Vietnam has a long-standing medical tradition that has served its
people well for thousands of years. From ancient times when the country
was established, people gathered into groups to live. These
groups or tribes used their experience to form a body of knowledge on
folk Vietnamese medicine derived from their experience in the fight for
survival and against accidents and natural disasters and diseases. From
experience, many kinds of food, vegetable, fruit, herbs and natural
compounds were discovered to be drugs or medicines. The proverb “Doi
Rau, Dau Thuoc” (Being hungry, eating vegetables. Being ill, taking
medical herbs”) illustrates the formation of folk medicine. In this
time, Vietnamese knew how to use ginger, arenga pinnata and other herbs
and compounds for disease prevention and treatment. There was also the
custom to drink eugenia to promote digestion, chewing betel with lime
and areca for sweet-smelling breath, keeping the body warm and
preventing malaria, tooth dyeing with lacca to protect against tooth
back as the 2nd century BC, hundreds of medical herbs were discovered,
among them there were precious compounds such as pearl, tortoise-shell,
aloe wood, rhinoceros and cinnamon. When terracotta ware was
through trial and error, Vietnamese had the tools to steep or cook
herbs. Thence forward, people could ferment rice, distill fermented
rice to make wine to drink and brew herbs to use as drugs.
In this period, Vietnamese ancient people even knew how to utilize
acupuncture. At first, they sharpened a stone bar as a needle.
Gradually, along with social development, people made copper, silver
and golden needles and acupuncture became more refined and documented.
period of Chinese domination (197BC-937AC) in Vietnam, Chinese medicine
deeply affected Vietnamese medicine. Gradually, Vietnamese medicine was
divided into two branches or specialties: pure Chinese medicine and
pure Vietnamese medicine. The two branches at first conflicted with
each other, but progressively they combined together to form Vietnamese
traditional medicine, which used both Chinese and Vietnamese herbs in
independent period (after 938AC), through many royal dynasties,
Vietnamese traditional medicine continued developing and refining. The
kings from the Ly Dynasty on (11th to 13th Century) often opened
examinations to choose talented physicians working in Royal Medical
clinics to treat diseases for the king and royal family. Additionally,
Royal Medical clinics often held herbal gathering and picking and
planting campaigns at special mountain areas and nowadays, the vestige
of this is called “DUOC SON” (“Mountain of Herbs”) in North
There were many ancient medical books written by the famous traditional
physicians during this time and these continue to be treasured and
utilized by herbal doctors who followed these gifted “masters”.
55(1351), he traveled to China as a tribute sent
by the royal household to the Ming dynasty ruler at that time. In China,
he was a mandarin of ninth grade, taking charge in medicine. He
succeeded in treating postnatal disease for the queen and so he was
honored as a great priest or healer by the king. His death is still a
mystery and no one knows when he actually died.
most well-known traditional physicians of Vietnamese medical history
are Tue Tinh (14th Centrury) and Hai Thuong Lan Ong Le Huu Trac (lazy
old man – 18th Century). As is the custom of the Vietnamese, those who
reached the pinnacle of any career in ancient time were honored as gods
or saints and so is the case with these two. Even today, many
practitioners will have their statutes or pictures. Tue Tinh is
considered the god or saint of Vietnamese herbs and the progenitor of
Vietnamese traditional medicine. He is the author of many famous books
including The Miracle Vietnamese Pharmacy and the Great Morality in the
Art of Medicine. He was the
first man who gave prominence to taking
Vietnamese herbs through the statement “Vietnamese Herbs For
he was 22, he succeeded in the examination to become a royal trainee in
the Dynasty but he refused to work as a mandarin and went into a pagoda
to become a monk.
physician Hai Thuong Lan Ong Le Huu Trac (sometimes listed as only Hai
Thuong Lan Ong) is the author of the great work on Vietnamese
traditional medicine, which is referred to as the Encyclopedia of
Vietnamese Traditional Medicine. His great masterpiece consists
volumes, and 66 books. The two words in his alias “Lan Ong” mean “lazy
old man”. He was lazy in his failure to seek for position and fame at
the time but he always tried to help other people. He dedicated his
life to documenting and passing on to posterity the precious heritage
of Vietnamese traditional medicine. He also set
an example for medical
morals and is considered the most famous physician of Vietnam. On the
occasion of 250th anniversary of his birthday, UNESCO recognized him as
a world cultural celebrity due to his contribution to both Vietnamese
and world medicine.
The FITO MUSEUM in Ho Chi Minh City:
acupuncturists wrote books on acupuncture and Vietnamese physicians
discovered many new pressure points during this period.
||In the FITO
MUSEUM in Ho Chi Minh City, which we recommended that all
tourists visit, there is an altar of the two famous traditional
physicians. Over the altar is a board with 4 great characters “Y DUC
CAO MINH” (bright and lofty medical morals). On either side of the
altar are 2 pairs of parallel sentences, which praise the merit of the
two great physicians. These two pairs of parallel sentences are
originally from Thang Long Medicine Temple and Giam Pagoda (Hai Hung
province) – the traditional place of worshipping Tue Tinh.
