The only existing Korean transcript of the Dongui Bogam consists of just the three volumes of the first chapter, "Naegyeong'' (Overview of the Inner Body). The Academy of Korean Studies, which is the custodian of the Dongui Bogam, has unveiled the hangeul version for the first time.
/ Courtesy of Academy
of Korean Studies
By Chung Ah-young
Since the ``Dongui Bogam,'' or Mirror of Eastern Medicine, an encyclopedic medical book written in the 17th century during the Joseon Kingdom, was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register on July 30, people's interest in the ancient book is mounting.
In line with the recent designation, the Academy of Korean Studies, which has custodianship over the medical book in its archive named Jangseogak, has unveiled its hangeul (Korean alphabet) version for the first time.
The version is presumed to have been written in the court style of Korean script around the 19th century to help women and the uneducated public better understand the book. Back then, Chinese characters were only understood by the upper class.
The ``Dongui Bogam'' was written by a court physician, Heo Jun, and published by the Medical Center for the Royal Family of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
After traveling around the country searching for accessible remedies, Heo (1546-1615) wrote the book in 1610 following an order by King Seonjo (1552-1608), who was looking to found an innovative public health program. It was published in 1613 by the center.
The ``Dongui Bogam'' consists of 25 volumes divided into five chapters ― ``Naegyeong'' (Overview of the Inner Body) that deals with the book's worldview; ``Oehyeong'' (External Appearance) that explains the medical function of visible parts in the human body; ``Japbyeong'' about various diseases; and two chapters on ``Tang-aek'' or how to collect, process, prescribe and use substances for medicinal effects, and ``Chimgu,'' or acupuncture.
The Korean script consists of three volumes covering only ``Naegyeong.'' ``It is the only existing Korean transcription of ``Dongui Bogam.'' We can estimate that many women in the court could refer to this Korean script to cure illnesses. We can see how the medical book was widely used even hundreds of years after it was first published,'' said Kim Hak-soo, a researcher at the academy, in a press conference Thursday.
He said that the book was printed many times during the following centuries to circulate medical knowledge and techniques to outlying regions of the country.
Kim explained that although the Korean translation only covered ``Naegyeong,'' given that its first volume includes the contents of the book, it was apparently intended for the entire ``Dongui Bogam'' to be translated. ``But we don't know why the translation stopped because there is no historical record about the Korean version of `Dongui Bogam,''' he said.
Also, the researcher said that the handwriting style is the typical court style of the 19th century, and was probably written by a woman. Because the content of the original text was difficult, a male official might have annotated the Chinese characters for medical terms, he said. ``It's not only historically meaningful as the only existing Korean script of the medical book, but also linguistically important as the documents show the literary style popular at the royal court,'' Kim said.
Kim Jung-bae, president of the academy, said the organization holds not only the Korean transcription but also the original ``Dongui Bogam,'' which is well preserved.
Specialized research organizations ― the National Library of Korea and the Academy of Korean Studies ― have taken over custodianship from the government. The two sets in existence today were first preserved in the two national archives at Mt. Odae (now the National Library of Korea) and Mt. Jeoksang (now Jangseogak at the Academy of Korean Studies) under the protection and management of the government of the Joseon Kingdom.
``We're very happy to see our historical assets listed in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. To celebrate the registration of the Bogam, our institution has decided to exhibit the Korean version because it was known to just a few scholars and was unavailable to the public before,'' he said.
The president said that Jangseogak also has other valuable historical documents and books such as King Yeongjo's poem collection.
``Gaining momentum from the designation of the medical book as part of the Memory of the World Register, we will push ahead with efforts to help other historical documents to be added to the list,'' the president said.
The academy is also planning to hold a special exhibition to show the Korean transcript and the original ``Dongui Bogam.''