Sun, Feb 03, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The ‘godmother of cancer prevention’

Chuang Shu-chi became Taiwan’s first female licensed traditional Chinese medicine practitioner in 1951, but she soon ran afoul of Martial Law era provisions and fled to Japan, not returning until 1988

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Chuang Shu-chi leads a group in performing her “Cancer Preventing Universal Exercise.”

Photo: Lu Chun-wei, Taipei Times

Feb. 4 to Feb. 10

As a female, Chuang Shu-chi (莊淑旂) was not supposed to follow her father’s footsteps in practicing traditional Chinese medicine.

Her father desperately wanted a son, but her mother was unable to have any more children after a miscarriage. The family later adopted two boys, and Chuang was deeply affected when she heard her father lament that she would only grow up to be part of someone else’s family.

Chuang says in her biography by historian Hsu Hsueh-chi (許雪姬) that in order to prove that she could help her father, she started secretly studying medicine and learning folk remedies from visitors. So when her father’s assistant suddenly died, a 12-year-old Chuang knew exactly what to do.

That night, Chuang gathered her stepbrothers and correctly prepared the ingredients needed for her father’s tasks the next day. Her surprised father pulled her out of school and started training her at the shop, launching the career of Taiwan’s first licensed female Chinese medicine doctor.

Chuang practiced in Taiwan for only a few years before she fled to Japan, where she gained fame becoming a medical consultant to the imperial family. She returned to Taiwan in 1988 and by the time she died on Feb. 4, 2015, she had gained fame as the “godmother of cancer prevention” and known for tirelessly promoting her “Cancer Prevention Universal Exercise” (防癌宇宙操), a six-minute-per-day routine that she says helps empty stomach gas and promotes circulation and natural energy absorption.

‘LADY DOCTOR’

It was rare for women to work at medicine shops, but Chuang’s appearance unexpectedly gave the family business a huge boost.

“I was not a beauty, but many believed that if they took medicine prepared by an unmarried girl, their symptoms would alleviate quicker … People even came back to present me with red envelopes and gifts after they got better. The news of a doctor’s daughter who helped prepare medicine quickly spread.”

Chuang’s skills greatly improved under her father’s strict tutelage. When she was about 14, one of her nephews fell ill with fever and pneumonia. The local pediatrician pronounced him incurable and told the family to leave him to die, but Chuang managed to nurse him back to health. Armed with newfound confidence, Chuang writes that she managed to save two more children before she turned 16.

Chuang’s father died of rectal cancer when she was 19. She had gotten married a year previously — World War II was intensifying and her parents hastily found her a husband to avoid being forced by the Japanese into sexual slavery as a comfort woman. Her father was deep in debt when he died, but Chuang and her brothers kept the clinic running.

Her husband also soon died of cancer in 1945, leaving Chuang and five children to fend for themselves. One afternoon in 1950, a family friend visited Chuang and casually asked if she was taking the government exams for Chinese medicine practitioners.

“I had no idea it was going on. That was the last day to register, and I rushed to the registration office only to find out that it required documents that would likely take a whole day to prepare,” she says.

Fortunately, the registration staff allowed her to turn in the documents late. She was too busy to study, but luckily she already knew the material through years of practice.

On Jan. 17, 1951, Chuang became a licensed practitioner. People stopped calling her by her childhood nickname of “Shorty Chi” (矮仔旂) and started referring to her as “Lady Doctor” (查某先生). She also opened the Chingcheng Radiology Clinic (竟成放射線院) to help ease traffic at National Taiwan University hospital, which was often packed as the only institution in Taiwan to have radiology equipment.

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