Korean J Med Hist.  2011 Dec;20(2):327-354.

The Translation and Its Meanings of Materia Medica Part. I in the Jejungwon

  • 1Dong-Eun Medical Museum, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Korea.
  • 2Department of Anatomy & Dong-Eun Medical Museum, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Korea. hwoopark@yuhs.ac


For more systematic medical education, Dr. O. R. Avison translated medical textbooks into Korean since he took charge of Jejungwon in 1893. The first book he chose was Anatomy of the Human Body. He, however, failed to see it published after losing its manuscript twice. Instead, Materia Medica Part. I was brought into the world first in 1905, for which he translated Materia Medica and Therapeutics written by John Mitchell Bruce from the U. K. At that time, this book was in widespread use in the English-speaking world as a textbook for pharmacology. It is also assumed that Avison used it as a textbook for his classes in Canada before coming to Korea. For the publication of Materia Medica Part. I, Avison did not translate Bruce's original text in full, but translated only the selected passages. He followed a principle of using Korean alphabets (Hangeul) only, but in combination with Chinese characters, if necessary. He put pharmacological terms into existing Korean equivalents or newly coined words, but also borrowed many from Japanese terms. That's because Japan moved faster to introduce Western medicine than Korea did, so that many pharmacological terms could be defined and arranged more systematically in Japanese. Moreover, Japan took such a favorable stance in the state of international affairs that many of Japanese-style terms could be introduced into Korea in most fields including medicine. By translating Materia Medica Part. I in cooperation with his disciple KIM Pilsoon after Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, Avison tried to lay groundwork for providing medical education in Korea based on the British-American medicine. It is assumed that he took an independent stance in selecting and translating Western medical textbooks on his own rather than simply accepting the existing Chinese translation of Western medical textbooks. Despite all his efforts, he might find it difficult to translate all the Western medical terms into Korean within a short period of time. Therefore, he seems to have had no choice but to accept Japanese medical terms as a complementary measure.


Jejungwon; O. R. Avison; Pilsoon Kim; Materia Medica Part. I; John M. Bruce

MeSH Terms

Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Education, Medical/history
History, 20th Century
Materia Medica/*history
Republic of Korea
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