The transmission and reception of Chinese medicine: Language, the neglected key

Nigel Wiseman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

10 Scopus citations


In the development of Chinese medicine in the West, emphasis has been placed on immediately utilizable clinical information to the detriment of an accurate representation of East Asian practice and the tradition of experience in which it is based. The body of English-language literature that has developed does include genuine attempts to present the East Asian tradition accurately. Nevertheless, it also includes contributions by people who have little or no linguistic access to East Asian experience in the healing contained in East Asian-language sources and who have had only brief contact with East Asian clinicians. It further includes versions of Chinese medicine that are adapted to perceived Western needs, often without substantiation in either scientific terms or in the East Asian medical tradition. We have a body of literature that is not only composed at least in part by a narrow, often overly personalized view of Chinese medicine. But what is more, this body of literature is blighted by highly variable terminology that often hampers the accurate transmission of Chinese medical concepts to Westerners, and that is not sufficiently unified to ensure unequivocal communication. In short, the development of Chinese medicine in the West has suffered by failure to accord due importance to gaining direct access to the East Asian tradition, and at the core of every aspect of this problem is the failure to meet the challenges posed by language. This failure can only be fully remedied by encouraging students and practitioners to learn Chinese or other East Asian languages, by promoting translation of primary literature, and by nurturing a process of term standardization. The present paper outlines these proposals, and the four papers that follow it, whose titles are listed below, expound them in greater detail. The last two papers will appear in the next issue of the Journal as 'Language, the Neglected Key. Part 2'. The Transmission of Chinese Medicine: Chop Suey or the Real Thing? Translation of Chinese Medical Terms: Not Just a Matter of Words Learning Chinese: Feasibility, Desirability, and Resistance Chinese Medical Dictionaries: A Guarantee for Better Quality Literature

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-36
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


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