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Archive for the 'Unusual Books' Category

Robert Smithdas, American deaf-blind poet -“Blindness takes you away from scenes. But deafness takes you away from people.”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 7 December 2018

Robert J. Smithdas was the first deaf-blind person to gain a master’s degree when he graduated from New York’s St. John’s University in 1953.  Born in 1925, Smithdas caught cerebro-spinal meningitis aged four and a half, and lost hearing and sight as a result.   He became director of Services for the Deaf-Blind at the “Industrial Home for the Blind,” and at the Helen Keller National Center.

We have a signed copy of his poetry book, City of the Heart (1966).  In the preface he says,

I composed these poems because my heart sang them to me over the years – because poignant moods, or powerful emotions, made me crystallize my thoughts and feelings into verbal expressions.  Sometimes inspiration was so spontaneous that the words came flooding into my consciousness and shaped themselves into song; but far more frequently I found myself searching through the labyrinthine meanings of language to find the most convincing words , and the most plausible rhythms, to serve as crucibles for my themes.  Yet I always knew the intrinsic essence of the thing I wanted to express in a sonnet, or a lyric, or the nobler passion of blank verse.

This is a clip from an interview theat Barbara Walters did with Bob Smithdas.

Barbara Walters: The lives of the deaf-blind have changed remarkably since the era of Helen Keller. She was never able to live by herself without sighted help, never able to be independent.

Bob: And today, it’s a tremendous difference, we can communicate, we can cook, we can go out and it is a wonderful type of progress

Barbara Walters: In spite of the good things Bob, what is the hardest part of be being deaf and blind?  What is the most frustrating?

Bob: At this stage of life, I am very used to being deaf blind, but I will admit that I miss not being able to see my friends’ faces or hearing their voices. Remember deafness takes you away from sound, from music. Blindness takes you away from scenes. But deafness takes you away from people.

Robert Smithdas died in 2014.

His poetry book, Christmas Blessing and Other Poems, (1959) is available on Archive.org

“Gently the snowflakes fall

Fragile and thin and light…”

https://nationaldb.org/pages/show/in-memoriam-robert-j-smithdas-advocate-for-the-deaf-blind

The photo of him above is the same as that at the back of the poetry book.  Unfortunately, when an external contractor tagged all of our books, the #### people doing the task were so slap-dash that they place the tag neatly over the photograph.

Please note, the chief U.K. deaf-blind charity is Sense.

Tuba Stentoro-Phonica an Instrument of Excellent Use, as Well as at Sea as at Land

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 4 October 2018

Here are some pictures from our copy of Sir Samuel Morland’s Tuba Stentoro-Phonica an Instrument of Excellent Use, as Well as at Sea as at Land: Invented and Variously Experimented in the Year 1670 and Humbly Presented to the Kings Most Excellent Majesty Charles II, in the Year 1671.  Morland (1625–1695), a diplomat and inventor, had been on the side of the Commonwealth but when he became disillusioned, he became a double agent, supporting the Restoration.

He is credited with inventing the speaking trumpet, an early megaphone.

Original DNB entry

Wikipedia entry

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/7847425/An-inventive-interest-in-giant-military-ear-trumpets.html

Guichard Duvernay, pioneer of Otology (1648-1730)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 14 September 2018

Guichard Joseph Du Verney (5 August 1648 – 10 September 1730) was a pioneer of otology.  He was born in Feurs, in the south of France, and studied at Avignon as a doctor befoire moving to Paris.  He became Court Anatomist – a post created for him (Hawkins, p.9).  As Hawkins says, “Duverney’s treatise is remarkable not only for its anatomical presentations, but also for its author’s thoughts on the physiology and pathology of the ear” (ibid).  Neil Weir and Albert Mudry say that it was also significant that it was published in French rather than Latin.  He was also, they continue, the first to show that the boney external meatus developed from the tympanic ring; that the Eusachian tube was a channel wherby the air in the tympanum was renewed; he explained bone conduction; he was the first to use the term boney labyrinth for the whole inner ear.  He produced his brilliant drawings without the aid of a microscope (Weir & Mudry, 2013 p.38-9).

