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
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
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.