What Made Korean Medicine Different from TKM?
written by Kim, Yunna
(Grade 3, Writer)
- PartⅠ; From ancient times
to Classified Assemblage of Medical Prescriptions(醫方類聚) -
Before you go... written by Shin, Seungwon
It is not easy to describe the history of Chinese traditional medicine with only a few sentences. But we are sure about several points which pulled the level of the oriental medicine ahead. One of them was the book, Huangdi’s Internal Classic(黃帝內經, estimated to be firstly published before Han), which was technically not less to pull, but more to begin the medicine in China. The book includes the basic theories of oriental medicine and, more profoundly, the philosophy of the medicine. But more practically meaningful work was started with Treatise on Cold Damage Diseases(傷寒論, estimated to be published in the 3rd century). It was written on the basis of clinical experiences of the oriental doctor, Zhang Zhongjing(張仲景). Around the ages, Shennong’s Classic of Materia Medica(神農本草經, estimated to be published in Han) was also published, which has been referred as the bible of herb study. After that, many books were shown in the area but did not have much impact on the history.
When it came to the times of Chinese dynasty of Jin(金) and Yuan(元), the four great doctors, Liu Wansu(劉完素), Zhang Zihe(張子和), Li Gao(李?) and Zhu Zhenheng(朱震亨), tried to reconstruct the medical theories. They established different points of view about human body, which result in the respectively corresponding treatment principles. The fruits of their study still have much effect on the present researchers and clinicians in many fields. One example is the formula, Bojungikgi-tang(補中益氣湯), which treats the disease caused by insufficiency of middle qi. However, the study turned its focus on a new problem; the differences between western medicine and oriental medicine. Some tried to exclude the new one from oriental medicine in order to preserve their tradition, while others accepted western science to criticize old-fashioned medicine. Also, there were efforts to diffuse two different objects into one newly systematized medicine.
There are several records that prove medicine had existed on the Korean Peninsula since Gojosoen(2333B.C.~108 B.C.), the first Kingdom of Korea. Since the inflow of Chinese medicine around the 7th century, Chinese medicine, which was theoretically superior to Korean, has been dominant in Korea.
(Emergency Prescriptions from the Countryside(鄕藥救急方), the oldest medical book of Korea)
However,in the mid 11th century(Koryeo Dynasty), there was movement of medical independence from Chinese medicine. At that time, China was highly developed in medicine as well as science and culture, and Korea couldn't help adopting medical theories and clinical practice from China. As this tendency got severe, Korean unquestioningly accepted medical theories and Chinese drugs. Importing theories yielded good results in some extent but it hardly worked on practice. One main factor to cause the clinical difficulties is that imported Chinese herbs were so expensive. Therefore, exploitation of domestic herbs was irresistible. Moreover, people started to think 'Medicine from Korea can cure disease from Korea' Some herbs were turned out to have better efficacy than Chinese ones. Finally, in the late 11th century, the common notion got prevalent that Korean herbs were excellent and medical scientists began to call Korean herbs ‘Hyang-yak(鄕藥)’. Hyang-yak means 'herbs available in Korea', that is, herbs obtainable from mountains, fields, seas, rivers, and so on in Korea. It reflects the transitional stage of medical field, which is that people try to use medicine grown in their own country even though they apply foreign theories and formulas. This effort led to publication of ‘Emergency Prescriptions from the Countryside(鄕藥救急方)’, which was estimated to be published between 1232 and 1251. The books still remains the oldest medical book of Korea. Hyang-yak pulled the trigger of Korean medical independence from China and many books concerning Hyang-yak were published.
King Sejong the Great(世宗大王, 1394-1450) of Joseon Dynasty(1392~1910), who invented Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, also set considerable achievement on the medical field. He commanded editing ‘Compendium of Prescriptions from the Countryside(鄕藥集成方)’ and ‘Classified Assemblage of Medical Prescriptions(醫方類聚)’ which played an important role on more complete independence of medicine.
‘Compendium of Prescriptions from the Countryside(鄕藥集成方)’ is an encyclopedia of Hyang-yak. It consists of 85 volumes containing 10,706 formulas and relevant Hyang-yak's. King Sejong dispatched his scholars to China several times to distinguish differences of Hyang-yak from Chinese herbs. Academic exchange with China let KM evolve into more logical and systematic medicine. Thanks to this thorough process, Compendium of Prescriptions from the Countryside could tie up loose ends on Hyang-yak research.
On the other hand, ‘Classified Assemblage of Medical Prescriptions(醫方類聚)’ is a database of Korean medicine. The purpose of Classified Assemblage of Medical Prescriptions was to close the gap between Korean medicine and Chinese medicine. Scholars collected whole medical books ever published in East Asia and edited them to establish not only extensive but also systematic database. This huge project began in 1445 but ended in 1477 with the result of 266 volumes. Investigating every medical book in East Asia, it enabled Korean doctors to assimilate advanced medical technology of China.
Classified Assemblage of Medical Prescriptions(醫方類聚)
By the way, Some people might be curious how Classified Assemblage of Medical Prescriptions could lead to independence of technology by nothing but just gathering advanced medical knowledge. There are, however, many similar cases in history. Nowadays in China, one of the biggest issue is 'shanzhai(山寨)'. Shanzhai means imitation but has less negative nuance. Since shanzhai cell phone in the mid 2000, Chinese manufacturers have already produced shanzhai computer, TV, refrigerator but also shanzhai TV show, soap opera, TV star, etc. Yet, shanzhai is not humble imitation anymore. 150 million shanzhai cell phones are sold so far and one famous cell phone company asked them for OEM supply due to their good quality. This kind of example is not unusual. Another case is very close to us. Many famous Korean companies, such as Samsung and LG, have been developed by copying other countries. United States, the most developed country nowadays, has proceeded industrialization on the basis of a copyright law not applied to foreign cases. Such successful instances were all able to make their achievements after fostering technology through the stage of imitation.
Korean medicine has gone through the same steps. ‘Compendium of Prescriptions from the Countryside(鄕藥集成方)’ could make KM's independence of herbs accomplished and ‘Classified Assemblage of Medical Prescriptions(醫方類聚)’ could make the independence of technology possible. In addition, ‘Synopsis of the Medical World(醫林撮要)’, which was published later, helped Korean medicine catch up the latest fashion of Chinese medicine. Korean medicine was no more unparallel to Chinese medicine and was ready to pioneer its own path. And now, IT'S SHOWTIME!!