Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Characteristics of Korean Medicine Based on Time Classification

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Characteristics of Korean Medicine Based on Time Classification

Article excerpt

This paper has been written to inform Western scholars of the differ- ences between Korean Medicine (KM) and Chinese Medicine. Since KM and Chinese Medicine are the products of processes as long as the histories of both countries, while influencing each other throughout, understanding the history of KM should provide a shortcut to understand- ing the differences between these two medicines.

The two most important texts in the history of KM are History of Korean Medicine and of Diseases in Korea (...)(1) and The History of Korean Medicine(...). (2)

The former was written by Sakae Miki (... 1903-1992), the first re- searcher to study the history of KM. He wrote his book from a positivist's point of view, referring directly to numerous Korean medical texts. His de- scription of KM is so comprehensive that it forms the basis for all subse- quent research on the history of KM. However, the time he was active as a historian was when a imperialistic historical view prevailed as a means to justify Japan's colonisation of Korea. Ultimately, Miki's description imposed this erroneous perspective on KM history.

The latter text is by Doojong Kim (1896-1988), who also compiled nu- merous primary historical records. Although he attempted to overcome Miki's viewpoint, he had similar limitations. Moreover, both were doctors of Western medicine educated in Japan before they studied history. Be- cause they tended to interpret KM from a Western medical perspective, they sometimes emphasised the unreasonable rather than the positive as- pects of KM,(3) a tendency more apparent in Kim than in Miki.(4)

The two books mentioned above describe Korean medical history using a time classification based on the names of Korean dynasties. While this is helpful in grasping the medical concepts, organisation, and economical systems of each dynasty, it may not be suitable for understanding the medicine itself and its process of development. (5)

dresses problems of historical perspective in KM history. The five periods will be presented in chronological order.

Period of loss of medical texts (~twelfth century)

This period was a time of exchanges between local medicine and various medicines from overseas. In terms of Korean history, it includes the states of Chosun (kor. trans. of ..., 2333 - 108 B.C.), as well as Buyeo (kor. trans. of ??, 200 B.C. - 494 A.D.), Go(gu)ryeo (kor. trans. of ?(?)?, 200 B.C. - 668 A.D.), Baekje (kor. trans. of ??, 100 B.C. - 660 A.D.), Shilla (kor. trans. of ??, first century B.C. - 935 A.D. ), Balhae ( kor. trans. of ??, 698 - 926), and Goryeo (kor. trans. of ??, 918-1392). These countries were lo- cated in the Korean peninsula as well as what now constitutes the Chinese provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang.

As no primary medical records of this time up to the twelfth century have survived, medical activity can only be inferred from general historical documents of Korea, China, and Japan. The fact that there are many records of KM in other countries indicates the extent of medical exchanges at that time.

The history of KM begins with the founding of the nation. According to a story in the late thirteenth-century work Handed-down Stories of Three Countries(????), a bear and a tiger made a wish to God, who espe- cially loved the human world, and said that they would like to become hu- mans. God told them to eat only mugwort and wild rocambole (or garlic) and to live in a cave for a hundred days. The tiger failed, but the bear suc- ceeded and turned into a woman. The woman married God and gave birth to a son who later founded Chosun.

This short story includes various medical themes such as: 1) "efficiency of Materia Medica" (although exaggerated), depicted in the affect of me- dicinal herbs such as mugwort and wild rocambole (or garlic) on living be- ings; 2) "medical taboos" such as avoiding sunlight and living in a cave for 100 days for the anticipated efficacy; 3) "living environment," such as the cave; 4) "the concept of yin and yang" as depicted by God and human, man and woman, and sunny spots and shady spots; 5) "knowledge of Materia Medica" as inferred by the use of "warm drugs"(6) (mugwort, wild rocam- bole, or garlic) that would have been appropriate for living in a dark and damp cave; 6) and finally "the role of doctor and patient" as embodied by one who heals and prescribes and others who are healed and obtain pre- scribed drugs. …

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