‘On the Origin of Medicine’ from Eastern Medicine [for] Prolonging the World and Preserving People by Yi Chema (1837–1900)

In: Asian Medicine

The translation below is an essay, ‘On the Origin of Medicine’ (Ŭiwŏnnon 醫源論), taken from the textbook1 Eastern Medicine [for] Prolonging the World and Preserving People (Tongǔi Susebowǒn 東醫壽世保元, 1894),2 by Yi Chema 李濟馬 (1837–1900, styled Tongmu 東武).3 Yi Chema, hailing from the peripheral northern part of Korea, was a Confucian-cum-physician and also served as military officer and local magistrate during the Chosŏn 朝鮮 dynasty (1392–1910). Having no specific allegiances to any intellectual lineage in either medicine or Confucianism, he was able to translate his critical yet inspirational impulses into a distinctively novel style of clinical practice. His ideas built on the observation that sentimental/emotional, or better, psychosocial dispositions of a person are inextricably associated with the visceral dynamics of the person.4 He thus put forward as an overarching scheme of organisation the four constitutional types: Greater Yang (Taeyang 太陽) Person, Greater Yin (Taeŭm 太陰) Person, Lesser Yang (Soyang 少陽) Person, and Lesser Yin (Soŭm 少陰) Person. Later dubbed ‘Sasang Medicine’ (Sasangǔihak 四象醫學), Yi Chema’s distinctive way of knowing and style of practice became one of the main intellectual currents of Korean medicine during the twentieth century. Its history thus provides an illustrative example of the diverse landscape and historical dynamics of East Asian medicine.

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