Korean J Med Hist.  2003 Dec;12(2):110-128.

Traditional Medicine under Japanese Rule after 1930s

  • 1School of Humanities and Social Science, KAIST, Korea.


Japan, which occupied Korean from 1910 through the end of World War II, transformed traditional medicine. Japanese colonialists propagandized the "benefits of modern civilization such as western medicine" and rejected the advantages of traditional medicine. This bias against Korean traditional medicine mirrored the government's rejection of its own traditional medicine. So, Korean traditional medicine was marginalized in the national health care system traditional doctors were excluded from public institutions and references to traditional medicine were purged from school textbooks and newspapers. The wars that Japan waged between 1931 and 1944 effected a favorable change toward traditional medicines, however. The wars created a severe shortage of drugs and medical personnel. Thus the colonial government was eager for Koreans to cultivate and gather herbal drugs it also built a large research institute for herbalism at the Keijo Imperial University in 1938. The colonial government made pharmacopoeia for traditional herbal drugs including plant and animal drugs from 1937 to 1942, independently from Japan. Under these conditions the prestige of traditional medicine was greatly improved. Influential newspapers and magazines covered the traditional medicine, and public lectures on traditional medicine drew large audiences. The wartime government abandoned its opposition to traditional medicine and appointed a traditional practitioner to the staff of the public hospital in 1934. Moreover, the government allowed the association of the traditional medical doctors in Seoul to train three hundred more practitioners between 1937 and 1942. Japanese colonial policy toward traditional medicine reflected the contradiction between modernizing ideology and the reality of poor colonial medical care. Japanese propaganda promised that the colonial regime would provide more advanced medicine to Korea, but the promise was an empty one. In this situation, traditional medical doctors and herbalists once again shouldered the main responsibility for the health of the Korean people.


The Association of Oriental Medicine; Pharmacopoeia for Traditional Herbal Drugs

MeSH Terms

English Abstract
History of Medicine, 20th Cent.
Medicine, Oriental Traditional/*history
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