The Chinese doctor who became iconic in Cuba

The Chinese doctor who became iconic in Cuba

Heritage & Traditions

By Rose Ross

Cuban popular language is characterized by the use of many sayings that arise in everyday life. These contain wisdom, encourage reflection, and are carriers of the experience lived by men in their time, sometimes forgotten, but remembered thanks to the sayings that last over time. They constitute a living language full of folklore and metaphorical meaning.

One of the most recurrent phrases in Cuban slang is the one that reveals that "not even the Chinese doctor can save him." The expression is used to insinuate that the illness or discomfort of the person concerned has no cure. With it, in turn, a real character is continually remembered, a doctor from China who lived in Cuba until his death.

In the context of the 19th century, several were the Chinese who came to the island as laborers to work in agricultural plantations of the Spanish landowners. They brought with them Chinese medicine, one of the most outstanding manifestations of that millenary culture and one of the great pillars in the history of Universal Medicine.

It is said that the Chinese doctor of the saying was called Cham Bom-biá, and he arrived in Havana in 1858, a native of Manila, China. He established his practice in the Cuban capital until 1872, year when he moved to Cárdenas.

In this city of Matanzas province, he lived in a house where he also established his practice. It is said that he prepared the medications he indicated, although he sometimes recommended products from the pharmacy.

The aforementioned phrase refers to the uncontrollable serious situation of a sick person, but it is also a way of exalting traditional Chinese medicine, because if the Chinese doctor does not save him, he has no salvation at all. Sometimes it is even used jokingly by parents scolding their children to suggest punishments for not behaving properly.