Posted : 2009-07-31 18:00
Updated : 2009-07-31 18:00

Mirror of Eastern Medicine Becomes UNESCO Heritage

The first edition of “Donguibogam,” the encyclopedic medical book written in 1613 was placed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register Thursday. The book is the seventh registration for Korea. / Korea Times

By Han Sang-hee
Staff Reporter

An encyclopedic medical book written in the 17th century during the Joseon Kingdom was included in the UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, Thursday.

The "Donguibogam," literally meaning the "Mirror of Eastern Medicine," was among the 35 items added to the register. It was written by a royal physician, Heo Jun, and published by the Medical Center for the Royal Family of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).

The Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea announced Friday that UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura accepted the proposal at the three-day meeting of the International Advisory Committee of UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme held in Bridgetown, Barbados.

"Donguibogam received very good reviews. The panel said that the content was original and priceless and that it was a great heritage that is still used in East Asia. They also pointed out the fact that it was used to cure various illnesses for hundreds of commoners, even before Western medicine and treatments arrived in Asia," Choi Young-ho of the administration, said.

"The book successfully synthesized competing contemporary theories of medicine that had accumulated in East Asia for two millennia and went on to integrate medical knowledge and clinical experience together in a single collection," the administration wrote in a report sent to UNESCO.

He added that the registration would boost the efforts to bring international recognition of the book.

The book not only represents the scientific level of Korea, but also practicality, which was the reason for its wider use in Japan and China. Working as the backbone of Eastern medicine for the past three centuries, the "Donguibogam" is still referred to among modern Eastern medicine experts.

Heo (1546-1615) wrote the book in 1610 following the order of King Seonjo (1552-1608), who was looking to found an innovative public health program. It was published in 1613 by the Medical Center for the Royal Family.

Heo wrote numerous medical texts, but "Donguibogam" was his most significant. He traveled around the country searching for accessible remedies while the Korean alphabet was adopted together with Chinese characters in some parts so that commoners could also access the book.

It consists of 25 volumes dividing 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 acupuncture.

The addition of the book makes Korea the only Asian nation with a total of seven cultural heritages included in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. The other six are the Hunmin Jeonggum manuscript (registered in 1997); the "Annals of the Joseon Dynasty" (1997); Jikji or the second volume of the "Anthropology of Great Buddhist Priests' Zen Teachings" (2001); Seungjeongwon Ilgi or the "Diaries of the Royal Secretariat" (2001); the Tripitaka Koreana (2007); and Uigwe or the "Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty" (2007).

The Memory of the World Register lists documentary heritage which has been identified by the International Advisory Committee during its meetings and is finally endorsed by UNESCO. Other items that made it to the list this year include the Diary of Anne Frank, the royal archives of Madagascar and the Registry of Slaves of the British Caribbean (1817-1834).

The list, started in 1997, now has a total of 193 entries from around the world.
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