Traditional Korean Medicine Mesmerizes the World
Traditional Korean Medicine Mesmerizes the World
  • Kim Sung-mi (
  • 승인 2012.04.26 15:36
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SEOUL, KOREA — “Acupuncture Began in Korea.”

The oldest medical book in China, Huangdi Neijing (475-221 BC or 206 BCE–220 BCE), states its first text, Suwen that “stone needle acupuncture came from the East”. Also from another ancient text originating in China, Shan hai Jing (BC 202∼AD 220), said that “jade is abundant in the village where the Go people live, and many stone needles are there underneath”. These statements support that acupuncture began in Korea.

From China’s point of view, which believes that it is the center of the world, the East refers to Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. The Go people are the ancestors from Go Jumong who is the founding monarch of Goguryeo (BC 37~ AD 668). Goguryeo, which is one of Korea’s ancient nations, dominated the region of Manchuria. Stone needle acupuncture of the Paleolithic Age was discovered in North Hamgyong Province in North Korea, which proves that the history of acupuncture dates back over 4,000 years; even longer ago than the Stone Age period.

Dr. Kim Jeong-gon, President of AKOM

People sometimes confuse Haany-hak, the traditional Korean medical study, and traditional Chinese medicine as the same because there are some similarities in that they both use acupuncture and prescribe herbal medicine. However, Dr. Kim Jeong-gon, President of the Association of Korean Oriental Medicine (AKOM), emphasizes that “Haany-hak and traditional Chinese medicine are different.”

“In setting the global standard for acupuncture body point locations by the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Western Pacific Regional Office in 2008, its study showed that 80% to 90% of acupuncture trigger point locations set by Korea, Japan and China were the same, but 10% to 20% were different. From that analysis, we know that Haany-hak and Chinese medicine may have similar origin, but they have developed independently over a long period of time,” explained Dr. Kim.

Korea’s own development in Haany-hak increased under the reign of King Sejong the Great (1397~1450) during the Joseon Dynasty. Koreans did not depend on China for medical ingredients, but found the ingredients from the wilderness within the Korean boundary. The collection of herbal medicine found in the Korean territory are analyzed and published in “Hyangyak Jip Seong-bang”. This book of medicine from the Joseon Dynasty became the basis for Asia’s largest book of medical text named “Eui-bang Yu-chi”, which contains 365 volumes published under King Sejong the Great. They explain how Haany-hak developed as an independent medical practice. 150 years later Korea also published Donguibogam by Heo Jun, the encyclopedia of medicine in East Asia. 250 years later, during the time of King Gojong came the Sasang constitutional medicine.


Rising Popularity of Haany-hak

In March, Docu-Prime, a program on MBC TV, showed a documentary entitled “Haany-hak, winged with the Korean Wave,” which was on how Korea’s Haany-hak is spreading world over along with K-Pop. The documentary emphasizes Donguibogam, which was the first medical text to be featured on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program since 2009 and raised interest on Haany-hak locally and abroad.

Korean Clinic in Sri Lanka

The program also showed a Korean clinic in Sri Lanka. The Korean Clinic is currently operated by a Haany(traditional Korean medical doctor), Dr. Han Gyu-eon. He traveled to Sri Lanka in 2004 to provide victims with aid after the devastating Tsunami. The clinic started to receive 15 patients a day, but currently 150 patients wait in line for Haany-hak treatment.

Sri Lanka is a tiny island, located south of India. Since Sri Lanka is influenced by Indian medical treatments, most were unfamiliar with traditional Korean medicine, let alone acupuncture or moxa cautery.

But now, Sri Lankans accept Korean acupuncture treatment as the main stream because of Dr. Han. They call acupuncture treatment as “Korean acupuncture”. There are already 106 medical doctors in Sri Lanka who have completed acupuncture courses, which shows the acceptance and popularity of the Haany-hak. Sri Lanka’s health minister has expressed gratitude to Korea for contributing to the development of his country’s indigenous medicine through teaching Korea’s excellent acupuncture knowledge and Haany-hak. There is also a section about an American tourist Christine, who traveled to Korea to experience traditional Korean medicine and took moxa cautery treatments. She was amazed by the efficiency of the treatment. Overall, the documentary showed the rising popularity of Haany-hak.

One may ask why is the world captivated by Haany-hak Dr. Kim simply answered by saying that “Haany-hak is nature’s medicine”. “There are no absolute yin and absolute yang in the world. Instead, the yin and yang must be balanced to achieve harmony” he further explained. He added, “The human is part of nature and can be healthy by finding balance within the body”. Dr. Kim gives the influenza virus as an example. “From the Haany-hak perspective, the influenza virus is a type of cold symptom which can be treated by finding balance through heightening defense mechanisms in the body,” he explained.

