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Traditional Korean medicine (Hangul: 한의학, Hanja: 韓醫學) developed with the influence of Chinese medical techniques and procedures. Its techniques in treatment and diagnosis are similar to other traditional medicine.


Korean medicine originated in ancient times. In Samguk Yusa·Gojoseon (삼국유사·고조선), 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 (제왕운기), 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 (삼국시대), Chinese Medicine and Indian Medicine were adopted in Korea, thereby setting up the foundation of original Korean medicine. In the Goryeo dynasty (고려), traditional medicine from the Silla dynasty (신라) and Indian medicine as influenced by Buddhism were adopted. By the time the Yuan Dynasty(元) 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 the Song Dynasty (宋) and Yuan Dynasty(元), but prescriptions were based on the medicine of the Unified Silla period (통일신라): see the medical text Hyangyak Gugeupbang (향약구급방), which was published in 1245 and can be translated as First Aid Prescriptions Using Native Ingredients.

Medicine flourished in the period of the Joseon Dynasty (조선). By the time of King Sejong, a book named Euibang Ryuchwi (의방류취) was published which integrated knowledge from all extant books on Chinese medicine. After this, many books on medical specialities were published. After the Japanese invasion in 1592, Dongeui Bogam (동의보감) was written by Heo Jun. This work further integrated the known Korean and Chinese medicine of its time. Sixteenth-century Korean medicine had come to be based on Chinese (Ming dynasty) medicine in theory, and on Korean (Joseon dynasty) herbal drugs (향약) 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.

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 (사상의학) was written by Lee Jae-ma. Lee classified human beings into four main types, based on the emotion that dominated their personality and developed treatments for each type. There were numerous health crises in 19th-century Korea, including epidemics of measles and dysentery. In the early 20th century, the colonisation of Korea 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 Second World War and the consequent Korean independence from Japan.

See also

External links


  • Jeon, Sang-woon (1998). A history of science in Korea, Seoul: Jimoondang. ISBN 89-88095-11-1.

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