Antimacassars, ginseng, and junks

M Humphries
1987 BMJ (Clinical Research Edition)  
I was lucky to be invited to the first Guangdong/Hong Kong/ Macau conference on diseases of the chest held in Guangzhoubetter known as Canton. In the sturdy old rolling stock on the train journey from Hong Kong each seat was like a dentist's chair with antimacassars. There were even lace curtains at the windows and the tables in the dining car were crowded with pot plants. We were not so much travelling by train as by a Victorian parlour on wheels. The use of traditional medicine to nourish
more » ... " when added to antibiotics to treat chest infections seemed to be associated with lower morbidity and mortality. Another author postulated that the main cause of lung cancer was "heat and dryness of the lung and deficiency of the spleen." Gould he mean smoking combined with a relative immune deficiency? Even though the presenter spoke faultless English, we were not speaking the same language. Sceptical questions concerning the presentations were answered with frankness and sincerity, but I found it difficult to loosen the manacles of a Western medical education. A visiting professor from Beijing spoke of the mind boggling morbidity of chronic airflow obstruction in China-approximately 32 million patients being treated, four million with cor pulmonale. Approximately half of the men in China smoke (more than 70% in some factories), compared with only 2% of women. He predicted that the epidemic of smoking related diseases sweeping the country was just beginning. The doctors at the conference were approachable and talkative and answered direct questions directly, even about politics. "Actually, during the cultural revolution I was sent to a rural area away from my home province to grow rice. I spent seven years there and I have been a chest specialist for only five. I suppose I know more about how to grow rice properly than anything else." The meeting was a fascinating and jolly affair and I was sad-when it was all over. It was the first conference that I ever really enjoyed. Dining car in the Hong Kong to Guangzhou express. Without any ceremony the train crossed over a rickety bridge and we were in China. A Union Jack fluttered over one end of the bridge and the red flag of the Peoples' Republic at the other. The countryside of southern Guangdong is fertile and beautiful. Every inch seemed to be cultivated, miles and miles of countryside and waterways, with small villages dotting the horizon. Even the humblest of village homes had a television aerial perched on a tall pole above the roof pointing towards Hong Kong. What better after a hard day toiling in the fields than to tune in to Dynasty or to theBenny Hil Show? Our hosts in Guangzhou were friendly and hospitable and the conference programme was a complete contrast to similar events at home. Although most of the papers were presentations along Western lines, approaches to chest problems using Chinese traditional medicine were also presented. Papers on conventional treatment ofasthma were followed by a dissertation on the diagnosis of carcinoma'of the lung by tongue inspection. The observation ofpurple tongue (80%), thick and greasy coated tongue (71%), and sublingual green tendon appearance (86%) was reported more frequently in patients with carcinoma of the'lung compared with 8%, 28%, and 7% respectively in healthy controls. Herbal remedies for advanced lung tumours were described, x ray pictures were shown for a tantalisingly short time of lung tumours vanishing with herbal treatment alone. A presentation on electrocardiogram changes seen in chronic airflow obstruction was followed by a paper describing the addition of Tienchi-Ginseng to conventional treatment for cor pulmonale. The authors measured a decrease in blood viscosity in patients taking the Ginseng which resulted in a greater sense of wellbeing. A word from our sponsors.
doi:10.1136/bmj.295.6613.1646 fatcat:w5qpp26uwffvlevkd74gdoqune