de Fontaney F (1703)

Letter to F de la Chaise, from Cheu-Chan (a port in the Province of ‘Chekian’), dated 15 February. In: Lettres Édifiantes Et Curieuses, Écrites Des Missions Étrangères Par Quelques Missionnaires De La Compagnie De Jesus [Edifying and curious letters, written from the foreign missions by some missionaries of the Company of Jesus]. 34 vols. Paris: Chez Nicolas le Clerc, rue Saint Jacques, à l’Image Saint Lambert, 1703-1776. Vol. 7 (1707): pp. 234-244.

Title page(s)

Key passage(s)



“The [Chinese] Emperor [p. 222] had been studying our European medicines for two years, and particularly the lozenges that the King [of France] had distributed to the poor throughout his Kingdom.  We indicated for him [the Emperor] all the illnesses that these cured in France, [p. 223] and he saw from the reports of these experiments, that the lozenges resulted in cures which were so marvellous and so prompt, that a man in extremis, and for whom one expected only death, found himself out of danger the following day.  These effects were so surprising that he named these lozenges Chin-yo, or divine remedies. The illness that [the Emperor] had begun to develop was a malignant fever. Although it was known from several clear examples that the lozenges could cure his illness, the Chinese Doctors judged it inappropriate for him to take them, and treated him in another way: but the Emperor observed that his illness was getting worse, and believing that it was extending to his brain, he decided for himself, and…”



“[p. 224] gave himself a half dose of the lozenges. The fever left him that evening, and he felt better during the following days: he experienced rigors of tertian fever [or: fits of ague], possibly because he had not been sufficiently purged. Although the rigors/fits were not violent, and did not last more than two hours, they made him anxious. He issued a proclamation through the whole Town, asking that if anyone knew of any treatments for tertian fever, these should be brought to his attention immediately, and that those who were currently ill with the disease should come to the Palace to be treated. There was no lack of things to do every day given the quantity of trials. A Bonze [Buddhist monk] particularly drew attention to himself. He obtained from a well a bucket of cold water, which was brought to him in [p. 225] front of four of the most important Noblemen of the Court, designated by the Emperor to receive all the treatments that were brought, and to witness the proofs, and provide a report. These four Noblemen were Prince So-san, Mim-ta-gin, an uncle of the Emperor, and an uncle of the Prince, all four being Ministers of State, and of consummate wisdom. The Bonze filled a cup with this water, and leaving the room he presented it first of all to the Sun, lifting his hands and eyes to the Sky; and then turning to the four corners of the earth, he made a hundred postures which seemed mysterious to the pagans. When he had done this, he gave it to one of the people with fever who was waiting…”



“[p. 226] on his knees for treatment, and who ardently hoped for it; but the treatment had no effect, and the Bonze was judged to be a fraud

That was the state when Father Visdelou and I arrived at the Court. We brought a pound of Quinquina [Cinchona], which Father Dolu had generously sent us from Pondicherry. This remedy was still unknown in Peking. We hastened to present it, as the most certain treatment used in Europe, against intermittent fevers [agues]. The four Noblemen, whom we have mentioned, listened joyfully; we described for them the way it had to be prepared, and confirmed this with instructions printed in France by order of the King. They were not satisfied with [p. 227] that, since they wanted to know where Quinquina came from, what its effects were, which illnesses it treated, and how the King had made it publicly available to help his People (after having given the person who possessed the secret a noble reward worthy of so great a Monarch)

The following day the remedy was tried on three sick people. One of them was given it after his fit, to another on the day of a fit, and to the third on the day of recovery. I do not know if God wished to make his power clear on this occasion, or if this was a natural effect of the remedy. These three sick people, who were observed within the Palace, were all three cured at this first attempt. Advice was given…”



“[p. 228] right away to the Emperor, who would have that day taken the same Quinquina, if the Crown Prince, who was very worried about the illness of a father whom he loved dearly, had not feared a bad effect from a remedy that was not yet well known.  He summoned the Noblemen, and reproached them for having spoken to the Emperor so early. They excused themselves modestly: but to show that he had nothing to fear (for because of everything we had told them, they had judged that the Quinquina did not do any harm) all four of them offered to take it, and the Prince agreed.  Immediately cups of wine and Quinquina were brought; the Prince himself mixed them, and the [p. 229] four Noblemen took them in front of him, at six o’clock in the evening. They then retired, and slept soundly, without experiencing the least ill effects. The Emperor, who had had a bad night, summoned Prince Sofan at three o’clock in the morning; and having gathered that he and the other Noblemen were well, took Quinquina without further deliberation. He expected fever that day, at about three o’clock in the afternoon; but it did not come at all: he was at ease during the rest of that day, and during the following night. There was great joy in the Palace; the four Noblemen congratulated us the next morning on the benefit of our remedy. We attributed all the glory to God, who had given him…”



“[p. 230] his blessing. The Emperor continued to take Quinquina during the succeeding days, and became better day by day.

When he had fully recovered, he rewarded all those who had served him during his illness, or who had brought him remedies, even though he had not taken them.  But he punished severely three of his Doctors, for having advised, at the height of his illness, that he not be given any remedy. What, he said to them, you abandoned me during this danger, because of fear that you would be blamed for my death; and you did not worry that I would die, and did not give me any help. He ordered the Criminal Tribunal to examine their conduct, and to judge them according to the Law. This tribunal [p. 231] condemned them to death; but the Emperor commuted their sentence, & exiled them.

He did not forget us on this occasion. He said publicly, that the Medicinal pastes of Father Gerbillon & Father Bouvet had saved his life, & and that the Quinquina that we, Father Visdelou & I, had brought him had delivered him from the tertian fever, & that he wished to reward us.”

Translation by Ulrich Tröhler