Translating traditional Chinese medicine anchored in philosophy
: Towards a fuller account of the cultural richness of Su Wen

  • Yiwen Yin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Often reputed to be a “Bible of Traditional Chinese Medicine”,黄帝内经 (Huang Di Nei Jing) is a pioneering medical textbook extant in China. Many Traditional Chinese Medicine terms and theories used in today’s society are rooted in素问 (Su Wen), the first part of Huang Di Nei Jing. However, the increase in the number of English translations of Su Wen has led to problematic discrepancies and even textual misinterpretations of a number of TCM concepts, principles and norms. Therefore, this study centres on the emerging importance of TCM and the significant problems of translation that this emergence poses, both in terms of translation practice and of cultural encounter. In brief, the principal problem is that, unlike modern medicine and health-care cultures which are based on experiments and data, TCM considers the human being as an organic whole in unison with nature, rather than as a damaged machine that needs to be repaired. By analyzing Su Wen alongside other ancient Chinese masterpieces, this thesis repositions TCM as a philosophy of healing. Through comparing different translations of Su Wen made to various purposes, this thesis explains how different backgrounds and aims affect the ways in which translators address the cultural richness found in TCM. With the help of two ancient Chinese methods of literary criticism, 以意逆志 (yi yi ni zhi), and 诗无达诂 (shi wu da gu), this research suggests a composite picture of TCM, not discernible in any single translation, by highlighting its various aspects rather than relying on a single interpretative perspective.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2026
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsChinese Scholarship Council (CSC)
SupervisorPiotr Blumczynski (Supervisor) & Chen-En Ho (Supervisor)


  • Comparative studies
  • cultural richness
  • philosophy of healing
  • TCM translation

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