In a premodern society, epidemic diseases had greater influence than ordinary ones, resulting in a strong impact on the disposition and cultural tendency of the population. This project aims at a new understanding of Korean history, previously present ...
In a premodern society, epidemic diseases had greater influence than ordinary ones, resulting in a strong impact on the disposition and cultural tendency of the population. This project aims at a new understanding of Korean history, previously presented as meta-narrative; it focuses specifically on the Koryo era, through the theme of epidemic disease. It is an attempt to analyze the political and social impact of epidemic diseases, and how they were reflected on daily routines and the culture, enabling a new understanding of the history of Koryo.
First of all, we have examined the ideas on disease, held by the contemporaries of the Koryo era, by concentrating on the medical treatise Hyangyakgugupbang(鄕藥救急方). The people of Koryo attributed disease to demons, heavenly judgment, fate, the discord of ying and yang, and excess anxiety and stress. The expensive medicines and names of diseases quoted by the work suggests that it was a first-aid medical treatise for the ruling class, rather than the general public. Consequently, the outlook on disease as presented in this work is the outlook of the ruling class as well as a result of national emergency of Mongolian invasion; this explained why the treatise consisted of narratives personal diseases rather than diseases on the social level, such as acute epidemic diseases.
Epidemic disease, in its essence, is not confined to national borders. Therefore it is necessary to examine, in a medical historical perspective that includes East Asia as a whole. Miasma and murrain crossed borders from China during wars, and the eruptive disease with red spots, in the late Koryo period was from Japan. After the occurrence of epidemic disease during the reign of Yejong, the importance of relief for the poor class was recognized, resulting in the establishment of countermeasures against disease, such as Dong-suh-dae-pi-won, Heamingook, and Jewibo. In addition, medical science of Sung China was absorbed, and medical treatises were published and distributed, and various works were suggested to counter the murrain.
There were several full-scale wars during the era. We examine the relations between war, epidemic diseases, and population migration. Koryo had wars against the Kitans, the Jurchen, the Mongols and the Japanese. 27 epidemic diseases occurred during the 475 years, 20 of them, or a 74.1% occurring during the 152 warring years. Overlapping occurrence of several epidemics during wars, likely causing a great reduction of population, adding to the effect of war casualties. Looking at the specific period engaging in war against the Mongols, the population was reduced by over 40% by the end of the war in 1281.
It was impossible to provide a fully effective countermeasure against epidemics, and psychological panic is very likely to have been manifest. For the rulers, there was a pressing need for stabilizing the public morale. The State applied Taoism on rituals and also on the national medical system. The rituals of Shamanism, previously scorned as superstition or mysticism, were applied in curing diseases. Since they could fill up the gap left by medical aid, the curing systems of Shamanism and Taoism could be preserved for a long time.
Buddhism, the national religion was also involved, together with the flourishing Shamanism and Taoism. In the face of epidemic occurrences, the State practiced various Buddhist rituals, doryang(道場). During epidemics, monks emphasized the help of Bodhi-sattva to be sought in order to overcome the crisis, and published testimonies of miracles. Such narratives encouraged religious fervor, suggesting that it was possible to overcome the crisis of epidemics through religious methods. This resulted in mystic schools, emphasizing the miracles of Buddha. Miracles surrounding Buddha's bones was widely accepted during periods prior to war and during epidemics; the pain of life gave birth to the belief of miracles.