Influences on Korean Medicine

Richard Ha


Medicine has served to be a valuable tool in studying civilizations, for each advancement or adherence to tradition has exhibited how the civilization has reacted to modernity. This paper focuses on three specific men – Kim Ok-Kyun, Horace Allen, and Philip Jaisohn – who introduced some of these modern elements into Korea in the late 19th century to both medicine and public health. It argues that through these changes, these men were aiming to validate Korea to the rest of the world as a functioning civilization that could stand alone as an independent state. Kim Ok-Kyun mainly focused on hygiene and outward cleanliness that could be quantitatively measured. Horace Allen’s wish to save the souls of Koreans through Christianity pushed him to spread his knowledge of modern medicine to the royal court and eventually, the commoners. Philip Jaisohn actively denounced the techniques of Traditional Korean Medicine (TKM) practitioners and advocated for preventative reforms via his newspaper, The Independent. How these measures were utilized to counter cholera allows the historian to gauge the Korean mentality towards outside influences – specifically that of the West – such as that of medicine. Although much has occurred in Korea in the entire 20th century in terms of modernization, it can be argued that the first real signs of acceptance of Western influences are seen during this time period, starting with the Treaty of Kanghwa and the Kapsin Jong Pyun.

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