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HOME > CENTRAL TAIWAN > TAICHUNG CITY > ARTS & LEISURE >
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Compass Magazine, March 2000

Taiwan Folk Medicine
A special Exhibit at the Natural Science Museum

by Cheryl Robbins

photo by cheryl robbins

A traditional Taiwanese "spirit ship," built and then burned to cure the sick and exorcise evil spirits, is one of the displays at the National Museum of Natural Science.

In Taiwan, folk medicine incorporates beliefs of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and shamanism in diagnosing and treating illnesses. Unlike conventional (Western) and traditional Chinese medicine, folk medicine does not take into account physical symptoms. Instead, illness is thought to be due to spiritual or supernatural influences. For example, a patient may have offended a god or a deceased ancestor, and received an illness as revenge. Illness may also arise from feng shui problems or from a bad fate.

Of the folk medicine therapies available in Taiwan, probably the most well-known is a ceremony performed by a ji-tong (medium). A ji-tong is said to be possessed by a spirit while in a deep trance. Once possessed, he may speak in a strange language or may use a knife or other object to injure himself (while in a trance a ji-tong cannot feel pain). Then, he will ask the spirit world for help in understanding the cause of the illness and deciding a treatment. There are also a variety of other folk medicine therapies. For example, charms or talismans, characters written in red ink on yellow paper, are used to expel evil influences and to quiet the soul. Or, a patient may be asked to step over a fire to cleanse away evil spirits.

Divination also plays an important role in Taiwanese folk medicine. A patient can draw lots (by shaking a can of long numbered sticks until one falls out). Then, a number on the lot is matched to a prescription (steps to take to solve the problem causing the illness).

In the exhibit area of the National Museum of Natural Science is a counter where several of the objects used in folk medicine rituals are displayed. Pick up any of the objects and place under a nearby scanner to view video footage about how that object is used. Also on display are photos and historical items relating to various folk medicine ceremonies.

This exhibit runs until May 31, 2000, and is located just inside the Hsi-tun Rd. entrance. The National Museum of Natural Science is located at No. 1, Kuan-chien Rd., Taichung. Museum hours are Tuesday-Sunday 9:00a.m.-5:00p.m. Tel: (04) 322-6940.

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