That his book was translated to English over fifty years after his death, says a lot about how valuable it was considered.  We have copies of both the original, and the translation.

Le Vestibule est une cavité presque ronde, creusée dans I’os pierreux et d’environ une ligne et demie de diamètre. II est scitué derrière la fenestre ovale, et revestu par dedans d’une membrane parsemée de plusieurs vaisseaux : on y remarque neuf ouvertures dont il y en a une de laquelle il a déja esté parlé, sçavoir la fenestre ovale qui donne entrée de la quaisse du tambour dans le vestibule ; les huit autres lont dans la cavité de ce vestibule. La première mene dans la rampe superieure du limaçon ; il y en a’cinq qui donnent entrée dans les trois canaux demi-circulaires ; et les deux dernieres laissent passer deux branches de la portion molle du nerf auditif.

Je donneray des noms aux conduits demi – circulaires pour les distinguer, et je les nommeray par rapport à leur situation.  J’appelle le premier Supérieur parce; qu’il embrasse la partie superieure de la voute du vestibule ; le sécond Inferieur, parce qu’il entoure partie inferieure ; et le troisième qui est plus en dehors et sîtué entre les deux autres seranommé le Mitoyen. (1683, p.32-3)

The Vestibulum is a Cavity almost round, formed out of the Os Petrosum, and about a Line and a half in diameter. It is situated behind the Fenestre Ovalis, and covered on the Inside by a Membrane, furnished with a great many Vessels.  There are nine Foramina in it, of which one has been already described, viz. the Fenestre Ovalis, which forms an Entrance from the Tympanum into the Vestibulum; the other eight are in the Cavity of the Vestibulum: The first leading into the upper Range or Scala of the Coclea; there are five more which afford Entrance to the three Semi-circular Canals; and the two last through which two Branches of the Portio Mollis of the Auditory nerve pass.

I shall give Names to the  three Canales Semicirculres to distinguish them, and I shall take those Names from their situation: The first  I call the Superior, because it takes up the upper Part of the Arch of the Vestibulum; the second Inferior, because it surrounds lower Part; and the third, which is placed more towards the Outside, and is situated betwixt the other two, Medius. (1737, p.32)

Hawkins says that Du Verney “was a true forerunner of Helmholtz, putting forward a resonance theory before its time” (Hawkins, p.9).  It seems that he also dissected an elephant, in front of King Louis XIV in 1681.  The book is full of beautiful plates, some reproduced here.  I showed it to a UCLH otologist, and he was amazed by their quality.  Unfortunately no portrait of him appears to survive.

Du Verney, Traité de l’organe de l’ouie, contenant la structure, les usages & les maladies de toutes les parties de l’oreille. A Paris, : chez Estienne Michallet, ruë S. Jacques à l’image S. Paul. 1683

Traité de l’organe de l’ouie… on Google Books

Du Verney, A treatise of the organ of hearing: : containing the structure, the uses, and the diseases of all the parts of the ear./ Translated from the French of the late Monsieur Du Verney, of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Counsellor Physician in Ordinary to the late King of France, and Professor of Anatomy and Surgery in the Royal Physick-Garden at Paris. Translated by John Marshall. 1737

Desai, Sapan S & Dua, Anahita, History of Research in the Vestibular System: A 400-Year-Old Story.  Anatomy &  Physiology 2014, 4:2 DOI: 10.4172/2161-0940.1000138

Hawkins, Joseph E., Auditory Physiological History: A Surface View. Chapter 1, p.1-28, in  Santos-Sacchi, Joseph R., Physiology of the Ear. 2001

