Greeting at Ghost Gate
Doctor and Fate
Cosmic Rays & Epidemics
6) Tianjin Epidemic 1940
In the summer of 1939 during the Japanese
occupation of the city, Tianjin suffered from terrible
flood, and the whole city was completely submerged under
the deluge. Countless people perished in the disaster and
dead bodies lying everywhere unburied for an extended period.
The air was thick with a rotten smell.
Chinese Medicine long concluded from observation that
there will be outburst of epidemics following a natural
disaster (大灾之后，必有大疫). At the time my grandma's family were
living in Tianjin and my grandfather repeatedly sent letters
urging his in-laws to leave the town for Shandong to stay
with them for a while. An old brother of my grandma was
a surgeon trained in Europe and had a strong faith in Modern
Western Medicine, believing that as long as proper sanitation
measures were taken, the epidemic could be avoided. He
resolved to remain in Tianjin to serve those who needed
In the early summer of 1940, my grandfather
accompanied my grandma to visit her parents and brother in
Tianjin. One day on their way home from a theatre, they heard
people talking about a strange old woman with a filthy look
and foul smell frequently staggering along in the late night
streets. She was said to be fully covered from head to toe
in a black cloak so no one could see her face; her voice
was piecing and rasping and everyone nearby could hear
her incomprehensible murmuring. Nobody knew where she came
from, and nobody ever saw her during the day.
Next morning, my grandfather told my grandma
that they must leave Tianjin immediately. "What's the
hurry?" My grandma responded. "We've just arrived
here." My grandfather said: "Remember the old
woman they talked about last night? I'm afraid she may not
be a human, but a spirit coming here to spread contagious
disease." My grandma did not really believe my grandfather
words, but seeing he was so anxious, she agreed his proposal.
When she went to say goodbye to her family and conveyed the
message of my grandfather, her brother sneered. "How
could you believe a tale about a spirit?" he censured.
My grandfather realised he could not persuade
his in-law's family to go with him, so he went to see a friend,
also a TCM doctor, and asked him to prepare for the coming
disaster and look after his in-law's family.
A month later, in July 1940, cholera disease
broke out in Tianjin. The Japanese
occupation army sealed off the entire city, forbidding
the locals to enter or leave the town; whenever they discovered
a cholera patient, they would burn down the house along with
the patient and his family inside. All of a sudden, a bustling
metropolitan descended into a living hell, with a huge death
toll recorded. A servant of my grandma's family was also
infected with the disease when she went out to do some shopping
and passed it on to my grandma's sister-in-law and her baby.
Fortunately, they were eventually saved under the joint effort
of both Western trained and TCM doctors.
Excerpt of original Chinese text by 池草
Cosmic Rays & Fengshui
Rays & Epidemics - A Doctor's Story (5)
Rays & Fengshui - A Doctor's Story (7)