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 Language Polishing
English Translation of TCM
Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine: Volume 10, 2012   Issue 4
Comparative study on WHO Western Pacific Region and World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies international standard terminologies on traditional medicine: Diseases in Internal Medicine (Part 1)
Zhao-guo Li (College of Foreign Languages, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China E-mail: E-mail: zhooushi@163.com)

Received February 11, 2012; accepted February 21, 2012; published online April 15, 2012.
Full-text LinkOut at PubMed. Journal title in PubMed: Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao.

基金项目: 国家社会科学基金资助项目(No. 08BYY009); 国家中医药管理局资助项目(No. ZYYS20090010-2); 国家质量监督检验检疫总局资助项目(No. 200910263); 上海市教育委员会科研重点项目(No. B-7037-12-000001); 上海师范大学重点学科建设项目(No. A-7031-12-001025); 上海师范大学重点科研项目(No. A-7031-12-001025)
Correspondence: Zhao-guo Li, MD, Professor; E-mail: zhooushi@163.com; Blog: zhooushi.blog.163.com


     Currently in English translation of terms concerning diseases in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), three major approaches are often used, namely, literal translation, loan words from modern medicine and transliteration.
     Literal translation is often used in order to avoid misinterpretation and preserve the original features of TCM. “Warm disease” (温病), “cold damage” (伤寒) and “miscellaneous disease” (杂病) are a few examples of such an approach. The approach of loan words is usually used when a disease in TCM is pathologically the same as that in modern medicine. “Common cold” (感冒), “stomachache” (胃脘痛) and “malaria” (疟) are some of the typical examples. Transliteration is usually used when a disease in TCM is so unique that it can neither find its equivalence in modern medicine nor corresponding elements in English. “Bi” (痹), “Gan” (疳) and “Bentun” (奔豚) are a few examples of such kind unique diseases that are difficult to be translated into English and are used to be transliterated in the past.
     With the intensified international communication in the field of TCM, some of this kind of terms now have been translated in order to make it easier for readers to understand. For instance, “Bi” (痹) is now translated either as “impediment” or “obstructive syndrome”, “Gan” (疳) is translated as “infantile malnutrition” and “Bentun” (奔豚) is translated either as “running piglet” or “running-pig syndrome”. Scientifically speaking, the translation of such unique names of diseases is quite inaccurate and even, to some extent, misleading. But for the convenience of international communication, such a translation may be practical. However, for the purpose of correct interpretation, accurate explanation and definition are certainly necessary.
     In the WHO International Standard Terminologies on Traditional Medicine in the Western Pacific Region[1] (abbreviated as the WPRO Standard) and the International Standard Chinese-English Basic Nomenclature of Chinese Medicine compiled by World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies[2] (abbreviated as the WFCMS Standard), the approaches of literal translation and loan words are used much more frequently than transliteration, seeming to indicate that the use of transliteration is quite restricted now. The following is a brief analysis of the English translation and international standardization of the related terms included in these two international standards according to the studies made in the book entitled International Standardization of English Translation of Traditional Chinese Medicine: Study of Theory, Summarization of Practice and Exploration of Methods[3].
     阴病yin disease: (1) disease of yin meridians; (2) a general designation for deficiency patterns/syndromes and/or cold patterns/syndromes of the viscera, also called yin stages of disease transformation
     阳病yang disease: (1) disease of yang meridians; (2) a general designation for excess patterns/syndromes and/or heat patterns/syndromes, also called yang stages of disease transformation
     In TCM, the so-called “yin disease” and “yang disease” are actually concepts referring to different types of disorders that are yin or yang in nature, or related to yin meridians or yang meridians, or located in the zang-organs or fu-organs, or progressing to the yin stage or yang stage. Thus in clinical practice and pathological study, they are not dealt with as individual diseases. Even in the dictionaries of TCM, they are not taken as individual terms.
     伤寒cold damage: (1) a general term for various externally contracted febrile diseases; (2) a condition caused by cold, manifested as chills and fever, absence of sweating, headache and floating tense pulse
     In TCM, the so-called伤寒means three things, febrile disease due to invasion of external pathogenic factors, disease caused by attack of pathogenic cold or cold attack in winter[4]. That is why it has been frequently translated as “exogenous febrile disease”, a little bit wordy, but quite accurate as compared with other ways of translation. However, in the West, translators tend to render it as “cold damage” or “cold attack”, seeming quite equivalent to the original term in structure. In order to simplify the translation of this term, such an imitated way of translation is gradually used by more and more translators in recent years.
