Reconfiguring East Asian Modernity

How the Unorthodox Healer Stone Gorge Yi Connected Supporting the Heart with Strengthening Korea as a Civilisation

In: Asian Medicine

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Korean thinkers debated on the dilemma of how their country should deal with the challenge of modernity. Aiming to resist the westernisation of Korea, the physician Sŏk-kok took the unique approach of using the medical theories of Chinese antiquity to explain Korea’s propitious place in the world. In the context of Japan’s increasing influence leading to annexation in 1910, Sŏk-kok used the model of regional qi in China to explain variation of qi in the world. With China’s collapse, Korea had become the new centre of civilised learning, characterized by its increasing yang qi. Thus, identifying strengthening yang of the East as his solution, Sŏk-kok also challenged the traditional medical orthodoxy of nourishing yin qi by arguing for focusing more on strengthening people’s yang qi. To put theory into practice, the powerful toxic drug aconite became his metaphor to strengthen the yang of Korea as a civilisation through aconite-based drug therapies supporting the heart-minds of individuals.

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  • 4

    Porter 2009, discusses the traditions of Chinese hermits. Using a range of case studies, he highlights the significance of the act of withdrawal to mountains, and the resultant attainment of wisdom. On pp. 18–22, he also discusses the association of solitude in mountains and healing powers.

  • 12

    Ibid., pp. 234–35.

  • 14

    Duncan 2006, pp. 105–26.

  • 15

    Schmid 2002, pp. 3–6.

  • 16

    Soyoung Suh, 2007, p. 92. Doctors of western medicine were assigned primacy in Japan-ruled Korea. DiMoia, 2013, pp. 32–33.

  • 18

    Kim Chŏk, 1979, p. 3.

  • 20

    Kim Chŏk 1979, p. 3. Duncan, 2015, pp. 247–48, discusses Yi Che-hyŏn’s importance as a historian and proponent of Confucian learning. Yi had a long stay in Yuan China and was associated with leading Chinese Cheng-Zhu Learning (often called Neo-Confucianism) scholars. Historians usually place Yi Che-hyŏn as playing a major role in the rise of Cheng-Zhu Learning in Korea, but relevant to the discussion of his lineage descendant Sŏk-kok, Duncan shows that he fits more as a scholar of Ancient Style Learning.

  • 21

    Michael Seth 2011, p. 35.

  • 24

    An 2009, p. 1.

  • 25

    Harrison 2005, pp. 3–4; Epilogue, pp. 159–70. Harrison describes the process of a sense of loss in China over the duration of the twentieth century.

  • 27

    Smith 1959, pp. 166–84; Chong 2014, pp. 3–4.

  • 28

    Palais 2002, p. 496.

  • 32

    Ibid., p. 83.

  • 36

    Kallander 2013, chapter 5, ‘Another Tonghak Revolution, 1904–1907’, pp. 124–46.

  • 37

    Yi Tae-jin 2007, pp. 296, 322, 357.

  • 41

    Yu and Yu 2010, p. 31. Also for discussion on the significance in the Korean historical imagination see Grayson 2001, p. 41; p. 46. For the association of mountains with the curative powers of herbs see Grayson, pp. 364–365.

  • 45

    Kathryn Liscomb 1999, pp. 354–89; For Li Bai wandering, see p. 355. Underwood and Chu, trans., 1929, p. xxxi; Chou 1995, for wandering, pp. 6–8.

  • 49

    Kallander 2013. For discussion on locality and regionalism, pp. 46–49. In 1910, with Japanese annexation, Korea’s capital city changed its name from Hansŏng to Kyŏngsŏng (京城).

  • 51

    Kallander, chapter 4, ‘The Tonghaks Have Again Arisen’, pp. 90–123. To understand the sense that many people of the region hold of inheriting a special place within Korea as a whole, we need to take into account the region’s status during the Three Kingdoms period. Korea was divided into three kingdoms from the first century bce: Silla in the southeast, Baekje in the southwest, while Koguryeo in the north included most of the territory in China known from the twentieth century as the Northeast. The political configurations changed incrementally over time but, nevertheless, the three separate states remained intact for the next seven hundred years. The Silla kingdom flourished until 935, with its borders approximating the modern Kyŏngsang borders.

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  • 53

    See Kallander 2013, p. xxi. He revises the historiography, which mainly sees Tonghak as a nationalist movement, and instead argues that Tonghak was largely a religious movement, inspired by many complex factors, that later turned to political rebellion in response to state oppression. In response to a perceived threat from a growing Catholicism in Korea, the Tonghak followers’ original purpose was to concentrate on cultivation of the heart through study of the Confucian classics combined with rapt attention to achieving physical and spiritual health through the use of talismans and following the Way of Heaven. For Tonghak as a movement with spiritual healing of the individual as key to healing Korea, see Setton, 2000, pp. 132; 137–44.

  • 55

    Chong 1987, pp. 95–124.

  • 61

    Ibid., 2009, pp. 12–16.

  • 62

    Ibid., 2009, p. 16.

  • 65

    Em 2013, p. 5.

  • 66

    Elman 2011. Elman argues that the Chosŏn literati, in their belief that China had strayed from the path of genuine Confucianism as early as the seventeenth century, took on the task of maintaining ‘civilised’ values. In effect, Korea would be the guardian of Confucianism, even more ‘Chinese’ than the Chinese. As Rome adopted much from Greek civilisation, the analogy was that Chosŏn would perpetuate civilisation and refinement by safeguarding values discarded in China. Also see Duncan 2002, pp. 65–94; and Haboush 1999.

  • 68

    Ibid., p. 7.

  • 72

    Hanson 2011.

  • 78

    Ibid., pp. 23–24.

  • 81

    Em, 2013, p. 4.

  • 82

    Cheng 1998, in Hiltebeitel and Miller, eds, pp. 123–95. For analysis of hair in Korea, see Nelson, 1998, pp. 105–22.

  • 83

    Rogaski 2004.

  • 85

    Ibid., p. 24.

  • 86

    Ibid., p. 27.

  • 87

    Ibid., p. 24.

  • 90

    Ibid., pp. 27–28.

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