Weir, N. and Mudry, A., Otorhinolaryngology: an illustrated history, 2013

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph-Guichard_Du_Verney

The World of Sound – Sir William Bragg’s Royal Institution Lectures, 1919

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 25 July 2018

Sir William Henry Bragg (1862–1942) was a Cumbrian physicist, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1915 along with his son Lawrence for their discovery of the new science of x-ray crystallography, which eventually led to Rosamund Franklin’s photographs of DNA.  He was appointed a UCL Quain Professor of Physics in 1915, and around the same time was appointed to the Board of Invention and Research.  The Admiralty eventually appointed Bragg to lead research at Aberdour into the use of hydrophones for detecting submarines.  In 1919 the Royal Institution invited him to give their annual Christmas Lectures.  He gave six lectures, published in 1920 as The World of Sound

  • What is Sound?
  • Sound in Music
  • Sounds in the Town
  • Sounds of the Country
  • Sounds of the Sea
  • Sounds in War

All around us are material objects of many kinds, and it is quite difficult to move without shaking some of them more or less.  If we walk about on the floor, it quivers a little under the fall of our feet; if we put down a cup on the table, we cannot avoid giving a small vibration to the table and the cup.  If an animal walks in the forest, it must often shake the leaves or the twigs or the grass, and unless it walks softly with padded feet it shakes the ground.  The motions may be very minute, far too small to see, but they are there nevertheless. (p.1)

In his first lecture, he repeated experiments demonstrated by John Tyndall in the RI ‘half a century ago’ (presumably 1865 or 1873).  Bragg said most of Tyndall’s apparatus was still there.  He demonstrated how sound could travel from a musical box in the basement up a long rod, and that when a tea tray was placed on the top of the rod, it transmitted the sound to everyone in the room ((p.4-6).

To illustrate how sound waves spread out, he used a ‘ripple tank’ which held a shallow trough about a yard square, witha plate-glass bottom, and an arc lamp under that.  Light passed through the water to an angled mirror, that then reflected onto the walls (p.13-14).

In ‘Sounds of the Town,’ he demonstrated how Lord Rayleigh had explained and demonstrated how the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul’s Cathedral works.  The sound is ‘continuously reflected by the wall without ever getting too far away from it,’ and then he repeated Rayleigh’s experiment (p.84-6).

In ‘Sounds of the Country,’ he describes how Charles Gahan told him that he was able to get a death-watch beetle to respond when he tapped with a pencil.  The beetle raps its head on wood to signal to other beetles.  He also explains the twisting and fluttering of a leaf – the poplar being particularly prone to this fluttering due to the leaf stemallowing the leaf to twist, and sometimes the natural period of vibration of a leaf means it flutters more than its neighbours (p.119).  In ‘Sounds of the Sea’ we learn how fish have no cochlea but are able to respond to minute changes in pressure on pits in the skin of the head (p.136-7).

The last chapter describes the use of ‘Sound in War.’  Bragg had lost a son Robert, at Gallipoli.  He discusses the use of the hydrophone, and the use of sound-ranging to find enemy guns or to locate mining operations.

“there is nothing, as I have said, in this mortal life except inanity, emptiness, and dream-shadows” – Girolamo Cardano 1501-76

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 1 June 2018

Girolamo Cardano (1501-76), or Hieronymus Cardanus, or Jerome Cardan, to use the Italian, Latin and English forms of his name, was born in Pavia.  His family lived in Milan during its occuption by the French.  His father was a lawyer.  Jerome was a sickly child, and seems to have had more than his fair share of accidents.  He attended the academy at Pavia, now the university, where he first lectured on Euclid (Cardano, p.11-13).  When he was twenty-five he became a doctor of medicine in Padua.

Attempting to make money from gambling, Cardano was the first person to work out the science of probability, though he did not get the credit for being first as he wanted the advantage of keeping the information to himself, and did not publish it in his lifetime.

Rejected by the Milanese College of Physicians (until 1539), he felt snubbed and was forced to make his reputation  in the provinces (see Hannam, p.238).  His philosophy was to allow patients to heal naturally so he did not introduce invasive and painful treatments to patients, rather prescibing rest & sensible eating.  This meant he was more successful than his fellows.  He was invited to Scotland by John Hamilton the archbishop of St. Andrews in 1551, who was very ill, and the archbishop recovered, and was full of praise for Cardano (ibid p.239).