     杂病miscellaneous disease: various internal diseases other than cold-induced diseases and warm diseases
     In the term of杂病, the Chinese character杂literally means complicated or confused, but to translate it as “miscellaneous” has gradually become a common practice in recent years. The so-called杂病refers to a variety of diseases in internal medicine caused by various pathogenic factors. In A Full Collection of Miscellaneous Diseases, a book composed of 30 volumes compiled by a Japanese scholar of TCM, and published in 1853, it divided miscellaneous diseases into six major categories, namely, the category due to internal causes, the category due to various disorders of qi, the category due to various disorders of blood, the category due to disorders of viscera and the category due to physical overstrain[5].
     新感new contraction: immediate onset of the febrile diseases after invasion by the exopathogen, marked by exterior syndrome of aversion to wind-cold at the beginning
     In the term新感, the Chinese character感means being attacked or being invaded by external pathogenic factors. In the Chinese-English Dictionary of TCM[4], 新感was translated as “disease caused by recent attack of evils”, a literal approach of translation frequently adopted in the early period of TCM translation. Such a wordy translation, though quite clearly revealing the basic meaning of this term, is obviously not quite practical for communication. About ten years ago, Professor Xie Zhu-fan changed it into “new contraction”[6] which is both concise in structure and clear in meaning.
     时疫seasonal epidemic: epidemic infectious disease in a certain season
     In the term时疫, the Chinese character时means time while疫means epidemic disease. Thus时疫refers to seasonal widespread diseases, such as the intestinal infectious diseases occurring in summer and autumn. In the early Chinese-English dictionaries of TCM, 时疫is usually translated as “epidemic disease”. Comparatively speaking, “seasonal epidemic” sounds more accurate because it has emphasized “time” which is quite important in describing the nature, incidence and pathogenesis of this kind of diseases.
     感冒common cold: affliction of the lung-superficies by pathogenic wind, mainly manifested as fever, chills, headache, general aching, congested nose, sneezing, itching throat and cough
     In the definition of common cold, “lung-superficies” is obviously the translation of the Chinese term肺卫, literally meaning the lung and the defense qi, which in fact describes the close relationship between the lung and the defense qi. According to TCM theory, the defense qi flows outside the vessels to protect the surface of the body while the lung governs the surface of the body and prevents pathogenic factors from invading the body. That is why the lung and the defense qi are often used together to refer to the surface of the body. So the Chinese term肺卫can be simply translated as “superficies” or “body surface”. To translate it as “lung-superficies” seems confusing.
     时行感冒influenza: a disease attributable to invasion of the lung-superficies by an epidemic pathogen that causes acute fever, sore throat, headache and general aching
     The translation of “lung-superficies” in the definition of时行感冒is analyzed above. In TCM, 时行感冒is an epidemic disease usually caused by seasonal pathogenic factors, manifested as chilliness, high fever, headache, arthralgia, lassitude, thirst, sore-throat, red tongue with whitish fur and rapid pulse.
     伤湿dampness damage: a disease due to external contraction of dampness or obstruction of the stomach and intestines by dampness-turbidity
     In the term of伤湿, the Chinese character湿was frequently translated as “wetness” in the early period of TCM term translation. However, in terms of semantics, 湿just refers to a sense of humidity, not so serious as wetness. Maybe that is why “wetness” is gradually replaced by “dampness”. In the definition, “dampness-turbidity” may be the literal translation of the Chinese term湿浊which just refers to dampness. Dampness is heavy and sticky in nature, tends to retain in the location of disease and blocks yang qi. That is why it is often called湿浊in TCM, in which the Chinese character浊means heavy and sticky.
