Residence: San Francisco, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4.30.2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese
Me: “Wait you seriously don’t take Advil or Motrin or anything?”
Informant: “No not that I know of haha. I drink really bad tasting herbal concoctions instead.”
The informant grew up with her parents telling her the story of Shennong, who was once a ruler of China. He extremely influential in Chinese agriculture, and even more so in herbal drug creation. He apparently held many closely guarded secrets in this regard. She received a book as a gift that was an illustrated version of a story based out of the Shennong legend. The book detailed the importance of herbal medicine, but at the end, the main character consumes yellow flowers at the top of a mountain and dies. The yellow flowers represented herbs not to be used, and were associated with Western Medicine to stress the importance of genuine Chinese herbal medication and drugs.
Painting Western Medicine in a negative light was something the informant says her parents did / do a lot, especially when she was young. Things like telling a story that subtly puts non-herbal medicine at a lower tier is something that many Chinese-born parents do, according to the informant. And while she recognizes the necessity of a lot of modern medicine for severe things, she still completely avoids smaller things like ibuprofen or allergy medication. It’s not for any reason other than she says that’s just how she was raised.
This was actually sort of surprising! I know the informant very well and finding out that someone doesn’t take any western medicine (again the exception being treatment for serious ailments or injuries) caught me off guard. To think that something rooted in someone from their culture, despite not being raised in the country from which that culture is born, would lead them to make a not-insignificant choice like that is very interesting. Also finding out that the parents deliberately used a legend to reinforce their ideology is fascinating. Proverbs seem like a very good platform for this, but at first thinking of a Chinese leader who specialized in herbs, I don’t immediately jump to marking that as a good potential education device.