In the period of independence, acupuncture continued to develop
In the period of French Domination (1885-1954), two milestones were the
formation of medicine and pharmacy associations in 1936 and the
establishment of a trade union on traditional medicine in 1953.
Vietnam is a place for
bidirectional exchange with South China, Malaysia, Indonesia and
Philippine in near past. If in the Amazon Jungle, on average, 90
species are found on 1 hectare, in Southeast Asia, especially in
Vietnam, 160 species are found in the same area. This is a cornucopia
are many explanations from experts why Vietnam has the abundance in
kinds of plants and trees and the rich genetic biodiversity. This
abundance is due to many different factors. Firstly, Vietnam is a
tropical country with the advantageous climate for tree development.
There is no desert in Vietnam although areas in Ninh Thuan are
extremely dry. Besides, in ancient times, many species were able to
survive in Vietnam and were not driven away by the cold frost that
dominated Northern and southern climes.
So far, the experts have collected 1,863 species of 238 families of
herbs, and through the gathering of nearly 8,000 specimens of 1,296
species, discovered nearly 40 animals, which can be used as
medicine. They also have collected approximately 40,000
prescriptions handed down from generation to generation, which were
dedicated and prescribed by 12,513 physicians. Additionally, 497
books on traditional medicine in China-transcribed in Vietnamese and
202 books in Vietnamese script dealing with Traditional Medicine have
been noted. By the year 1999, the scientists discovered 155
famous physicians in the history of Vietnam focusing on Traditional
Medicine and among them, 80 physicians who dedicated their books to
documenting for posterity various aspects of Traditional Medicine.
the set of traditional medical books comprises 100,000 pages.
If all the pages are put adjacent to each other, they will cover a
distance of 15km. Unfortunately, some Chinese-Transcribed Vietnamese
medical books now are in other libraries in Vietnam or foreign
countries and are not conveniently viewable in one location.
some old Vietnamese medical books are still randomly found in public,
although most of them are now collected and preserved at the
Chinese-Transcribed Vietnamese Research Institute in Ha Noi. The set of
books there on Vietnamese traditional medicine includes 388 books,
among them 74 ones belong to the pharmacy branch and the remaining
belong to the medicine branch or both.
precious book “Nam Duoc Than Hieu” (The Miracle of Vietnamese Herbs) by
Tue Tinh was published in 1922, and includes 9 printed books and 4
hand-written books and with a total number of pages reaching 3,200
are the medical herb slicer and
the boat-shaped grinder. The grinder is used to grind dried herbs to
powder and the medical herb slicer is used to cut herb into slice-bars.
Vietnamese Traditional Medicine is quite an important part in the
Vietnamese Medicine system and is utilized by many modern Vietnamese.
With the purpose to help those who desire to study and research on
Vietnamese traditional medicine, the pharmaceutical company FITO PHARMA
opened FITO Museum. The objects, the pictures and images displayed in
the museum are deeply related to Vietnamese traditional medicine
through different periods of the country’s history.
are many tools used in traditional medicine. Among them, there are two
indispensable though simple items.
size of grinder is extremely varied, some are only a few centimeters
long, but others are over 1 meter long and very heavy. This tool can be
handled by the hands or feet. The “hand” grinder is smaller than the
“foot” one. To increase activity of the grinder, people apply an
additional device with this tool so it will work like a rice-husking
machine. In the FITO Museum there is a stone grinder from prehistoric
time, which was found at the bottom of the Red River in the north of
the country. It is one of the most precious items of the museum.
grinder was used from the most ancient times. Though being simple,
nowadays, it is still helpful. The materials to make this tool are
diverse; some are made of terra-cotta, some of wood, some of stone, but
usually an apothecary’s mortar are made of pig-iron. To meet the demand
of aristocratic circles in the old days, this tool even was made of
precious metal such as gold and silver to grind valuable herbs.
wine jar was used to contain tonic wine. Soaking medical herbs in wine
has been a method of herbal processing since the most ancient times.
Ancient people thought that wine can activate blood and regulate energy
and blood. In the view of Oriental medicine, wine is a drug guidant,
nourishing, activating and regulating blood, activating channel and
vessels to deliver the medicine or herbs.
medical herb slicer is a tool to cut dried herbs into slice-bars. Many
slicers have been passed along from generation to generation in
families engaged in traditional medicine and some are still in use
today and can be viewed in traditional medicine stores throughout
other containers, tools and other implements in traditional medicine
are also displayed in the FITO MUSEUM such as wine jars, bowls to
contain herbal decoctions, lime pots and cylindrical lime holders.
are used in daily living activities but are also useful to
contain herbal decoctions. Bowls of different shape are displayed in
the FITO Museum.
people chose white wine, which is made of rice, maize, potatoes or
other items. In Vietnam, some villages have become famous for
wine. In the old days, the wine jar was often buried under the ground
for up to a hundred days then taken up for use. Vietnamese people often
like to use ceramic pots to contain medicated wine. Some jars have two
handles on either side to be put down and be taken up easily.
lime pots, cylindrical lime holder and a stick, people can spread lime
on the betel then chew the resulting combination. This is a custom of
the Vietnamese that dates to the olden days for health
Tea pots can be used to make tea to drink or to steep or brew herbs
with boiling water before using. In the old days, people didn’t
designate the difference between tea and medicine. In royal dynasties,
there was a room for drinking drug decoctions, but words relating to
drugs were forbidden so this room was call “tea room” instead of “drug
or pharma room”.
