Korean J Med Hist.  2019 Aug;28(2):591-620. 10.13081/kjmh.2019.28.591.

Text and Practice in East Asian Medicine: The Structure of East Asian Medical Knowledge Examined by Donguibogam Currents in Contemporary South Korea

  • 1Department of Medical History, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea. tkim77@khu.ac.kr


How do classical texts, such as Hwangdi Neijing and Shanghanlun, continuously play significant roles in medical practices in the history of East Asian medicine? Although this is a significant question in interpreting the position of written texts in the medical history and even for understanding the structure of East Asian medical knowledge, it has been conspicuously underexamined in the studies of East Asian medicine. In order to explore this underrepresented question, this study focuses on currents of tradition in contemporary South Korea. Drawing on anthropological fieldwork at three Donguibogam (Treasured Mirror of Eastern Medicine) currents, it delves into the interaction of text and practice in East Asian medicine. Even though all three currents (Hyun-dong, Byeong-in, Hyung-sang) are based on Donguibogam, their ways of reading the text and organizing clinical practices are diverse. Each current sets up a keyword, such as pulse diagnosis, cause of disease, and appearance-image, and attempts to penetrate the entire Donguibogam through the keyword. This means that the classical medical text is open to plural approaches. This study found that there is a visible gap between a medical text and the reader of the text in East Asia. Masters and currents of tradition are the actors who fill up the gap, continuously interpreting and reinterpreting classical texts, and guiding medical practices of new readers. Adding the history of practice to the body of literature that have focused on the history of written texts, this study will contribute to the history of East Asian medicine.


Medical text in East Asian medicine; Medical Knowledge in East Asian medicine; Medical practice; Donguibogam (Treasured Mirror of Eastern Medicine); Donguibogam Currents
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