     痢疾dysentery: a disease characterized by abdominal pain, tenesmus, diarrhea with stool containing mucus and blood
     The Chinese term痢疾is similar to dysentery in English. That is why it is often translated as “dysentery”. In the book entitled Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine, this disease is called肠澼. In the book entitled Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Diseases compiled by Zhang Zhong-jing, 痢疾 (dysentery) and 泄泻 (diarrhea) are all called下利characterized by acute intestinal disorder frequently encountered in summer and autumn. In terms of causes, it can be divided into summer dysentery, dampness-heat dysentery, cold dysentery and heat dysentery; in terms of stool, it can be divided into red dysentery, white dysentery, blood dysentery, red-white dysentery, pus-blood dysentery and multicolored dysentery; in terms of severity and duration, it can be divided into pestilent dysentery, toxic dysentery, qi dysentery, dysentery with lockjaw, recurrent dysentery, extraordinary dysentery, long-standing dysentery and deficiency dysentery.
     疫毒痢epidemic toxin dysentery: severe case of dysentery characterized by acute onset of high fever, headache, severe abdominal pain, frequent stools containing blood and mucus, and even loss of consciousness with convulsions or reversal cold of the limbs and cyanosis
     In the current translation practice, 疫毒痢is also translated as “fulminant dysentery” or “pestilent dysentery”, appearing quite concise and clear. In TCM, 疫毒痢refers to severe case of epidemic dysentery, also known as疫痢or时疫痢, usually caused by exuberant pestilent toxin that accumulates and congeals in the intestines, consequently damaging the blood and qi. Clinical manifestations also include deep red tongue with yellow and dry fur, slippery and rapid pulse.
     休息痢intermittent dysentery: chronic dysentery with frequent relapse
     The so-called休息痢in TCM just refers to chronic dysentery with frequent relapse caused by improper treatment, or insufficiency of qi and blood, or retention of dampness-heat in the intestine and stomach due to deficiency of the spleen and kidney. Thus in the WFCMS Standard[2], this term is translated as “recurrent dysentery” which is commonly used in the current translation practice.
     噤口痢food-denying dysentery: severe case of dysentery with utter loss of appetite and vomiting upon eating and drinking
     In TCM, 噤口痢is a serious condition of dysentery caused by consumption of stomach yin and disorder of the stomach due to accumulation of virulent dampness and heat in the intestines, or by damage of the spleen and stomach, or by exhaustion of qi in the middle energizer, usually manifested as anorexia, vomiting, frequent diarrhea, emaciation, oppression in the chest and upper abdomen, crimson tongue with yellow and slimy fur. The commonly used translation of噤口痢is anorectic dysentery. In the WFCMS Standard[2], this term is translated as “food-denial dysentery”, quite similar to that in the WPRO Standard[1]. Comparatively speaking, anorectic dysentery seems more concise and clearer than either “food-denying dysentery” or “food-denial dysentery”.
     霍乱cholera: a disease characterized by sudden onset of simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea with the vomitus and stool like rice water, referring to acute gastroenteritis, food poisoning and cholera
     Though霍乱in TCM is similar to cholera in modern medicine, there is still great difference between them. In TCM, 霍乱is either caused by uncooked cold food and unhygienic food, or by attack of pathogenic cold, summer-heat and epidemic disease, usually divided into cold cholera, heat cholera, dry cholera, dampness cholera and cholera with muscular cramps. While in modern medicine, cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It has a short incubation period, from less than one day to five days, and produces an enterotoxin that causes copious, painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients. In view of such an obvious difference, to use “cholera” to translate霍乱seems improper.
     干霍乱dry cholera: an acute illness characterized by sudden onset of abdominal colic and epigastric oppression accompanied by desire but failure to vomit and desire but failure to defecate
     In TCM, 干霍乱refers to a disease caused by retention of dampness in the stomach and intestines due to improper and unhygienic food or invasion of pestilent factors. Clinical manifestations also include restlessness, pallor, cold extremities, perspiration and deep pulse.
     疟; 疟疾(病) malaria: a disease attributed to contraction of malarial parasites, marked by paroxysms of shivering chills, high fever and sweating, also known as malaria-like disease
     In TCM, 疟is similar to malaria in modern medicine. In the book entitled Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine, this disease is called疟or痎疟; in the book entitled Synopsis of Golden Chamber, it is called 疟病; in the book entitled Great Peace and Benevolence Formulae, it is called疟疾. In terms of clinical manifestations and syndromes, it can be divided into wind malaria, summer-heat malaria, dampness malaria, phlegm malaria, cold malaria, warm malaria, yin malaria, yang malaria, miasmic malaria, malarial mass, chronic malaria and miasma; in terms of time of seizure, it can be divided into tertian malaria, quartan malaria, triple-yin malaria and chronic malaria; in terms of causes, it can be divided into consumptive malaria, deficiency malaria, miasmic malaria and pestilent malaria.
