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Tradition on the Move

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Emerging Acupuncture Practices in Contemporary South Korea

image of Asian Medicine

Studies of East Asian medicine have demonstrated that contemporary traditional medicine is by no means static but continuously changing, and current work often emphasises the impact of external forces on this transformation such as the modern state, globalisation, and biomedicine. This paper emphasises another significant—but under-examined—impetus for change: East Asian medical epistemology and its theoretical and clinical elaborations. Drawing on an ethnographic investigation of Korean medicine and focusing on ‘practice’ as a theoretical and methodological vehicle, this study illustrates that traditional medicine retains within great potential to transform itself. Three contemporary acupuncture methods—Sa-am, Eight-Constitution, and Hundred-Degree and their own ways of cultivating tradition (validation of pre-modern methods, combination of existing theories, and reinterpretation of classical texts)—show that East Asian medical theories and epistemology continuously serve as dynamic forces for tradition on the move. By analysing the emergence of new forms of traditional practices in Korean medicine, this study attempts to contribute to the discussion of how tradition exists in modernity.

Affiliations: 1: Kyung Hee University


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