Project Description

Matanzas, Santiago, Havana, Cuba: Herbalists and Doctors (2) 


  “No te salva ni el medico chino” goes a Cuban saying – meaning “Not even the Chinese doctor can save you”, when your chances of recovery are looking slim. This saying is usually associated with Cham Bom-Biá, later Juan Chambombian, a Hakka Chinese herbalist who helped popularize Chinese traditional medicine in Cuba at the end of the 19th century, although there were many more Chinese doctors who contributed significantly to both healthcare and medical science. Kan Shi Kom was a prestigious Chinese doctor in Havana in the mid-19th century; in Santiago de Cuba, Don Domingo Morales, a naturalized Chinese, treated and saved victims of the cholera epidemic of 1867-1872; Liborio Wong (Wong Seng), a herbalist and doctor to Chinese agricultural labourers in the region of Manzanilla, is also remembered for his courage as a captain in the Liberation Army during the Ten Years’ War of independence.


Fast forward to the twentieth century, and Cuba is surprisingly one of the pioneering countries for medicine. Today, increasing numbers of foreign students are ditching medical school abroad to go and study on the Caribbean island. Out of this rich medical tradition, two Chinese Cuban pioneers emerged: the forensic scientist Israel Castellanos Gonzalez, and his brother Agustin, two-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his pioneering work in angiocardiography.

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