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37: Inquests, NO. II

Section IV. of the valuable work which formed the basis of our preceding sketch, is devoted to the enumeration of methods for restoring human life after such casualties as drowning, hanging, poisoning, &c., some hours and even days after vitality has to all appearances ceased. We shall quote as before from our own literal translation.

"Where a man has been hanging from morning to night, even though already cold, a recovery may still be effected. Stop up the patient's mouth tightly with your hand, and in a little over four hours respiration will be restored. _Or_, Take equal parts of finely-powdered soap-bean and anemone hepatica, and blow a quantity of this--about as much as a bean--into the patient's nostrils.

"In all cases where men or women have been hanged, a recovery may be effected even if the body has become stiff. You must not cut the body down, but, supporting it, untie the rope and lay it down in some smooth place on its back with the head propped up. Bend the arms and legs gently, and let some one sitting behind pull the patient's hair tightly. Straighten the arms, let there be a free passage through the wind-pipe, and let two persons blow incessantly into the ears through a bamboo tube or reed, rubbing the chest all the time with the hand. Take the blood from a live fowl's comb, and drop it into the throat and nostrils--the left nostril of a woman, the right of a man; also using a cock's comb for a man, a hen's for a woman. Re-animation will be immediately effected. If respiration has been suspended for a long time, there must be plenty of blowing and rubbing; do not think that because the body is cold all is necessarily over.

"Where a man has been in the water a whole night, a recovery may still be effected. Break up part of a mud wall and pound it to dust; lay the patient thereon on his back, and cover him up with the same, excepting only his mouth and eyes. Thus the water will be absorbed by the mud, and life will be restored. This method is a very sure one, even though the body has become stiff.

"In cases of injury from scalding, get a large oyster and put it in a basin with its mouth upwards somewhere quite away from anybody. Wait till its shell opens, and then shake in from a spoon a little Borneo camphor, mixed and rubbed into a powder with an equal portion of genuine musk. The oyster will then close its shell and its flesh will be melted into a liquid. Add a little more of the above ingredients, and with a fowl's feather brush it over the parts and round the wound, getting nearer and nearer every time till at last you brush it into the wound; the pain will thus gradually cease. A small oyster will do if a large one is not to be had. This is a first-rate prescription.

"Where a man has fallen into the water in winter, and has quite lost all consciousness from cold, if there is the least warmth about the chest, life may still be restored. Should the patient show the slightest inclination to laugh, stop up his nose and mouth at once, or he will soon be unable to leave off, and it will be impossible to save him. On no account bring a patient hastily to the fire, for the sight of fire will excite him to immoderate laughter, and his chance of life is gone.

"In cases of nightmare, do not at once bring a light, or going near call out loudly to the sleeper, but bite his heel or his big toe, and gently utter his name. Also spit on his face and give him ginger tea to drink; he will then come round. _Or_, Blow into the patient's ears through small tubes, pull out fourteen hairs from his head, make them into a twist and thrust into his nose. Also, give salt and water to drink. Where death has resulted from seeing goblins, take the heart of a leek and push it up the patient's nostrils--the left for a man, the right for a woman. Look along the inner edge of the upper lips for blisters like grains of Indian corn, and prick them with a needle."

The work concludes with an antidote against a certain dangerous poison known as _Ku_, originally discovered by a Buddhist priest and successfully administered in a great number of cases. Its ingredients, which comprise two red centipedes--one live and one roasted--must be put into a mortar and pounded up together either on the 5th of the 5th moon, the 9th of the 9th moon, or the 8th of the 12th moon, in some place quite away from women, fowls, and dogs. Pills made from the paste produced are to be swallowed one by one without mastication. The preparation of this deadly _Ku_ poison is described in the last chapter but one of Section III. in the following words:--

"Take a quantity of insects of all kinds and throw them into a vessel of any kind; cover them up and let a year pass away before you look at them again. The insects will have killed and eaten each other until there is only one survivor, and this one is _Ku_."

In the next chapter we are informed that spinach eaten with tortoise is poison, as also is shell-fish eaten with venison; that death frequently results from drinking pond-water which has been poisoned by snakes, from drinking water which has been used for flowers, or tea which has stood uncovered through the night, from eating the flesh of a fowl which has swallowed a centipede, and wearing clothes which have been soaked with perspiration and dried in the sun. Finally,

"A case is recorded of a man who tied his victim's hands and feet, and forced into his mouth the head of a snake, applying fire at the same time to its tail. The snake jumped down the man's throat and passed into his stomach, but at the inquest held over the body no traces of wounds were found to which death could be attributed. Such a crime, however, may be detected by examination of the bones which, from the head downwards, will be found entirely of a bright red colour, caused by the dispersion of the blood; and moreover, the more the bones are scraped away, the brighter in colour do they become."

It is difficult to speak of such a book as "Instructions to Coroners" with anything like becoming gravity, and yet it is one of the most widely-read and highly-esteemed works in China; so much so, that native scholars frequently throw it in the teeth of foreigners as one of their many repertories of real wonder-working science, equal to anything that comes from the West, if only foreigners would take the trouble to consult it. To satisfy our own curiosity on the subject we bought a copy and translated it from beginning to end; but our readers will perhaps be able to determine its scientific value from the few quotations given above, and agree with us that it would hardly be worth while to learn Chinese for the pleasure or profit to be derived from reading "Instructions to Coroners" in the original character.