Korean Medical History

Natural Medical : Korean medicine was originated in ancient times. In Gojoseon, where the founding myth of Korea is recorded, there is a story of a tiger and a bear who wanted to reincarnate in human form and who ate wormwood and garlic. In Jewang Ungi which was written around the time of Samguk Yusa, wormwood and garlic are described as 'eatable medicine, showing that, even in times when incantatory medicine was the mainstream, medicinal herbs were given as curatives in Korea. Moreover, the fact that wormwood and garlic are not found in ancient Chinese herbology shows that traditional Korean medicine developed unique practices. In the period of the Three Kingdoms, Chinese Medicine and Indian Medicine were adopted in Korea, thereby setting up the foundation of original Korean medicine. In the Goryeo dynasty, traditional medicine from the Silla dynasty and Indian medicine as influenced by Buddhism were adopted. By the time the Yuan Dynasty was established in China, Korean medicine had developed its own techniques. This was because hostile states in southern Manchuria at Korea's borders prevented the exchange of medical knowledge between the two countries. More investigation of domestic herbs took place, and the result was the publication of numerous books on domestic herbs. Medical theories at this time were based on medicine of Song and Yuan, but prescriptions were based on the medicine of the Unified Silla period: see the medical text Hyangyak Gugeupbang which was published in 1245 and can be translated as First Aid Prescriptions Using Native Ingredients. Medicine flourished in the period of the Joseon. By the time of King Sejong, a book named Euibang Ryuchwi was published which integrated knowledge from all extant books on Chinese medicine. After this, many books on medical specialties were published. There are three physicians from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) who are generally credited with the development of traditional Korean medicine. They are Heo Jun, Saam, and Yi Je-ma. After the Japanese invasion in 1592, Dongeui Bogam was written by Heo Jun, the first of the major physicians. This work further integrated the known Korean and Chinese medicine of its time and is used as one of the main textbooks for modern traditional Korean medicine students. Sixteenth-century Korean medicine had come to be based on Chinese Ming Dynasty medicine in theory, and on Korean (Joseon dynasty) herbal drugs in practice. Traditional medical knowledge in this hybrid form has since spread widely to China, Japan and Korea and is still used in these parts of the world. The next highly recognized individual is Saam, the priest-physician who is believed to have lived during the 16th century. Although there is much unknown about Saam, including his real name and date of birth, it is recorded that he studied under the famous monk Samyang. Saam is important because he developed a system of acupuncture that employs only the five shu points (based on early Chinese medicine theories). His techniques were rediscovered in the late 20th century and began to be more widely used as a result of student Kim Hong-Gyoung of Kyung Hee University’s Department of oriental Medicine. In the late Joseon dynasty, positivism was widespread. Clinical evidence was used more commonly as the basis for studying disease and developing cures. Scholars who had turned away from politics devoted themselves to treating diseases and, in consequence, new schools of tradition medicine were established. Simple books on medicine for the common people were published. In the early nineteenth century, the Sasang typology was written by Yi Je-ma, the third historical physician who developed much of traditional Korean medicine. Lee classified human beings into four main types, based on the emotion that dominated their personality and developed treatments for each type. The four types are Tae-yang, So-yang, Tae-eum, and So-eum. There were numerous health crises in 19th-century Korea, including epidemics of measles and dysentery. In the early 20th century, the Korea annexed by Japan brought biomedicine from the West and this was a period of decline for traditional medical practices. However, Korean traditional medicine reasserted itself after the end of the World War II and the consequent Korean independence from Japan.

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