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Three Classics of Koryo Medicine

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Three Classics of Koryo Medicine

Korea made a leep forward in medical studies in the 15th–early 17th century.

The medical professionals at that time made an analysis of books of Koryo medicine and published superior books based on the results of researches into Korean herbs and their application in treatment. The typical ones are Hyangyakjipsongbang, Uibangryuchwi and Tonguibogam.



Hyangyakjipsongbang written by Ro Jung Rye (?–1452) and other medical men was released in 1433. This compendium of clinical medicine, consisting of 85 volumes, contains methods of treatment suited to the Koreans’ physical constitutions, the methods established on the basis of all the successes of the traditional Koryo medicine and remedial experience in using domestic materials until the early 15th century.

Divided into two parts of clinical treatment and Koryo pharmacy, the book gives a summary of each disease and explains in easy language the cause, pathology, symptoms and curative means, and methods of acupuncture and moxibustion.

For polydipsia, for example, it gives a brief account of its pathogenesis and suggests more than 100 treatment methods for the disease. The book provides 10 706 prescriptions for 959 kinds of diseases and 1 479 methods of acupuncture and moxibustion. It is distinguished by a greater amount of treatments suggested, including folk remedies, than other Korean medical books. As it is the first medical compendium compiled in Korea, its merit is still accepted.

Uibangryuchwi is an encyclopedic collection of Koryo medicine compiled in 1445 by Ro Jung Rye and other medical men by summing up all the successes and experiences achieved in development of Koryo medicine until the early 15th century and referring to over 150 Korean medical books. It was made up of 365 volumes at the time of compilation and went through three times of revision and amendment before it was published in 266 volumes in 1477. Three volumes are dedicated to general introduction and the other 263 to particulars.

The part of general introduction comprehensively describes methods of medical examination, prescription, dosages, traits which medical staffs must keep, and general principles in treatment. The part of particulars is divided into 95 sections which deal with all the diseases addressed in modern medicine—the internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology, dentistry, dermatology, gynaecology and paediatrics and other problems—and describe their causes, symptoms and treatments (Koryo medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, physical training and diet). This work is similar to modern medicine in classification—principles of treatment, human physiology, various diseases treated in clinical medicine, care of health, and even the theory of Kyongnak.

Tonguibogam is a complete compendium of Korean medicine compiled by Ho Jun (1545–1615) in 1596–1610, based on his experience from his long medical practice and hundreds of classical medical books at home and abroad. This book was published in 1613. This book describes different medical treatments and prescriptions suitable to the customs of life and the structure of the human body of the Korean people. It consists of 25 volumes in total—two volumes of catalogue, four of internal treatments, four of surgical treatments, eleven of various remedies of petty troubles, three of use of medicinal decoctions and one of acupuncture and moxibustion.

The part of internal treatments describes physiological functions of all the five viscera and six entrails and their diseases; that of surgical treatments addresses different diseases of skin, ear, nose, mouth and eye; that of various remedies of petty troubles indicates ways of medical examination, causes of diseases and symptoms and their prescriptions of different diseases that were not mentioned in earlier parts; and gynaecological and paediatric problems are also included. In the medicinal decoction part are introduced more than 1 400 kinds of traditional medicines in general use in Korea and their effects, diseases for which these medicines are efficacious, methods of gathering herbs for those medicines and processing them, and their habitats and even local names underneath; the acupuncture and moxibustion part shows positions of needles and moxa cones and diseases which are easily cured through the treatments.

This book is significant since it sees physical training and a regular routine of life as of fundamental importance and medical treatment as of secondary importance. This book is still highly evaluated for its practical value as well as its scientific contents.

These books are called three classics of Koryo medicine or three compendiums of Oriental medicine, of which Uibangryuchwi is considered the best.

Prof. and Dr. Kim Un Thaek,
Kim Il Sung University


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