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Bridging the Language Gap in Integrative East-West Medicine

In this interview, Professor Xie Zhufan comments on the language barriers that have hindered communication about new research developments in Traditional Chinese Medicine to the West.

Professor Xie Zhufan, an internist of Western Medicine, subsequently became proficient in Traditional Chinese and Integrative Medicine. Formerly Director, and now Honorary Director of the Institute of Integrated East-West Medicine at Peking University, Professor Xie has made significant contributions to the translation of Chinese Medicine into English, and consequently, broadened its reach internationally.


I started this work in the early 80s–last century–with a professor of English at [Peking] University. We worked together and published the first Chinese-English dictionary of Traditional Chinese Medicine because publication in China was very difficult at that time due to the so-called Culture Revolution. We just published it in our own school, but it was known by the commercial press in Hong Kong. Later, the commercial press in Hong Kong published that book again. Then it was the formal publication in 1984. But later we found it not so satisfactory. It maybe acceptable as a dictionary, but from the viewpoint of terminology, it may not be so good because English rendering were usually just explanations, not equivalence. So we made up our minds to collect all the terms used in the world and make comparisons– which one is better and which one is not acceptable. And then we published another dictionary that we called “Classified Chinese- English Dictionary of Chinese Traditional Medicine”. Afterwards, we collected more and more books, publications, and also dictionaries in this category in order to make comparisons between each term. At that time, we set up some standards of how to select them because everybody has their own view. Even in the United States, we can read textbooks and monographs with very different terminologies, but they are speaking of the same thing. So, we made up our minds to do the research work. It was supported by SATCM. The first criterion for the selection is that it must correspond to the Chinese original meaning. We don’t prefer the literal translation for each character because some authors in foreign countries are Sinologists; thus, they are interested in the Chinese language but not Chinese medicine. So they made some very queer, very strange translations. Hence, as a Chinese, we can’t understand what the term means when we learn about Chinese medicine. That is why we made our own translations.


Original Paper by Professor Xie: Comments on Nigel Wiseman’s A Practical Dictionary of Chinese Medicine (I) —On the “word-for-word” literal approach to translation

This video is part of the CEWM Visual History Project.

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