No amputations are performed, but there are a good many other operations, such as the removal of cancers, tumors, etc. The doctors were quite willing to answer questions, within certain limits; but when Isabella asked them about the composition and properties of their drugs they became reticent at once and said that they were secrets. They do not use chloroform in operations, but they all asserted, and their assertions were corroborated by Mr. Ng Choy, that they possess drugs which throw their patients into a profound sleep, during which the most severe operations can be painlessly performed. They asserted further that such patients awake an hour or two afterward quite cheerful, and with neither headache nor vomiting! One of them showed me a bottle containing a dark brown powder which, he said, produced this result, but he would not divulge the name of one of its constituents, saying that it is a secret taught him by his tutor, and that there are several formulas. It has a pungent and slightly aromatic taste.
The surgery and medicine are totally uninfluenced by European science, and are of the most antiquated and barbaric description. There was a woman who had had a cancer removed, and the awful wound, which was uncovered for our inspection, was dressed with musk, lard, and ambergris, with a piece of oiled paper over all. We also saw a foot which had been pierced by a bamboo splinter. Violent inflammation had extended up to the knee, and the wound, and the swollen, blackened limb were being treated with musk and tiger’s fat. A man with gangrened feet, nearly dropping off, had them rolled up in dark-coloured paste, of which musk and oil were two ingredients. All the wounds were deplorably dirty, and no process of cleaning them exists in this system of surgery.
The Governor and Bishop were not allowed to go into the women’s ward. It looked very clean and comfortable, but a woman in the last death-agony was unattended. They never bleed, or leech, or blister, or apply any counter-irritants in cases of inflammation. They give powdered rhinoceros’ horns, sun-dried tiger’s blood, powdered tiger’s liver, spiders’ eyes, and many other queer things, and for a tonic and febrifuge, where we should use quinine, they rely mainly on the ginseng of which Isabella says she saw so much in Japan. They judge much by the pulse and tongue.
After going through the wards we went into the laboratory, where six men were engaged in preparing drugs, then to the chemical kitchen, where a hundred and fifty earthen pipkins on a hundred and fifty earthen furnaces were being used in cooking medicines under the superintendence of eight cooks in spotless white clothing; then to the kitchen, which is large and clean; then alone into the dead-house, which no Chinese will enter except an unclean class of pariahs, who perform the last offices for the departed and dress the corpses for burial.
Great attention is paid to cleanliness and ventilation. Dry earth is used as a deodorizer, but if there be a bad odor they burn sandalwood. They don’t adopt any disinfectants; indeed, they don’t appear to know their use. The patients all lie with their backs to the light, and there is a space five feet wide between the beds and the windows. All the windows were open both at the top and bottom, so as to create a complete current of air, and the airiness and freedom from smells and closeness were quite remarkable, considering the state in which the wounds are, which is worse than I dare attempt to describe. The hospital is conducted on strictly temperance principles, i.e., no alcoholic stimulants are given, which is not remarkable, considering how little comparatively they are used in China, and with what moderation on the whole by those who use them. There were seventy-five patients in the wards yesterday, and the cases were mostly either serious originally, or have been made so by the treatment. There are one hundred and twenty beds. There is much to admire in this hospital, the humane arrangements, the obvious comfort of the patients, and the admirable ventilation and perfect cleanliness of the beds and wards, but the system adopted is one of the most antiquated quackery, and Isabella said, “When I think of the unspeakably horrible state of the wounds, the mortifying limbs, and the gangrened feet ready to drop off, I almost questioned Governor Hennessey's wisdom in stamping the hospital with his approval on his State Visit.”
The Governor and we ladies were received in the boardroom after our two hours’ inspection, where we were joined by Mrs. Hennessey, and entertained by the directors at what might be called afternoon tea. But when is the Chinaman not drinking tea? A monstrous plate of the preserved and candied fruits, in the making of which the Chinese ladies excel, had been placed upon the ebony table, and when we were seated in the stately ebony chairs on the chairman’s right, with the yellow, shining-faced, wadded or corpulent directors opposite to us, excellent tea with an unusual flavour was brought in, and served in cups of antique green dragon china. The Governor made kindly remarks on the hospital, which fluent Mr. Ng Choy doubtless rendered into the most fulsome flattery; the chairman complimented the Governor, and unlimited flattery in Oriental fashion, passed all round.
If civilization were to her taste, Isabella says she should linger in Victoria for the sake of its beauty, its stirring life, its costume and colour, its perfect winter climate, its hospitality, its many charming residents, and for various other reasons, and know nothing of its feuds in state, church, and society. But she says she is a savage at heart, and weary for the wilds first, and then for the beloved little home on the wooded edge of the moorland above the Northern Sea, which gleams like a guiding star, even through the maze of sunshine and colour of this fascinating Eastern world. We lunched at acting Chief Justice Snowden’s to say our goodbyes to her. We will miss her, but she says she'll send us the odd note telling us how she is getting on with her travels.
Lucky for me, Constance is due back at the beginning of February, and plans to stay here another few weeks, so I will again have the pleasure of a companion to do my sight seeing and socializing with.
On her return, Constance went back to the Snowden's again, but after one week she will be entertained by Bishop and Mrs. Burdon, who had been keeping Isabella over the past few weeks. She couldn't wait to tell us various stories about her visit - including her visit to a Mandarin's house. (pictured above) This is her story.
"A very wealthy mandarin had invited Mrs. Lind to bring her foreign friend to his house, so I had a capital opportunity of seeing the interior of a genuine Chinese home of the very best type, and it is hard to describe. It covers so much ground, and there are so many open halls, consisting chiefly of pillars and ornamental roofs, scattered promiscuously about, among paved courtyards, decorated with flowers in pots; and then there are walls pierced by oddly shaped portals, formed like octagons, or circles, or even teapots, and all placed at irregular intervals, never opposite one another; and then shady morsels of garden with all manner of surprises in the way of little ponds and angular bridges and quaint trees. Then somehow, quite unexpectedly, you find yourself in highly ornamental suites of small rooms which seem to have originally been one great room, subdivided by partitions of the most elaborate wood-carving, and furnished with beautiful polished blackwood, and hangings of rich materials.”
“How many people would live there?” I asked.
“Such homes are in fact the patriarchal encampment of a whole clan, to which all the sons and brothers of the house bring their wives, and there take up their quarters, living together apparently in very remarkable peace. So the answer is dozens.
“As no ladies except those connected with the missions ever attempt to master Chinese, and as a very few Chinese gentlemen and no ladies can speak even pidgin-English Mrs. Lind took her amah to interpret for us. We were received by our host and half a dozen gentlemen of the family, in a fine open reception-hall, drinking pale straw-coloured tea and playing with a nice small son, the hope of the house.
"Presently our host led us aside, and presented us to his most kindly and courteous old mother, who conducted us to her apartments, her son also accompanying us. He then introduced us to his little bride, aged thirteen. His matrimonial ventures have so far been unlucky, two previous wives having died very early. This one seems a nice, bright little lady.
“She was very highly rouged, as was also her sister-in-law. Another sister being indisposed, was not rouged, nor was the mother, and, therefore, pleasanter to our eyes; but the Canton ladies love to lay on the colour thick. There is no deception about it. It is good honest red, laid thick upon the cheek, and carried right round the eyebrows. The latter are shaved to refine their form. They cannot understand why English ladies should abstain from such an embellishment. Only when in mourning do they refrain from its use, and one notable exception is that of a bride, who on her wedding-day may wear no rouge, so that when her red silk veil is removed and the fringe of artificial pearls raised, her husband, looking on her face for the first time, may know for certain what share of beauty unadorned has fallen to his lot!