     湿疟dampness malaria: malaria complicated by dampness, manifested as paroxysms of chills and unsurfaced fever, accompanied by impaired sweating, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, slimy tongue coating and relaxed pulse
     Dampness malaria actually refers to malaria that occurs in summer. The clinical manifestations also include general pain, heaviness of the extremities, chest oppression, facial puffiness, soft and slow pulse. In the definition of dampness malaria, the expression “unsurfaced fever” may be the translation of the Chinese term其热不扬which means that the fever is indistinct or mild. The expression “impaired sweating” is hard to understand. In fact sweating is seldom seen in dampness malaria. The expression “relaxed pulse” may be the translation of the Chinese term缓脉which means relatively slow pulse.
     温疟warm malaria: malaria with higher fever and lower chills than an ordinary attack,accompanied by inhibited sweating and dire thirst
     According to the book entitled Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine, warm malaria is usually caused by attack of wind followed by attack of cold, marked by fever prior to chills. Clinical manifestations also include emaciation, consumption of the brains, restlessness and taut pulse. In TCM, warm malaria also refers to a type of epidemic disease. In the book entitled Treatise on Acute Epidemic Warm Diseases written by Wu Youxing in 1642, it says that progress of malaria into the stomach will cause internal syndrome known as warm malaria which can be treated by the therapeutic methods used to treat epidemic diseases.
     寒疟cold malaria: malaria with higher chills and lower fever or even no fever, no sweating, and absence of thirst
     Cold malaria is usually caused by internal retention of cold complicated by attack of malaria in autumn, marked by chills followed by fever, more chills and less fever, or chills without fever. Clinical manifestations still include lumbago, backache, headache, nape ache, taut and tense pulse.
     劳疟taxation malaria: chronic malaria with mild chills and fever, and with attacks being brought on by fatigue
     The so-called劳疟in TCM refers to chronic malaria caused by deficiency of healthy qi or weakness due to long-standing disease complicated by attack of malarial factors, occurring either in the daytime or in the night, clinically manifested as mild chills and fever, accompanied by qi deficiency, profuse sweating and poor appetite. In the current translation practice, 劳疟is also frequently translated as “overstrain malaria” or “consumptive malaria”. In the WFCMS Standard[2], “consumptive malaria” is adopted to translate劳疟. In English, the word taxation means system of raising money by taxes or taxes to be paid. To translate劳疟as “taxation malaria” seems a little bit too literal.
     瘴疟miasmic malaria: severe malaria with loss of consciousness or jaundice
     In TCM, miasmic malaria is clinically divided into two types, heat miasmic malaria, which should be treated by expelling miasma, removing heat and protecting fluid, and cold miasmic malaria, which should be treated by expelling miasma, opening orifices, resolving turbidity and regulating qi.
     瘴气miasma: noxious effluvium that is alleged to cause malaria
     In Chinese, 瘴refers to a supposed noxious emanation from forest, alleged to be the cause of diseases like malaria endemic in certain areas, while瘴气refers to a sort of pestilence caused by dampness-heat complicated with miasmic factors.

1. World Health Organization Western Pacific Region. WHO international standard terminologies on traditional medicine in the Western Pacific Region. 2007.
2. Li ZJ. International standard Chinese-English basic nomenclature of Chinese medicine.Beijing: People’s Medical Publishing House. 2008. Chinese-English.
3. Li ZG. International standardization of English translation of traditional Chinese medicine: study of theory, summarization of practice and exploration of methods. Shanghai: Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers. 2008. Chinese.
4. Ou M. Chinese-English dictionary of traditional Chinese medicine. Guangzhou: Guangdong Science and Technology Press. 1986. Chinese-English.
5. Li YC. A concise dictionary of traditional Chinese medicine. Beijing: People’s Medical Publishing House. 1979. Chinese-English.
6. Xie ZF. English translation of common terms in traditional Chinese medicine. Beijing: China Press of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2004. Chinese-English.
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