Iranian Journal of Public Health 2017. 46(10):1309-1317.

East Asian’s Perception of Western Countries’ Urban Hygiene and Public Health in the Late Nineteenth Century: A Review Article
You-Ki MIN, Sam-Hun PARK


Background: Modern hygiene administration in Japan and Korea began to be organized in the end of 19th Century by accepting Western public health system. Then, how did the elite in these two East Asian countries recognize and understand Western public health movement in the 19th Century? Answering this question could provide historical knowledge about the background of starting modern hygiene administration in East Asia. 

Methods: To understand the birth of modern public health system in East Asia, Japanese and Korean elite’s records on Western countries were reviewed. The documents examined were The Iwakura Embassy 1871-73 published in 1878 as an account of Japanese Meiji government’s special ambassador sent to the United States and Europe, and Seoyugyeonmun (observations on travels in the West) published in 1895 by a Korean intelligent.

Results: The Iwakura Embassy 1871-73 suggested modern water supply and drainage, roadside trees, and parks, to prevent contagious diseases and improve urban hygiene. Seoyugyeonmun emphasizes that hygiene is an important task that civilized government has to be in charge. So, specific tasks of public health should be imposed on sanitary police.

Conclusion: Public health was one of the major factors that contributed to national prosperity in the 19th century. Such recognition enabled organization of hygiene administration to be part of the project pursuing enlightenment, modernization, and civilization at the end of the 19th century in Japan and Korea.



Public health; Urban hygiene; Governmentality; Miasma theory; Sanitization

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