He was rather obsessed by horoscopes, predicting he would die aged 45.  He prepared horoscopes of historical figures, including Jesus, though that later got him into trouble with the Inquisition.

We have a French version of De subtilitate rerumOn natural phenomena, whence the illustrations here.

He was a remarkable and fascinating man, and his memoir makes for a lively and vivid read.  He is resonably honest and certainly phlegmatic.  The behaviour of his sons might have crushed a lesser man, one being a violent criminal, and the other in an unhappy marriage poisoned his wife and was executed.

“I am by no means unaware that these afflictions may seem meaningless to future generations, and more especially to strangers; but there is nothing, as I have said, in this mortal life except inanity, emptiness, and dream-shadows.” (p.83-4)

Below we see the page on the beaver.  For some reason, perhaps connected with the use of Castoreum, according to Aesop’s Fables and then Pliny the Elder, mediaeval tradition said beaver’s would chew off their own testicles to escape hunters.  As a beaver’s testicles are internal, perhaps that contributed  to the myth.

Cardano, Girolama, The Book Of My Life. Translated by Jean Stoner (2002)

Les livres de Hierosme Cardanus medecin milannois: intitulez de la subtilité, & subtiles inuentions, ensemble les causes occultes, & raisons d’icelles. Traduits… Richard Le Blanc, Paris, Pour Pierre Cauelat ruë S. Iaques, à l’enseigne de l’escu de Florence (1584)

Hannam, James, God’s Philosophers (2009)

Athanasius Kircher (1601/2-1680) & his Phonurgia Nova

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 4 May 2018

Athanasius Kircher was born on the 2nd of May, but he himself was it seems unsure if it was 1601 or 2. He was yet another of those great polymaths of his age.  He may have had a certain arrogance, saying in one of his books,

Already about thirty years have passed since I brought out an explanation in my Prodromus Coptus of a certain Sino-Syrian monument discovered in China in 1625 A.D.  This earned considerable praise from intelligent readers, who were astonished by the novelty of its subject matter, but there was no lack of malicious, evil critics who attacked it with sarcastic arguments and many attempted corrections. All of these, however, were stupid or obtuse. (China Illustrata)

In his book, The Seashell on the Mountaintop (2003), Cutler says,

Kircher was a giant among seventeenth-century scholars. Straddling the divide between the expansive scholarship of the Renaissance and the focused data-collecting of the emerging scientific age, he was one of the last thinkers who could rightfully claim all knowledge as his domain. (Cutler, 2003 p.68)

He also says that Kircher, who turned up in Rome just after the Gallileo trial, was in some degree the church’s answer, making Rome again a centre of intellectual activity (p.69)

The wonderfully illustrated book we have is his Phonurgia nova, sive conjugium mechanico-physicum artis & natvrae paranympha phonosophia concinnatum (1673).    There is a lot about sound and acoustics and some of the illustrations are quite frequently reproduced.  Indeed, Glassie says it was “the first book in Europe devoted entirely to acoustics” (Galssie p.228).  He includes experiments, and shows how sound will travel around a dome – exactly the acoustic phenomena that is to be heard in the Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Certainly, some of his ideas were bizarre and strange and many wrong, but he was so prolific and interesting that it is not possible to do justice to him here.  He even had some nascent ideas about evolution.

Antonio Baldigiani wrote around 1678,

Poor old Father Kircher is sinking fast. He’s been deaf for more than a year, and has lost his sight and most of his memory. He rarely leaves his room except to go to the pharmacy or to the porter’s room. In short, we already consider him lost since he xcannot survive many more years. (Findlen, )

Findlen goes on to say that this was a litte exaggerated as he continued to write and indeed publish into the last year of his life.

He died on the 27th of November, 1680.

Cutler, Alan  The Seashell on the Mountaintop (2003).

Findlen, P., Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything (2004)

Glassie, John, Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change (

https://www.strangescience.net/kircher.htm

Phonurgia Nova

The Kircher Correspondence

Silent Drill by Signs – a Scout Sign System from 1934

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 16 February 2018

Written in 1934 or 1935 by Martin Baker, who was Assistant County Commissioner for the Training of Scouters in Birminmgham, Silent Drill by Signs tells us that,

There is a fascination in Drill by Signs, a sense of good-will, cheeriness and scout atmosphere which is not to be found in Sergeant-Major’s methods.

