Reconstructing Bodies: Biomedicine, Health, and Nation-Building in South Korea since 1945

Reconstructing Bodies: Biomedicine, Health, and Nation-Building in South Korea since 1945

Reconstructing Bodies: Biomedicine, Health, and Nation-Building in South Korea since 1945

Reconstructing Bodies: Biomedicine, Health, and Nation-Building in South Korea since 1945

Synopsis

South Korea represents one of the world's most enthusiastic markets for plastic surgery. The growth of this market is particularly fascinating as access to medical care and surgery arose only recently with economic growth since the 1980s. Reconstructing Bodies traces the development of a medical infrastructure in the Republic of Korea (ROK) from 1945 to the present, arguing that the plastic surgery craze and the related development of biotech ambitions is deeply rooted in historical experience.

Tracking the ROK's transition and independence from Japan, John P. DiMoia explains how the South Korean government mobilized biomedical resources and technologies to consolidate its desired image of a modern and progressive nation. Offering in-depth accounts of illustrative transformations, DiMoia narrates South Korean biomedical practice, including Seoul National University Hospital's emergence as an international biomedical site, state-directed family planning and anti-parasite campaigns, and the emerging market for aesthetic and plastic surgery, reflecting how South Koreans have appropriated medicine and surgery for themselves as individuals, increasingly prioritizing private forms of health care.

Excerpt

In a survey published in the Yonsei Medical Journal in 1960, Dr. Jae-Mo Yang (1920–), affiliated with the university and the adjoining Severance Hospital, outlined the steps taken in South Korea toward the refurbishment of the nation’s health system since the close of World War II (1945–1960). According to Dr. Yang, a great deal of work remained to be done, and what he found particularly troubling was not so much a problem of material lack as, instead, a series of inadequate measures adopted in addressing large-scale problems. Specifically, he characterized the administrative approach to that date as haphazard in its execution, involving not a long-term view with careful measures taken to reflect local circumstances but instead a number of “temporary and emergency ones.” Moreover, the outlook brought with it an almost deliberate denial of the local, with “imported foreign systems … followed blindly.” Dr. Yang had previously written on the problems of health care specific to Cheju-do, a small island situated off the southeast coast; his latest effort referred to a series of interviews conducted within the city limits of Seoul, with many of these framing remarks holding for the nation by extension.

Seeking to account for the diverse attitudes of his interview subjects, Dr. Yang emphasized the medical pluralism of his South Korean setting, with frequent intersection between the practices of Western-trained doctors and those of herb doctors and healers. He noted that injections were not limited to the doctor’s office and were frequently given out at sites such as pharmacies or even at the personal clinics maintained by traditional herb doctors. When pressed, many patients could not distinguish between a hospital per . . .

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