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Reconfiguring East Asian Modernity

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How the Unorthodox Healer Stone Gorge Yi Connected Supporting the Heart with Strengthening Korea as a Civilisation

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Korean thinkers debated on the dilemma of how their country should deal with the challenge of modernity. Aiming to resist the westernisation of Korea, the physician Sŏk-kok took the unique approach of using the medical theories of Chinese antiquity to explain Korea’s propitious place in the world. In the context of Japan’s increasing influence leading to annexation in 1910, Sŏk-kok used the model of regional qi in China to explain variation of qi in the world. With China’s collapse, Korea had become the new centre of civilised learning, characterized by its increasing yang qi. Thus, identifying strengthening yang of the East as his solution, Sŏk-kok also challenged the traditional medical orthodoxy of nourishing yin qi by arguing for focusing more on strengthening people’s yang qi. To put theory into practice, the powerful toxic drug aconite became his metaphor to strengthen the yang of Korea as a civilisation through aconite-based drug therapies supporting the heart-minds of individuals.

Affiliations: 1: Department of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University


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