Box containing medical instruments, lid and base, from Chinese medicine chest, cardboard/paper/metal/glass/velvet, maker unknown, China, c 1925.
This cardboard box has seventeen medical instruments sewn into the velvet lining which have individual hand written Chinese labels on red gourd shaped stickers. The name in English has been typed out and placed underneath each instrument: Pinchers, Powder picker, Pushing pins, Pike, Arrow knife, Large ulcer knife, Flat fork, Battle knife, Arrow knife, Arrow knife, Lancer tongue, 3 Cornered pike, Handle knife, Pincers, Flat cutter, Simple hook, and Double hooks. They are thought to be early 20th century Chinese manufactured instruments in corrosive resistant metal and are similar to contemporary Western minor surgical instruments used for minor skin surgery. The pinchers are forceps for picking up tissue and scalpel-like instruments of different shapes and sizes used for cutting and lancing. The pushing pin with a small round ball on the end is probably used for cauterising small arteries to stop bleeding and would be heated first in a flame. The single and double hooks are types of retractors to keep a wound open.
In traditional China the prohibitive influence of Confucius, with emphasis on the sacredness of the body and objection to dissection, hindered the development of internal surgery and anatomy. Certain traditional healers specialised as 'externalists' who performed various minor surgical procedures on the external body such as the lancing of abscesses, removal of skin lumps and the debridement of ulcers and wounds with application of herbal pastes and powders. These types of healers largely inherited their profession with experience and knowledge passed on through the family lineage and they utilized small locally made metal instruments as working tools.
The instruments were part of a display and study collection used to educate missionaries about local medical practices. The design of these objects appears influenced by Western surgical practices and the packaging demonstrates modernisation in China at that time. Following the collapse of Imperial China the missionaries had found increasing interest in their medical activities from a Nationalist government embracing Western science and enthusiastically promoting biomedicine while sidelining traditional Chinese medical practice in their plans for medical development. Minor surgery was increasingly taken over by Western trained doctors in China after the integration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western biomedicine under the Communist government from the mid-20th century.
Unschuld, Paul U, 'Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, California', 1985, p235-249
The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum and Library, F.N.L. Poynter, ed, 'Chinese Medicine:An Exhibition Illustrating the Traditional System of Medicine of the Chinese People,' London, 1996, p6 Unschuld, Paul U, 'Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, California', 1985, p235-249
This box containing medical instruments is part of the contents of a Chinese medicine chest held at the Asian Studies Department of the University of Sydney since the late 1950's, and later donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 1994. The chest was among a small collection of Chinese artefacts and medicinal substances related to traditional cultural practices, thought to have been collected in China in the first half of the 20th century by an Australian protestant missionary J. Whitsed Dovey (1887-1956) for missionary education.