Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen Complete Translation - 2 Volumes

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This is the first annotated English translation of the ancient Chinese life sciences text Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen based on an application of rigorous philological principles. The creative reception of so-called TCM in many Western countries has led to a conceptual and clinical reality that is rather distant from its beginnings in Han-dynasty China. It is through a comparison of today’s realities with these beginnings that a realistic awareness may emerge of the process that Chinese medicine has undergone in its adaptation to the values and requirements of modern times.

This translation of a 2,000 year-old text introduces readers to ideas, and their linguistic expression, developed in Han China in the context of the manipulation of the length and the quality of human life so that it might last as long as possible with minimal physical and mental suffering. To permit an easy comparison of this translation with the original Chinese text, a complete reproduction of the Chinese reference text can be found in A Dictionary of the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen. The English translation in the present volumes is consecutively marked by numbers referring to both the historical chapters and the pages and lines of the 1983 Chinese edition of the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen.


Back in 2005, Paul Unschuld gave a workshop at the Pacific Symposium in San Diego on the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen. As we were friends from previous meetings in the U.S., he asked me to bring my collection of translations of the Huang Di Nei Jing to the class to compare English translations. I brought about a dozen, and he proceeded to demonstrate how all of the translations missed the mark and failed to communicate accurately what was in the original Chinese text. The main reason for this, of course, was the lack of a systematic translation method, footnoting, glossary or access (in most cases) to the original Chinese source material.

All traditions, authors, teachers and texts refer to the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen Ling Shu as the foundational text of the Chinese medical tradition, and the source of all medical principles, including channel theory, five phase theory, viscera/ bowel theory, and the circulation of qi and blood. Although modern TCM textbooks refer to the Nei Jing in various quotations, this foundational text remains poorly known in our profession, especially in the West. Because of this essential weakness in study and training, a high percentage of practitioners have less than optimal access to the deep wellspring of material that has inspired scholars and practitioners for the last two thousand years.

I cannot express how important it is to have the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen available in English at long last. Having sat and studied this book since its release in August 2011, I have rarely put it down for long, and have found more medical wisdom in its pages than any other Chinese medical text. I recently had a conversation with Dr. Unschuld, who answered my questions on the Su Wen project. From beginning to end, the project lasted 23 years. Dr. Unschuld had a team of several students and co-workers, along with Dr. Zheng Jingsheng of the Research Institute of Medical History and Literature at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. They compiled seven hundred monographs in Chinese and Japanese from a 1500-year period, along with 2800 papers published by Chinese authors during the 20th century. Dr. Unschuld translated the entire text seven times to determine consistency of authorship, and analysed inconsistencies in the text with a German sinological philologist, Dr. Hermann Tessenow (the main compiler of A Dictionary of the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen that was published in 2008 and included the original Chinese text, a CD concordance and 1800 technical terms and their locations in the text). They analysed the text from a philological perspective, determining that the Su Wen that we have today was taken from 360 segments of the work of 20 to 30 authors, thus giving a broad view of Chinese medical theory as expressed in the Han dynasty, when all of the canonical texts (including the Shang Han Za Bing Lun, Shen Nong Ben Cao and Nan Jing) were produced. They researched various commentaries, and included excerpts from physicians such as Wang Bing (who compiled the original text and added the famous chapters 66 to 74 that comprise the Wu Yun Liu Qi [Five Periods and Six Qi] sections on chronobiology) and Zang Jing-yue, who recompiled the Nei Jing in his own work, the Lei Jing (Categorised Classic) in the 16th century. An introductory text, Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen. Nature, Knowledge and Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text had been written by Dr. Unschuld in 1998-1999, including an appendix explaining the Five Periods and Six Qi in collaboration with Dr. Zheng Jinsheng.

There is simply no comparable translation of the Su Wen - nor indeed any Chinese medical text - available to English-language readers interested in this subject. Some practitioners have criticised Dr. Unschuld for not being a practitioner of Chinese medicine (he is a medical anthropologist), but what clinician could find the time and the resources to undertake such a translation? Dr. Unschuld collaborated with me on a doctorate level Su Wen course at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in the autumn of 2012, communicating with and answering questions from practitioners/students. During this course he made it clear that he wanted this work to be available to modern practitioners to carry out their own personal, clinical and academic research on the text. The true value of this work is that it lays out the foundations of our field in order to strengthen our understanding of our roots. As stated in the Prolegomena section of Volume One, "If these ancient ideas are restored to life by our translation they will serve various useful purposes. First, these ideas will lend themselves to a comparison with similar traditions from the beginning of European medicine and may help us to better understand 'what is medicine'. For us to understand [this], access to English translations of the seminal life science texts of Chinese antiquity, unadulterated by modern biomedical concepts is essential. Second it is only on the basis of such translations that the later development of Chinese medicine can be traced, in particular its recent redefinition as Traditional Chinese Medicine in contemporary China and abroad. The creative reception of so-called TCM in many Western countries has led to a conceptual and clinical reality that is rather distant from its beginnings in Han dynasty China. It is through a comparison of today's realities with these beginnings that a real awareness may emerge of the process that Chinese medicine has undergone in its adaption to the values and requirements of modern times."

For myself, from the day my copy of the Unschuld Su Wen arrived at my door, I have studied it, and developed teaching materials and clinical insights from it that inspire me on a daily basis. Each day I choose a small section of the book, work with it, and try to internalise its message. Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee once said that a 經 (jing, canonical text) helps us to be better practitioners by aligning our thought processes with heaven and earth qi, so that we become more aware of the changing cycles and seasons, and are better able to visualise these transformations in our patients. Personally speaking, Chinese medicine is no longer only an issue of points, herbs and formulas, but rather how I see and interact with patients and work with their essential qi and blood to awaken their self-healing mechanisms. Chinese medicine is in essence an application of wisdom as medicine, and by studying the canonical foundation texts of our medicine, we grow, our knowledge grows and our clinical acumen grows as well. It is not just a matter of data - if we do not know how to organise the various point protocols and patterns, if we do not understand the channel system as the Han dynasty physicians envisioned it, if we cannot rely on pulse diagnosis and understanding seasonal qi, then how can we expect to have the same clinical results as the founders of this great medical tradition?

Z'ev Rosenberg











More Information
Author Paul U. Unschuld
Publication Date 1 Jul 2011
Publisher University of California Press
Number of Pages 1132
Book Format Hardback
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