Traditional Korean medicine

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



Some historians assert 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. Others suggest there are direct links to Chinese herbal medical traditions. In this version, herbal treatment was imported from China in the tenth century. However, whereas in the Chinese tradition an ailment was treatment was treated more or less by itslef, in the Korean tradition the illness was cured in context of the personal character of the patient.

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 Goguryeo 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 Song (宋) and Yuan (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 (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 specialties were published. After the Japanese invasion in 1592, Dongeui Bogam (동의보감) was written by Heo Jun. He was a court physician during the late-16th-century reign of King Seonjo. He prescribed certain therapies accompanied with references to Korean herb remedies, thus giving some credence to the claim that Korean traditional medicine is indeed a field of medical specialization distinct from Chinese herbal medicine. He wrote the names of the herbs in Korean instead of in Chinese characters so that ordinary people would be able to understand his descriptions. He believed that in order to preserve or improve a person's health, proper care of mind and body was primary, and medical treatment with herbs, moxibustion, and acupuncture was secondary. 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, 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. The catagorization is based on the comprehensive understanding of each person's physique, physical constitution, the relative strength and weakness of organs, particularly their lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys. Each type has a unique temperament, propensity to disease, and requires a particular diet and herbs for maintaining health and curing disease. These unique diferences are in part determined through gwansang, interpretation of the shape of the face and head. Lee asserted that medical treatment must be based on the patient's individual constitution in order to be fully effective.

Herbal Medicine

The mountains also yield the mysterious ingredients for hanyak, Korean organic medicine, which is a blessing for those seeking to cure chronic ailments. Usually, six different herbs are boiled to produce a yellow to brown extract with an often intensely bitter or sour taste.

The Modern Era

There were numerous health crises in 19th-century Korea, including epidemics of measles and dysentery. To some extent, these plagues could be held at bay through the use of traditional medicine, for example through use of the applications prescribed by Yu Yi Tae, who was a royal physician during the reign King Sukjong. two centuries earlier. He prescribed certain remedies for the measles. In the early 20th century, the colonization 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

  • List of Korea-related topics
  • Traditional Korean thought
  • Sasang typology
  • Japanese traditional medicine (Kampo)
  • Chinese traditional medicine


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

External links


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