Thursday, January 16, 2014

Abortion in Chinese Folk Medicine

I love this kind of trivia:

Of 881 Chinese handwritten volumes with medical texts of the 17th through mid-20th century held by Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Ethnologisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem, 48 volumes include prescriptions for induced abortion. A comparison shows that these records are significantly different from references to abortion in Chinese printed medical texts of pre-modern times. For example, the percentage of recipes recommended for artificial abortions in handwritten texts is significantly higher than those in printed medical books. Authors of handwritten texts used 25 terms to designate artificial abortion, with the term da tai [see text], lit.: "to strike the fetus", occurring most frequently. Its meaning is well defined, in contrast to other terms used, such as duo tai [see text], lit: "to make a fetus fall", xia tai [see text], lit. "to bring a fetus down", und duan chan [see text], lit., to interrupt birthing", which is mostly used to indicate a temporary or permanent sterilization. Pre-modern Chinese medicine has not generally abstained from inducing abortions; physicians showed a differentiating attitude. While abortions were descibed as "things a [physician with an attitude of] humaneness will not do", in case a pregnancy was seen as too risky for a woman she was offered medication to terminate this pregnancy. The commercial application of abortifacients has been recorded in China since ancient times. A request for such services has continued over time for various reasons, including so-called illegitimate pregnancies, and those by nuns, widows and prostitutes. In general, recipes to induce abortions documented in printed medical literature have mild effects and are to be ingested orally. In comparison, those recommended in handwritten texts are rather toxic. Possibly to minimize the negative side-effects of such medication, practitioners of folk medicine developed mechanical devices to perform "external", i.e., vaginal approaches.