Meet Korean oriental medicine, a harmony between tradition and originality as well as nature and human. With an increasing number of diseases caused by environmental pollution and stress, traditional Korean oriental medicine is rising as a new alternative that places humans at the center of its philosophy.
"Once upon a time, God had a son named Hwanwoong. Wishing to pursue his principles, Hwangwoong settled under the Shindansu tree on Mountain Baekdu with his followers. He called the place Shinsi where he began to gather and reign over people. One day, a bear and tiger that wanted to become human came to Hwanwoong. He gave them twenty garlic cloves and a bunch of wormwood, saying they must train their mind and body in a cave for 100 days. Even though the tiger soon gave up and left the cave, the bear still remained and meditated. After 100 days, the bear turned into a woman given the name of Woongnyeo and married Hwanwoong. They had a son, Dangun, who later founded Chosun." -Dangun mythology-
A well-known story among Koreans, Daugun mythology narrates the myth about the foundation of Korea. Traces of Korean oriental medicine can be found even in this familiar tale. For instance, the garlic and wormwood that were given to the tiger and bear were a kind of traditional medicine, and the order to stay in the cave implies an ascetic life.
Korean oriental medicine has been developed for thousands of years to accommodate and cure Korean people by activating the natural capacity of the body without making any cuts or injecting chemicals. It was during the Goryeo dynasty that the medicine made a huge leap. Later in the Chosun dynasty, aromatic medicine (Hyangyak in Korean), such as ginseng appeared for the first time, as did many doctors renowned throughout East Asia who had passed the national tests based on the medical journal, Hyangyak Jibsunbang. Dongui Bogam, published by Heo Jun, became one of the most acclaimed medical journals in the East Asia at that time. This book, which encapsulates the history and academic achievement of Korean medicine, was also recognized worldwide when it was registered as a Memory of the World by UNESCO-- the first time for a medical publication. Now Korean medicine is evolving along with western medicine.
Sasang medicine, four types of human body
The principle of Korean oriental medicine is based on characteristics of the human body, classifying people into four types - namely, Taeyangin, Taeumin, Soyangin, and Soeumin (hence, the name Sasang (4-type) medicine) - and to treat them accordingly. This is unique to Korea's school of thought and is hard to find anywhere else, even in the neighboring China.
The four-type medicine puts emphasis on the internal parts of the body. According to Dongui Bogam, a disease is determined by what patients eat, how they feel, and what kind of labor they engage in, and these factors should be taken into account when treating them. It is distinguished from other medical schools that look for the source of illness from particular viruses and germs. For instance, the pathology of febrile disease, a kind of Chinese medicine, was first developed in order to treat an epidemic that began to spread throughout the country from the 16th century, while Japan's traditional medicine analyzes a disease based on the body part where the disease was found.
Because of their geographic proximity, China, Japan, and Korea have long influenced each other and developed oriental medicine together, but there are some major and minor differences in their methods. Such disparity is found due to different characteristics of the people as well as the climates. While Japan and southern China have a humid climate, Korea is relatively dry. Therefore, Korean medicine focuses more on the interior of human body as opposed to external environment.
History of Korean oriental medicine and oriental medical schools
Presently, the number of oriental medical doctors in Korea is estimated at around 20,000. There are 12 Korean oriental medical schools - 11 Oriental medical colleges and one school of Korean medicine (at Pusan National University) - with nearly 3,500 students in total. Each year, approximately 850 new Korean medical doctors enter the profession. The College of Oriental Medicine at Kyunghee University is rated as the top oriental medical college in the country, followed by Wongwang University, Dongkuk University, Daegu University, and Daejeon University.
The College of Oriental Medicine at Kyunghee University was founded in 1965 as the university merged and took over Dongyang Medical School, which was built in 1984 by the royal physicians of King Gojong. Along with Park Gopung as the first dean, they tried to open a Korean traditional medical school for 36 years during the Japanese Colonization. As Korea's top oriental medical school, Kyunghee College of Oriental Medicine integrates traditional Korean medicine with western medicine, with the latter taking up 40 percent of the curriculum in order to provide the student with in-depth knowledge. In that respect, it is safe to say that Kyunghee University was one of the pioneers in the current medical trend since they have embraced both the East and West.