There is a
model of a traditional medicine physician’s store at the
FITO Museum. Normally, a traditional herb store includes 3 parts. The
front space is used to display herbs or the place to prepare herbs
according to the prescription written by the physician.
pestles are also tools in traditional medicine. Besides,
they were often used in Vietnamese daily living activities especially
in rural areas. Nowadays, mortars and pestles are still useful in life,
cooking and even in herb processing. The copper mortars and pestles
were usually used in traditional medicine practitioners store.
know the weight of herbs, people need the help of the scale. In
old days, they used the oriental scales. Some scales can weigh goods
even to hundreds of kilograms. Occidental scales were brought into
Vietnam by Western businessmen in century XVI-XVII.
In the second room, which is connected with the first one, there are
many bags containing drugs, herbs and compounds such as nutmeg, amomum,
tangerine skin, etc. The innermost part is not a laboratory, but there
many stoves, spans for roasting, tools for herbal soaking process, etc.
Outside the store is a signboard with pairs of sentences and a board on
which the name of diseases and the correlative drugs for them are
written. In a traditional medicine herbal store, drugs are put in a
wooden cabinet with many drawers and each may be divided into many
boxes. Each box contains a kind of herb. The labels with the names of
herbs in a drawer are attached on the outside surface. The labels are
often colored and beautiful. On the cabinet, ceramic or glass pots are
put to contain glue of animal bone or herbs. According to the type of
herb, the traditional herbal doctor chose the appropriate containers to
store as well as to take out easily to use or to process more. In the
middle of the main room, there is a big counter on which there are many
mortars, pestles and scales of different sizes to prepare herbs. Each
kind of herb, after being weighed by the scale will be divided into
many parts to put on several squares of paper because multiple bags of
herbs are prepared at the same time. When finishing preparing the herbs
as the physician’s prescription, every bag of herbs is wrapped up.
Several bags of herbs are tied together then delivered to customers.
The cabinet often has 81(9 x 9) drawers; 8 and 1 making 9 – this is a
lucky or auspicious number. Some physicians like to design the cabinet
with 72 drawers (9 x 8) which represent for 72 magic miracles of Sun Wu
Kong in the novel “Traveling to the West”.
to the FITO Museum can visit a model of a royal medical clinic. In the
old days, the Royal Medical Clinic was the place to take care of the
health for the king and royal family. The vermilion lacquered and
gilded wooden pictures on the wall describes the activities relating to
traditional medicine such as planting, harvesting, processing herbs,
feeling pulse and writing prescription. The Royal Medical Clinic of the
museum is also used as a cinema room to show the film on Vietnam
traditional medicine for visitors.
In the museum, the visitors can see a great wood-carved picture “Viet
Nam Bach Gia Y” (Hundred Vietnamese Tradition Physicians) which is
attached with the names of one hundred famous Vietnamese traditional
physicians who made remarkable contributions to the development of
Vietnamese traditional medicine from the century 12th to the beginning
of 20th century.
There is also a collection of traditional medical books from the
ancient times up to now.
|On the wall
of the staircase leading down to the ground floor, there is
an inlayed picture which maybe the biggest Vietnamese picture on
traditional medicine. On the upper part of the picture, people can see
depicted the imaginary depiction of the three parts of Vietnam. The
lower part of the picture describes the streets of traditional
medicine. This is a detailed picture describing many aspects of
Vietnamese living activity including traditional medicine and is
emblematic of the unique treasures that the FITO Museum has gathered
all in one very unique, educational and esthetically attractive
Cao Van, Vietnamese Associate of Runckel & Associates has long had
an interest in Taditional Medicine. Van has
worked extensively in the travel and tourism sector and is known for
his excellent English and his wide ranging knowledge of Vietnam and
its culture, history and geography. Van has worked extensively
with many cruise lines in Vietnam and is routinely sought out as an
interpreter, travel guide and general resource for many VIP and other
visits to Vietnam. In addition to the above, Van also has
extensive sourcing experience and is well experienced in finding
suppliers and recommending Vietnamese companies for key projects.
With a BA in English and Tourism Management from the Ho Chi Minh City
University of Foreign Languages, Van both writes and speaks in
excellent English. He brings these skills to his work for Runckel
& Associates which has won accolades from many of our clients. Van
also owns and runs his successful travel company, Vietnam Alive Travel (www.vietnamalive.com).
Those privledged to travel with Van will have a much richer trip
because of his extensive cultural and historic knowledge.
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