Those participating experience an increased alertness, and can attain by the Sign method a smartness hitherto impossible, and this without domineering or bullying.

The idea of using Signs for drill is not new- some of the signs are as old as the hills; it is in the method of use that the new feature lies, and it will be found to make all the difference between perfect performance and chaos.

Although Drill by Signs has been taught on the Wood Badge Courses sincve the very beginning of Training, it has not become the onl;y scouty way of moving scouts, because the method lacked one essential of any good drill, an adequate warning.

The Sign given not only showed the Scouts what was required, but it was also the signal to do it!  Hence the brightest moved first, and there was no unanimity of movement, which is the soul of smart drill.

The method here described was first used as a camp-fire item at Oslo, during the “Calgaric Cruise” in the Baltic.  A team of twelve Scouters volunyteered to be drilled by this method, and the success of the attempt prompted others to take it up.  I therefore offer it to Scouters and Guuiders generally as a new and successful method which I believe will prove worth trying.

The Signs I have suggested are a mixture of those taught at Gilwell, American Indian Sign Language, and some made up on the spur of the moment, usually good common sense, descriptive of the required action where possible.

Other Signs may be invented as desired, but keep them simple, and if possible descriptive.

It is interesting to compare the sign used for ‘form line,’ with the Indian sign for ‘soldiers’ in Ernest Thomas Seton‘s 1918 book, Sign Talk.  In the scout version, Baker has the hands held high to be seen more clearly.  Seton was a pioneer of the Boy Scouts of America.  That book was in turn heavily influenced by the U.S. general, Hugh L. Scott, who had learnt Indian signs from a Kiowa, I-See-O.  Click on the images for a larger size.
We have a copy of Seton’s book that is heavily annotated by Paget.

I think our copy of Silent Drill is pretty rare.

“in silence is his body born again” – Muted Voices – Romanian writer Eugen Relgis

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 15 December 2017

In Glasuri in surdină, translated in 1938 as Muted Voices, Romanian writer Eugen Relgis wrote a memoir that in style seems more like a novel.  Our copy is beatifully printed and bound with expressive woodcut engravings by the French artist and anarchist, Louis Moreau and translated by Rose Freeman-Ishill.  Our central character is Miron, who is we might suppose Eugen himself.  He describes the children playing leap-frog:

The child-frog falls and strikes his head against a stone.  He is not hurt but his suffering weeps and cries, naive and exaggerated.  Miron caresses him with one with the remorse of one who has caused an involuntary ill.  “Be silent, Ermil, be silent” – and his hand gently glides over the lump on the other’s forehead- “Be silent, it will pass away… I will give you my little wooden horse…”

Ermil, appeased, dries his tears.  Miron, touched, kisses him upon moist lips.

And, at the moment of the kiss, Miron’s fate is sealed.  Oh ! occult forces, inexorable laws indifferent to all the tenderness, all the beauty of the human heart!  The demons have shattered their joy!  A kiss, a simple childish kiss, an altogether natural kiss of affection…

And evil  spirits have taken possession of Miron! […] the invisible germ of Disease. (p.19)

His description of illness and ‘Disease,’ make it seem like the struggles of a writhing beast –

and the carnivorous animals lodged within the body gnaw and claw and rend. […] The body bends like a bow and the blasphemies of dearth seethe in the skull.  The waves make their weight particularly felt in the ears which are filled with whistlings and where cascades thunder and fall…  A howling like a cataclysmic eruption, the howling of life who would not be annihilated… and the eardrums burst beneath that pressure. (p.23)

It is a powerful and strange writing style. He ends the chapter with poetic prose-
And the child regards the silence, – and the child
breathes the silence – and his life palpitates in
silence, – in silence is his body born again, –
in the umbrageous refuge of silence…

