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  • Writer's pictureGuy Shababo

Medicinal Purposes

I was reading King T’aejo’s record on the Veritable Records from the 26th day of the eighth month of 1398. Not just any day – this is that fateful day where Yi Bang-won (AKA the future King Taejong) got rid of two of his siblings, killing a slew of scholar-officials on the way. I noticed the name of two familiar medicines on the way, ch’ŏngsim (淸心) and sohab (蘇合). These were given to the hands of one servant names Sogŭn (小斤) who would later serve an interesting role in the plot.

From T'aejo Sillok  Reference of Two Medicines
From T'aejo Sillok Reference of Two Medicines

The first medicine, ch’ŏngsim or the Clear Mind has sort of interesting history. A fairly complicated and detailed recipe appears in Hŏ Chun’s tongŭi pogam (東醫寶鑑) from 1613. It contains fairly regular ingredients such as licorice and white peony, some expensive stuff like ginseng and some expensive rare stuff like musk and rhino’s horn. It also contains some uheang (牛黃), a gallbladder stone from bovines. The last ingredient was fairly expensive in Chosŏn as was considered a specialty of Cheju Island. Since one had to slaughter quite a lot of cows before finding one, this ingredient was at times abused. King Sukjong is notorious for ordering the slaughter of hundreds of cows for the sake of his precious medicine (See Sukjong sillok, day 16, month 7, year 39).

Back to the point, according to Hŏ Chun, the ingredients are cooked, pound together, dried and rolled as a tight ball, finally to be covered in a leaf of pure gold. Very showy. It is an emergency medicine, designed to be used after a stroke, anxiety attack and all kind of nerve issues, including the infamous facial nerve paralysis.

Ch'ŏngshimhwan ("clear mind pill") - Picture by the National Institute of Korean Language used under Creative Commons:
Ch'ŏngshimhwan ("clear mind pill") - Picture by the National Institute of Korean Language used under Creative Commons:

The Qing Dynasty doctor Wú Táng吳瑭 mentions in the wēnbìng tiáobiàn (温病条辨) the recipe and claims that it comes from the third century shānghánlùn (傷寒論), of which the earliest copy we have is the Ming Dynasty rendition of the 1065 Sung Dynasty reprint.

Today you can find it in Korea in any convenience stores. In a small red and black bottle, already dissolved in liquid and heated, ready for consumption, it is used as a magical remedy for hangover (or more often as a preventive measure).

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