Korean J Med Hist.  2008 Jun;17(1):75-86.

Japan's Oriental Medicine Policy in Colonial Korea

  • 1Department of Medical History, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Korea.


During its colonization of Korea, the Japanese Empire used the Western medicine as a tool for advertising its advanced culture. However, the medical orkforce available in Korea was insufficient. The Rule for Uisaeng(Oriental medicine practitioner) was an ordinance decreed in 1913 with a purpose of supplementing the medical workforce. As the Oriental medicine practitioners became official medical workforce, the Japanese Empire could mobilize them in a hygienic administration such as prevention of epidemics. The Uisaengs also tried to adapt themselves to the colonial environment by studying Western medicines. However, the distrust of the Japanese Empire in Oriental medicine continued until 1920s. Manchurian Incident in 1931 brought a change. As the relationship with China aggravated, the provision of medical herb became unstable and the Japanese Empire began to encourage using Oriental medical herb following the Movement for Improving Rural Region Economy. An attempt of the Japanese Empire to utilize the medical herb resulted in a plan to make the Oriental medical herb officinal. The goal was to organize and standardize the Oriental medical herb through a research by the Medical Herb Investigation Committee. However, the medical herb on the table was the one verified by the Western medicine. That is, it was not a traditional medical herb that uses the original theory of Oriental medicine. There was a minority opinion arguing that they should study the Oriental medicine itself. However, that argument was also based on the theory and principles of the Western medicine. Even though an attempt to make full use of Uisaengs expanded as the war continued, the major medical workforce that the Japanese Empire relied on was those trained in Western medicine. In other words, the Japanese Empire did not give a full credit to the Oriental medicine during the colonial era. During the colonization, Japanese Empire used Oriental medicine under the nominal reason of lack of medical workforces. In early 1930s, a policy supporting usage of Oriental medical herb was selected. However, it does not mean that the change in policy encouraged Oriental medicine since the medical herb that the Japanese Empire supported was those that were organized and categorized according to the principles in Western medicine.


Oriental Medicine; Oriental Medical Herb; Uisaeng(Oriental Medicine Practitioner); Oriental Medical Herb Officinal

MeSH Terms

Herbal Medicine/*history
History, 20th Century
Medicine, East Asian Traditional/*history
Western World/history
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