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Comments On Nomenclature In Traditional Chinese Medicine
Copyright©tcmdiscovery.com,Guilin Sino-western Joint Hospital Chinese Medicine Advisory Department
traditional chinese medicine
Correctly naming a discipline can directly portray the object of study, clearly pointing out its essence, and presaging its future development. Carefully naming an independent discipline may provide the breakthrough necessary to establish its independence. Given the importance of nomenclature, the terminology being applied to the various branches of traditional Chinese medicine (T.C.M.) is disconcerting. Current usage of such terms as "Chinese medicine", "oriental medicine", "herb", "herbology" or "herbal medicine" and "acupuncture" in my view are improper. These terms are discussed in the present article for the purpose of defining their meaning more precisely.

The traditional medicine of China is the classical medicine of China and is distinguishable from modern Chinese medicine. T.C.M. is a medical science guided by traditional Chinese medical theories, and includes natural product medication, acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, plaster, steam bath, etc. as modalities in the treatment and prevention of disease.


T.C.M. is called "zhong yi xue" (phonetic transcription of Chinese character, the same below) in Chinese. The Chinese characters "zhong yi xue" and "zhong hua yi xue" both translate literally into the English words "Chinese medicine". However, to refer to T.C.M. as "Chinese medicine" has two shortcomings. First, "Chinese medicine" fails to convey the rich "tradition" associated with T.C.M.; and second, this translation leads to confusion by not distinguishing between T.C.M. and modern Chinese medicine. Examples of the confusion associated with the global term "Chinese medicine" include the following. Currently, some books and journals published in English include "Chinese medicine" in their titles; however, are concerned only with T.C.M. On the other hand, another journal titled "Chinese Medical Journal" is concerned only with modern Chinese medicine. Although the above titles "Chinese medicine" suggest that they contain similar material, the material in fact is quite different. In addition, some institutions with the name "Chinese medicine" in fact are concerned only with T.C.M., not modern Chinese medicine. Finally, an organization named "Chinese Medical Association" is a society involved only with modern medicine in China. The subject material of "Chinese medicine" as used above differs so extensively that T.C.M. and modern Chinese medicine must have a distinguished nomenclature.


Medicine in the broadest sense should include both modern medicine and traditional medicine. However, the term, "medicine" typically refers only to modern medicine. The word "traditional" is often used to distinguish traditional medicine from (modern) medicine. For these reasons, "zhong yi xue" should be translated into English according to its precise definition, "traditional Chinese medicine". This translation conveys both the traditional and the Chinese aspects of the discipline, and distinguishes it from modern Chinese medicine.

Copyright©tcmdiscovery.com,Guilin Sino-western Joint Hospital Chinese Medicine Advisory Department

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