Sitting with IT Times, Kim Namil, Dean of College of Oriental Medicine in Kyung-hee University, discussed different issues and questions about today's Korean oriental medicine.
Q; Despite many scientists' recognition regarding the effects of oriental medicine, there is still substantial opposition to claims that it is not a science. What do you think about such criticism
A: Science is an organized system of knowledge. Based on the Eastern philosophy of nature, Oriental Medicine centers its vast system on logic and consistency, which is why we can call it scientific. It is very unfortunate that the objectivity of Oriental Medicine has not been recognized quickly enough because of the government's lack of efforts to embrace it in the public healthcare system. I hope the government will soon provide more support for the development of Oriental Medicine.
Q: what makes the treatment methods of oriental medicine different
A: In Oriental Medicine, a disease should be examined from not only a dispositional but also functional point of view, so there is a wide scope of treatment. And it also has a holistic approach to human body with the focus on the types and characteristics of the body. It is definitely different from the western medicine that concentrates more locally when finding the cause of illness. Moreover, although it also uses some methods to directly attack the virus or other causes of disease, oriental medicine places more importance on the overall harmony and balance of the human body and increasing resilience.
Q: In today's Oriental Medicine, what area is drawing the biggest attention
A: Until the 1990s, Oriental Medicine was popular among patients with paralysis, stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases for its effective treatment. Recently, however, an increasing number of patients are looking at Oriental Medicine specialists for cancer treatment. Doctor Choi Woncheol at Gangdong Oriental Hospital, to name one, is one of the most well-known doctors in that field.
Q: Could you share your thoughts on the future development of Oriental Medicine
A; Oriental Medicine is an indispensable part of Korea's medical science. Korea is a unique country where western and oriental medicine coexist, since even in Japan, the latter has long disappeared from the mainstream. In that respect, I think Korea can become an important role-model for the rest of the world. Many countries around the world have a keen interest in Korean oriental medicine. Although we can expect great synergy from the integration of the western medicine and oriental medicine, unfortunately this is unlikely at the moment. There should be a cooperative system that enables both of medicines to make good use of each other.
Q: What is your philosophy and vision on Oriental Medicine
I believe it is the admiration, passion, and determination for Oriental Medicine that made it possible to spread its impact throughout the world. Now, we will need to improve the system based on the existing force in order to further globalize Korean oriental medicine.
Q: It will soon be the 100th day since you took office as the Dean. Would you share your ideas for nurturing future Oriental Medicine practitioners
A: Apart from globalization of oriental medicine, I believe it is critical to enhance the academic quality of the college. In addition to academic reading and debate skills, we will try to improve the students' foreign language skills. Kyunghee University has produced many renowned oriental medical doctors so far and will continue to foster excellent practitioners.
Q: What efforts is the University making to globalize Korean oriental medicine
A: At the moment, the Dongui Bogam project committee and Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine are preparing globalization projects for Korean oriental medicine. Like I mentioned before, Korean oriental medicine is getting so much attention from other parts of the world, so its future is brighter than ever. There will be more research and efforts to reinforce such momentum in the future.
Leader of Oriental Medicine
Health is one of hottest topics in the 21st century. With an aging population as well as aggravated environmental pollution, many people are focusing on how to live a happy and healthy life. It is no surprise then that oriental medicine is rising as an alternative medicine since it helps to control emotion and improve the internal condition of the human body. The future is bright for Korea's oriental medicine, as Dean Kim Namil said, and its current status was achieved with the contribution from many people such as Park Jeongsu, former director of Chosun Medical Society and professor at Dongyang Medical College. Dr. Park, who believed in the societal role of Korean oriental medical practitioners, is well known for inventing the Solpyo-Woohwang Cheongsimhwan, which has been protecting all faint-hearted Koreans. On the other hand, Shin Junshik, director of Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine and a Kyunghee University alumnus, is one of the world's top specialists in chiropractic care, and has made huge contributions to spreading the discipline among the public in Korea. Lastly, Dr. Choi Wonchol, who developed the oriental anti-cancer medicine Nexia, is also regarded as one of the most influential people in Korean oriental medicine.
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