Silence… silence… silence…

A complex and fascinating man, Relgis was born into a Jewish family in Romania in 1895, as Eisig D. Sigler, though he used various spellings of his surname and the name Eugen/Eugene.  He was a part of the Romanian Symbolist movement, and although he trained as an architect he became a writer and publisher.  Politically he was an anarchist, but he also had what now seem quite extreme eugenicist views, saying “Instead of natural selection, man should practice rational selection.”  (see his Wikipedia page)
He died in Uruguay in 1987

The Gallaudet website, in a review of the anthology of deaf writers Angels and outcasts : an anthology of deaf characters in literature (1985), has this interesting comment on Miron:

Relgis’ hero, while not unique, is not really representative of the deaf majority. The deaf Steppenwolf, the lone deaf outsider, is rarely encountered in real life in the United States. In Europe and elsewhere, for historical reasons there exists a sharp cleavage between deaf intellectuals and artists and the deaf man in the street, so that there such outsiders account for a much larger proportion of the deaf population.

The book, and Relgis, are both worthy of closer inspection.

Relgis, Eugen, Muted Voices, New Jersey (1938)

http://militants-anarchistes.info/spip.php?article5046&lang=fr

Earnest Elmo Calkins, Deaf Pioneer of Modern Advertising

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 24 November 2017

Calkins signatureCHEarnest Elmo Calkins (1868-1964) was a pioneer of modern advertising.  Born in

In Design Observer, Steven Heller says of him, that he is “recognized as the founder of “styling the goods,” otherwise known as “consumer engineering” or even better known as “forced obsolescence”—he is considered in the pantheon of twentieth century Modernists.”

Calkins wrote a volume of memoirs, “Louder Please,” in 1924, & then in 1946 produced an extended version, “and hearing not-“; Annals of an Adman.  Writing in the third person, here as ‘the Boy,’ he describes here his loss of hearing in a chapter that appears in both volumes, ‘The ears begin to close’ :

nothing stands out with any sharpness, either teachers or lessons.  A sort of mist seems to veil the next three or four years.

The reason for the mist was that the Boy was growing deafer.  School seemed more futile the less he heard of it.  The world-old conflict between heredity and environment was henceforth to be influenced by a new element whose effect could not be foreseen.  Deafness introduced complications that required new adjustments, like deuces wild in a poker game.  The cause, it seems, was measles experienced at the age of six, at length bearing its evil fruit, but the predisposition was probably a part of his inheritance.  He was at least ten years old before his condition was realized, even by himself.  His fits of abstraction and oblivion were laid to inattention by the higher powers, both at home and abroad. (and hearing not, p.p.67-8)

He went on eventiually to college, and got good marks in mathematics, but otherwise, “For four years he sat in various classrooms, hearing almost nothing, content or at least resigned to make out a passable performance” (p.100).  He got into advertising aged 23, when he won a competition for an advertisement for a Bissell carpet sweeper.  Later on his advertising company was behind ‘Lucky Jim’ of the breakfast cereal Force, and he introduced modern art into American advertising in the 1920s.

CalkinsIn the chapter, ‘Social life of a deaf man,’ Calkins describes how so many famous people he met he was “unable to use, other than to satisfy my curiosity as to how they looked.”   He relied on his wife in many of these situations (p.180).  He says that “Deafness was the ever present influence.  It made or marred my attempts to earn a living, it selected my friends for me, and determined what I was to enjoy of social life, what my amusements were to be.” (p.181)

“A partially deaf man is like Aesop’s bat, neither animal nor bird, but having the disabilities of both, belonging neither to the hearing world  nor that of the totally deaf.” (p.188)

“Lip reading is like handwriting in that it is sometimes as clear as print and again as illegible as Horace Greeley‘s famous chirography.” (p.189)  He had lessons in lip reading with Edward B. Nitchie, who was deaf and whose books we have.

We have the two volumes of memoir mentioned above.  One is signed by Calkins, dedicated to Madeleine de Soyres.  They are well worth investigating, and he seems to me an engaging writer.

