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‘On the Origin of Medicine’ from Eastern Medicine [for] Prolonging the World and Preserving People by Yi Chema (1837–1900)

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The translation below is an essay, ‘On the Origin of Medicine’ (Ŭiwŏnnon 醫源論), taken from the textbook1 Eastern Medicine [for] Prolonging the World and Preserving People (Tongǔi Susebowǒn 東醫壽世保元, 1894),2 by Yi Chema 李濟馬 (1837–1900, styled Tongmu 東武).3 Yi Chema, hailing from the peripheral northern part of Korea, was a Confucian-cum-physician and also served as military officer and local magistrate during the Chosŏn 朝鮮 dynasty (1392–1910). Having no specific allegiances to any intellectual lineage in either medicine or Confucianism, he was able to translate his critical yet inspirational impulses into a distinctively novel style of clinical practice. His ideas built on the observation that sentimental/emotional, or better, psychosocial dispositions of a person are inextricably associated with the visceral dynamics of the person.4 He thus put forward as an overarching scheme of organisation the four constitutional types: Greater Yang (Taeyang 太陽) Person, Greater Yin (Taeŭm 太陰) Person, Lesser Yang (Soyang 少陽) Person, and Lesser Yin (Soŭm 少陰) Person. Later dubbed ‘Sasang Medicine’ (Sasangǔihak 四象醫學), Yi Chema’s distinctive way of knowing and style of practice became one of the main intellectual currents of Korean medicine during the twentieth century. Its history thus provides an illustrative example of the diverse landscape and historical dynamics of East Asian medicine.

Affiliations: 1: University of Westminster


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1. Yi Chema李濟馬Tongǔi Susebowǒn 東醫壽世保元 (Eastern Medicine [for] Prolonging the World and Preserving People, 1901)HamhǔngYultonggyǒ(This refers to the original edition from 1901, which was phototypographically reprinted by Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Seoul, 2001.)
2. Choi Daewoo최대우Tongŭi Susebowŏn Yŏkhae: Wŏllipyŏn 東醫壽世保元 譯解: 原理篇 (Commentarial Translation of Eastern Medicine Prolonging the World and Preserving People: Principle Part)2012SeoulKyŏnginmunhwasa
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9. Shin Dongwon신동원Tongǔibogamgwa Tongasia Ǔihaksa 동의보감과 동아시아 의학사 (Treasured Mirror of Eastern Medicine and the History of East Asian Medicine)2015P’achuTǔlnyǒk
10. Sivin N."‘Review: Raising Questions’"isis1990Vol 814722731
11. Trambaiolo D."‘Writing, Authority, and Practice in Tokugawa Medicine, 1650–1850’"2014Princeton UniversityPhD dissertation
12. Unschuld P. U.Huangdi Neijing Suwen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text, with an appendix, The doctrine of the five periods and six qi in the Huang Di nei jing su wen2003BerkeleyUniversity of California Press
13. Wang Shumin Lo V., Cullen C."‘Tangye jingfa 湯液經法 (Canonical Methods for Brews and Decoctions): A Lost Text Recorded in the Hanshu Bibliography’"Medieval Chinese Medicine: The Dunhuang Medical Manuscripts2005LondonRoutledgeCurzon322344
14. Whewell W.The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon Their History1847Vol vol. 2LondonJohn W. Parker
15. Yamada Keiji山田慶児Chūgoku igaku wa ikani tsukuraretaka 中国医学はいかにつくられたか (How Was Chinese Medicine Constructed?)1999TokyoIwanamishoten
16. Yi Kiebok이기복"‘Tongasia Ŭihakchŏntongŭi Chaehaesŏk mit Chŏnhyang: Yi Chemaŭi Ŭiwŏnnonŭl Chungsimŭro’ 동아시아 의학전통의 재해석 및 前向: 이제마의 醫源論을 중심으로 (Reframing and Advancement of the East Asian Medical Tradition in Late Chosŏn Korea: An Analysis of Yi Chema’s ‘On the Origin of Medicine’)"Hankuk Kwahaksa Hakhoichi 韓國科學史學會誌 (The Korean Journal for the History of Science)2016Vol 3813569

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