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Korean traditional medical book gains world heritage status

Donguibogam, treature No. 1085 (Photo: The Cultural Heritage Administration)The Cultural Heritage Administration announced on Friday (July 31) that a well-known traditional Korean medical encyclopedia on oriental medicine has gained world heritage status with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

UNESCO decided to add the book, known as "Donguibogam" (pronounced as "Dong-uibogam" in Korean) or the "Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine," in the UNESCO Memory of the World during its meeting held on July 31 in Barbados, according to the Cultural Heritage Administration.

The addition of the Donguibogam, the first medical book added to the UNESCO heritage list, makes it the seventh Korean addition to the UNESCO of Memory of the World.

Drawing of the internal organs of human body in Donguibogam (Photo: The Cultural Heritage Administration)Donguibogam was edited in 1613 by famous oriental medicine doctor and court physician Heo Jun (1539-1615) after receiving an order from King Seonjo (1552-1608), the 14th king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

This book is regarded as a comprehensive medical encyclopedia on oriental medicine in East Asia and has been studied by both students of Oriental and Western medical science. It contains vast knowledge on how to diagnose and treat a number of diseases by using acupuncture, heat stimulation and other oriental medicinal treatments.

The designation of Donguibogam reflects the book’s historic value, its importance as a source of medical knowledge, its contribution to society and world history and its cultural influence, the Cultural Heritage Administration said.

Since UNESCO initiated its Memory of the World Register for the purpose of preserving and disseminating the documentary heritage of the world in 1997, Korea’s Hunminjeong-eum (Korea’s first instruction book on Hangeul), Joseon Wangjosillok (Annals of the Joseon Dynasty) (1997), Buljo Jikji-simche-yojeol (Selected Sermons of Buddhist Sages and Seon Masters), Seungjeongwon Ilgi (Diaries of the Royal Secretariat) (2001), Goryeo Daejanggyeong (Tripitaka Koreana) and Uigwe (Collection of Royal Protocols for the Joseon Dynasty) (2007) have all gained world heritage status.

Buljo Jikji-simche-yojeol (top) and Seungjeongwon Ilgi Hunminjeong-eum, meaning "Correct Sounds to Instruct the People," is Korea’s first instruction book on Hangeul, Korea’s unique writing system. It was published in 1446 by King Sejong the Great (1397-1450), the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), who also created and promulgated the new Korean alphabet characters through this book.

Joseon Wangjosillok (Annals of the Joseon Dynasty) is a collection of 1,893 books that cover 472 years of royal records of the Joseon Dynasty.

Buljo Jikji-simche-yojeol, compiled in 1372 by the monk Baegun (1298-1374), contains the essentials of Seon (Zen) Buddhism. The key words of the title, "Jikji-simche" were taken from a famous phrase about attaining enlightenment through the practice of Seon.

The Seungjeongwon Ilgi was kept by the Seungjeongwon, the Royal Secretariat of the Joseon Dynasty. This is a detailed record of the daily events and official schedule of the court, from Joseon Dynasty’s first king, Taejo (r. 1392-1398), to the 27th and last, Sunjong (r. 1907-1910).

The Goryeo Daejanggyeong, also known as the Tripitaka Koreana, is the world’s most comprehensive and oldest intact version of the Buddhist canon in Chinese script, with no known errors in all 52,382,960 characters, which are organized in over 1,496 titles and 6,568 volumes.

The Goryeo Daejanggyeong (left) and the Uigwe (right)

The Uigwe is a collection of Royal Protocols for the 500-year-long Joseon Dynasty, which shows a unique form of documentary heritage. Its comprehensive and systematic collection of writings and paintings provides a detailed account of the important ceremonies and rites of the Joseon court. 

For more information about UNESCO heritags in Korea, click here.

By Yoon Sojung Staff Writer

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