Calkins, Earnest Elmo, “Louder Please,” 1924

Calkins, Earnest Elmo, “and hearing not-“; Annals of an Adman.  New York, 1946

The application of Mao Tse-Tung thought to the treatment of Deaf Mutes

By Alex P Stagg, on 8 September 2017

We have among our collections a curious assortment of grey literature that we conservatively name the C collection, a collection of miscellaneous material. A few examples taken at random:

C439: Elizabeth Wootton & Cris Lewis, ‘A work preparation course for deaf young people’, in Careers Bulletin (Spring 1981)
C4406: Hugo Zuccarelli, ‘Ears hear by making sounds’, in New Scientist (10 November 1983)
C588: Anon, ‘The mutes regain their speech’, in China Reconstructs (February 1972)

This last is perhaps among the most curious items we possess. It details an episode from the Chinese Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in which a barely educated medical orderly – Chao Pu-yu – applied Mao Tsetung Thought to the treatment of deaf-mutes with, it seems, great success. (Deaf-mute is used throughout the article, and is used here without any desire to offend but to replicate the language used at the time.) On the surface it is a tale of the universal applicability of Mao’s thought, together with acupuncture, but beneath the surface can be discerned currents outside the realm of medicine as we read briefly of Chao’s objection to the counter-revolutionary line for medical and health work promoted by Liu Shao-chi. Liu Shao-chi, better known now as Liu Shaoqi, was until the late 1960s a very prominent member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Inspired by the criticism of Liu he heard, Chao learnt acupuncture, practicing on himself. His early successes included treating an old worker, Wang Kuei, who suffered from arthritis; and before long Chao was ready to treat more serious conditions. In 1967 Chao and comrades formed a Mao Tsetung Thought team, to spread the Great Helmsman’s ideas. But this was not an autonomous team: in March 1968 the ‘medical propaganda team’ was ordered to a school for deaf-mutes in the city of Liaoyuan. As soon as they arrived, a young girl – Wang Ya-chin – drew Chao’s attention to a picture of Mao. She wanted to say ‘Long live Chairman Mao’ but was only able to manage a strained ‘Ah…’. The entire episode is reminiscent of the worst excesses of a Stalinist personality cult, where the project seems less focussed on returning hearing and speech to deaf-mutes and rather more about giving a new voice to the choir of praise for Mao.

Inspired by Mao’s teachings – for example ‘The people with real personal knowledge are those engaged in practice the world over’ – Chao and his comrades determined that there were no incurable cases, simply cases refused treatment. As befits political revolutionaries, Chao and his team went beyond the boundaries of earlier acupuncture, thrusting the needles deeper than 5 fen, a measure in acupuncture treatment, the point acupuncturists felt would endanger the patient’s life. Previous generations, the article notes, had been limited by the level of scientific development of their time. It was with this as their guiding principle that they achieved the dramatic results of restoring speech and hearing to deaf-mutes. Chao declared: “We proletarian revolutionaries want to relieve our class brothers of their suffering. We must go forward. We must not be stopped by the belief that 5 fen is the ultimate limit’.

Chao tried the new, deeper, insertions on himself. He refused to feel fear, reminding himself his experiments were in the service of the people and he was carrying out Chairman Mao’s line for medical and health work. Pushing the needles deeper and deeper Chao gained the results he had been looking for and shared the news with his comrades. China Reconstructs reports that the application of the new treatment to Wang Ya-chin returned speech to her: after fifteen years of silence she could once again speak.

Although the article states that in the three years after Chao’s breakthrough deaf-mutes across China received treatment, it does not go into specifics about numbers or supply further information.

Sadly the trail goes cold. A 1972 pamphlet, Exploring the Secrets of Treating Deaf-Mutes, is available online at: https://archive.org/details/ExploringTheSecretsOfTreatingDeaf-mutes, and there’s a 1977 article, Andrew Sutton’s ‘Acupuncture and deaf-mutism’ (Educational Studies 3:1 (1977)) which examines the claims made. Chao Pu-yu’s fate is a mystery: but if any readers know what happened to him, please let us know.

Ed Lyon