Chinese Women Once Had to Point Out Their Medical Troubles on Ivory Dolls

A jade diagnostic doll rests on a tiny embroidered throw. A jade diagnostic doll rests on a tiny embroidered throw. Jamie Rees/Courtesy Clendening History of Medicine Library & Museum, University of Kansas Medical Center

 

Often when a woman saw a doctor in 18th-century China, she wasn’t allowed to actually see him. Instead, she sat behind a curtain or bamboo screen, where she had to map out her pain on a body that wasn’t her own. Her hand, or that of a close female attendant, would poke through the drapes or screen, and gesture toward the naked body of an ivory doll. If the patient had difficulty breathing, she might run a finger along the doll’s curved chest. For menstrual pain, the smooth abdomen. For a headache, the bump of a bun. After studying these cryptic communications, the doctor would issue his diagnosis. Continue reading