Jang Geum bigraphy, stories - Korean physician

Jang Geum : biography


Jang Geum (fl. early 16th century; family name unknown) was reputedly the only female Royal Physician in Korean history. She was mentioned about seven times in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, albeit with very vague and sketchy details. It is known, however, that King Jungjong was pleased with Jang Geum's medical knowledge and trusted her with taking care of royal family members. Henceforth, Jang Geum became the third highest-ranking officer in the Court, and was granted the use of Dae() (which means "great" in Korean) before her first name.

Despite sources that attest to Jang Geum as a real person, it is still a topic of debate among scholars.

It is worth noting that Jang Geum is still, to this day, the only female physician of a Korean head of state or government.

Mentions in Annals of the Joseon Dynasty

Mentions of Jang Geum, or a "female doctor", happened on these occasions:

  • March–April of 1515, when Jungjong's second wife (Queen Janggyeong) died as a result of complications from childbirth. Imperial court officers were trying to persuade the king to punish all medical women who treated the king's wife (including Jang Geum) severely. King Jungjong refused, saying that:
    • "Jang Geum deserves a big credit for her role in the safe childbirth of palace ladies, but I have never awarded her for her actions until now, because of other affairs. Now you (the court officers) are telling me to punish her because the Queen is dead, but I won't do that as well as I won't reward her. That's enough."
  • 1524, when The Annals noted that:
    • "Dae Jang Geum was better than any other medical women in the Palace. As a result, she was permitted to look after the King"
  • 1533, when The Annals quoted a comment by the King on his health:
    • "I have recovered from several month's sickness. The Royal Doctors and Pharmacists deserve praise. Jang-geum and Kye-geum, the two medical women, also will be rewarded with 15 rice bags, 15 bean sacks, and 10 cloths, respectively."
  • January 29, 1544, when The Annals quoted an order issued by the King:
    • "I haven't executed my duties for a long time since I caught a cold. A few days ago, I attended an academic seminar (to discuss philosophies), but the cold weather made my condition worse. I already told Bak Se-geo and Hong Chim, the royal doctors, and top medical woman Dae Jang-geum to discuss about the prescription. Let the Medical Minister know that."
  • February 9, 1544, when The Annals said the King praised Dae Jang Geum for his recovery from a cold.
  • October 25, 1544, when The Annals recorded a conversation between an Imperial Minister and Jang Geum on the King's health, which is rapidly deteriorating. Jang Geum was quoted for saying this:
    • "He (the King) slept around midnight yesterday, and has also slept for a short time at dawn. He just passed his urine, but has been constipated for more than 3 days."
  • October 26, 1544, when The Annals quoted this from the King:
    • I'm still constipated. What prescription should be made is under discussion. The female doctor (Dae Jang Geum) knows all about my condition." Later, Jang-geum explained her prescription for the king's symptoms to the ministers.
  • October 29, 1544, when The Annals reported that the King has recovered and he granted all his medical officers a holiday. (The 56 years old King eventually died 17 days later, on November 15, 1544.)

The entry on October 29, 1544 was the last entry regarding Jang Geum.

Portrayal in television

Jang Geum was portrayed in the popular Korean drama series Dae Jang Geum (also known as Jewel in the Palace) by Lee Young Ae. The show was critically well received and was an incredible ratings success in many Asian countries. However, the portrayal of Jang Geum in this series is considered to be fictionalized because Jang Geum was portrayed as a Palace Chef-turned-Medical Lady. This is mainly because of the vague details on Jang-Geum's Life.

Mention in other medical annals

Jang Geum was also mentioned in a book title "Yi dynasty Medical Officer's Journal". The following was a text regarding Jang Geum's origins and achievements, as recorded in the medical journal.

"Medical Lady Jang Geum, whose origins canot be traced, received the right to be called 'Dae Jang Geum" under an edict issued by the 11th King of Korea, Jungjong, in the 18th year of his reign [1524-1525]. At that time, there was no precedent of a Medical Lady treating a King, but the Emperor trusted in Jang Geum's method of treating illness with food. Jang Geum, with the granting of the right to use "Dae" in her name, is certainly an epic lady whose name will be recorded in the history books."

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