Dr. Kim elaborates through “Qi (pronounced “Gi” in Korean)”, a concept that exists only in oriental medicine, which refers to balance within one’s body. There is an expression “Gok-gi” in Korea that means to have rice as a meal. In Haany-hak, even just two spoonfuls of rice can give strength to a person when they are very hungry because of the qi of rice which gives the person energy. It is a different interpretation from the Western perspective which would use chemistry and scientific terms to explain.

The chemical analysis of ginseng, wild ginseng and red ginseng used in Hanbang (traditional Korean medical medicine, treatment or method) shows they are all the same because they belong to the ginseng plant. However, in Hanbang, they are distinctively used in different ways to treat patients. Ginseng or wild ginseng is used to treat patients with gold qi to warm the body, while red ginseng is used to cool the body. These methods help regain balance.


AKOM holds an event to experience Haany-hak to foreigners every year.

Hanbang, Why the Aging Population is Turning to Natural Remedies for Degenerative and Other Diseases

Dr. Kim pointed out that, “Many countries around the world have their own traditional medicine, which was built on their tradition and experience. Western medicine dominated the health industry in a short period of time due to circumstances in recent history.” The 19th century was the century of wars and epidemics so Western medicine was needed more as it focused on surgical operations and bacterial study.

However situations have changed. The threat of war is less prevalent than in the past and surroundings are more hygienic. Interests are growing in degenerative and other diseases rather than emergency cases. “The world is aging fast and environmental awareness is growing, so demand for natural medicine such as Haany-hak will rise,” Dr. Kim predicted. Currently on the agenda are the concerns of an aging population. Therefore, treatment using Haany-hak will be the core method.

The WHO is also taking notice of traditional medicine as it realizes the effectiveness of such treatment. This is more prevalent in treating diabetes or high blood pressure, which is more focused on proper management of the condition rather than a full cure. Approaching the problem through traditional medicine, such as Haany-hak, is deemed more appropriate. “Arthritis or spinal conditions should be treated and managed by using acupuncture and Hanbang. Performing a surgery and cutting out the problem is considered in the quality of the patient’s life,” said Dr. Kim.


Dr. Kim Jeong-gon, President of AKOM

Excellence of Haany-hak Recognized Abroad

“Foreigners who have received Haany-hak treatment are returning to receive more. Overseas medical volunteering and Hanbang medicine tours are playing important roles in showing the excellence of Haany-hak,” said Dr. Kim. It shows that allowing people to personally experience Haany-hak is the best way for them to understand the excellence of traditional Korean medicine. In fact, nearly 1,700 foreigners visited the Jaseng Hospital of oriental medicine that specializes in spine conditions in 2010 for treatment; a sharp rise from some 1,000 in 2009.

UNESCO also highly valued Haany-hak and in 2009 designated Donguibogam as UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program. UNESCO designated 2013 as a special UNESCO year to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Donguibogam. The book of traditional Korean medicine written 400 years ago still shows a high cure rate on illnesses and helpful in maintaining health of the global community. UNESCO has commemorated valuable books every two years since 2004.


Traditional Korean Medicine, future power house of the Korean economy

In 2009, the global IT market and traditional medicine market were each valued at USD 200 billion, but with the quick rise of the traditional medicine market, the deviation is increasing. The traditional medicine market is expected to grow to USD 5 trillion by 2050.

Thus, AKOM changed Haany-hak’s English translation to “Korean Medicine” on March 11 and decided to develop it as a global medicine of practice. Korea Tourism Organization is planning to expand its “Wellness Tour,” by combining both Hanbang and Western medicine. The Ministry of Health and Welfare is also pursuing advanced medical tourism by training interpreters for medicine, which is part of the “seven main agendas” to strengthen the medical tourism industry. Furthermore, the government is in support to export Korean hospitals. It aims to bring in 300,000 foreign patients to Korea and export Korean hospitals to 100 nations by 2015.

“In the case of traditional Chinese medicine, it started with exporting traditional Chinese medicine to traditional Chinese medical doctors. Now there is a high level now of exporting the traditional Chinese medicine education system,” said Dr. Kim. “Haany-hak which now has well established human infrastructure and knowledge database can fully utilize such export strategies,” he added. Dr. Kim believes that it would be possible to export Haany-hak that meets the requirement of individual countries as South America and the Middle East are showing high interest in importing Haany-hak education and medical practices.

Daegu Haany University is working to develop new medicine in cooperation with HZI.

In fact, Daegu Haany University is currently discussing the possibility of opening its branch schools in New York and South America, and working to develop new medicine in cooperation with the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) from Germany. A research head at HZI pointed out that doubt in Western medicine was growing and it was inevitable to develop new medicine to cure illnesses through Haany-hak, which considers more on overall harmony rather than singling out one ailment like Western medicine. Mr. Tien from Vietnam has overcome asthenia with the help of a Hanbang medical tour and is now working to launch the Hanbang Cancer Center in his country. With the opening of the hospital in Vietnam, it hopes to become the epicenter of “K-Medi.”

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