China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Maeng Hwa-sŏp 孟華燮 was born in 1915 in Pundang neighborhood about eighteen miles southeast of Seoul, Korea. Despite difficulties in his early life, when he passed away in 2002, he was one of the most famed and respected physicians of Korean medicine in South Korea. As a physician, he drew on past textual knowledge, yet he was also a self-made man, learning on the job and adjusting to new conditions of strife and opportunity. With neither formal training nor college education, his experience in finding practical solutions to health problems for rural farmers, and for himself, meant that he was a sought-after physician at a young age. This paper traces how Maeng’s early life as a rice farmer, a laborer in herbal apothecaries, and an herb peddler in Seoul, served as training for his later success as a physician. The paper also examines how Maeng understood his experience-based medical knowledge as a process in which he practiced Confucian medicine as an act through which he fulfilled his social responsibilities as a direct descendant of the Chinese scholar Mencius. Thus, for Maeng, knowledge was not only utilitarian, but also an expression of social worth. His life also illustrates the way in which many Koreans fought through adversity in the twentieth century not only to survive but also to flourish. Maeng’s life tells a story of many transformations in Korea over the twentieth century, one in which there was also much continuity from a Confucian past.