Neurological diseases in late 19th century Taiwan-medical reports of the Chinese imperial maritime customs

Nai Shin Chu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Western medicine was introduced to Taiwan in 1865 when Dr. James L. Maxwell, a missionary doctor of the English Presbyterian Church, established a hospital in nowadays Tainan. The period of the missionary medicine lasted for over 30 years until Japanese took over. During this period, however, official records of diseases in Taiwan that were based on Western medicine were scanty or not available. Fortunately, port surgeons stationing respectively in Tamsui and Kelung in the north and in Takow and Taiwan-fu in the south reported semi-annually diseases seen in the ports, foreign communities and missionary hospitals that they volunteered to work. The diseases reported by port surgeons were either cases or summary of cases with classification and statistics. Their medical reports covered from 1871 to 1900. The data show that neurological diseases and/or disorders in the late 19th century Taiwan were uncommon, comprising only 2-3% of total diseases. The data further show that common neurological diseases were leprosy, opium smoking, syphilitic dementia (GPI), paralysis, hysteria, neuralgia, epilepsy, mania, sciatica, meningitis and ataxia. Stroke was uncommon while Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease were not mentioned, indicating that neurological diseases related to old age and neurodegeneration were not yet a threat to health. Similarly, headache, insomnia, anxiety and depression, hallmark of functional disorders of the modern society, were also not mentioned, suggesting that these disorders were indeed rare or did not cause sufficient concern for patients to seek help from doctors of Western medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-233
Number of pages13
JournalActa Neurologica Taiwanica
Issue number4
StatePublished - 12 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs
  • Diseases of Taiwan
  • Medical history of Taiwan
  • Medical missionary
  • Neurological diseases


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