Traditional Vietnamese Medicine
Chat V. Dang
         Father Alexander de Rhodes (1591-1660) is famous for his invention of the Romanized Vietnamese script Quốc Ngữ, but he was mostly proud of his evangelization missions in the Orient. His memoir, written in the first person, was published in 1653 by Sébastien Cramoisy, a Paris bookseller, with the approval of the Provincial Superior of the Company of Jesus, Father François Annat. Schooled in Western scientific medicine, the author was pleasantly surprised to read Father de Rhodes' favorable experience with traditional Vietnamese medicine in the 1600's. The missionary's account brought back fond memories of the author's own grandfather who told him how he, too, practiced medicine.

         It was under the reign of the fourth Nguyễn dynasty monarch, Emperor Tự Đức (1847-1883). The Christian faith was banned and its followers tracked down like criminals. My grandfather's father, at his own risk, had provided refuge for several weeks to a Vietnamese Catholic priest. When it was finally safer for the priest to leave, to express his gratitude, he gave his benefactor the formula for a solution to treat eye infections (mắt đỏ có ghèn). When my grandfather was starting out his life, he mixed and sold the solution, not unlike unlicensed European Middle Age apothecaries. Apparently, the ophthalmic anti-infective solution was safe and effective, so my grandfather's friends nicknamed him "Médecin tabac l'oeil," or "tobacco-eye Doctor," an amusing word-by-word French translation of the Vietnamese Thầy thuốc mắt.

         Traditional Oriental Medicine and Western Scientific Medicine
         Except for charlatans who consciously take advantage of the credulity of "good people" and try to make money from selling unfounded promises such as the infamous "snake oil" of American medicine shows of the 19th century, conscientious practitioners of medicine over the ages have relied on a body of knowledge believed to be true at that point in time. Looking through the glasses of exact science which demands proof in the form of reproducibility, modern Western medicine still finds it difficult to accept the claims and successes of traditional Oriental (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Eastern (Indian) medicines

        Please read the rest of the story in THE MEN OF VIETNAM.