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Stone Gorge Lee: Medicine, Confucianism, and Political Dissent in Colonial Period Korea

James Flowers, Johns Hopkins University

In this paper, I examine the self-styled Confucian intellectual and physician, Lee Kyu Chun. Born in 1855, he lived until 1923 during a period of acute change in Korea. I situate Lee within his socio-political context, instead of the current historiography that limits understanding of Lee to his medical ideas. Broadening out from intellectual history, I argue that, as a political thinker and writer, and medical reformer, Lee’s political dissent was coupled with his stance on medical ideas. Lee’s challenge to orthodox medical thought involved a refutation of the Choson model based on Zhu Xi type Neo-Confucianism and by extension, Zhu Danxi styled orthodoxy. His refutation of normative Zhu Xi thought posed a direct challenge to the Korean ruling class. Although Lee styled himself as a Confucian traditionalist, his ideas resonate strongly with the ideas prevalent in Korea shaped by both the Korean Enlightenment Movement and the Tonghak Movement. My intervention in the scholarship is to argue that Lee’s role as a radical political dissenter needs to be taken into account if we are to understand his ideas on medical reform.