Although UCLA Health System is well-known for its high-tech, high-quality medical care, it also embraces complementary alternative medicine including traditional Chinese medicine. This ancient medical field includes including acupuncture, herbs, massage, and nutritional supplements; however, only a few medical schools in the United States that teach Chinese medicine require Chinese-language training and, to date, only a handful of Chinese medical texts have been translated into English.
In an article published online on June 26 in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, researchers at UCLA’s Center for East–West Medicine addressed that situation. They note that gleaning information from Chinese Medical texts is difficult because of the complexity of the language and the concepts presented; thus, a need exists for accurate, high-quality translations. Therefore, the center has published a document, which includes a detailed discussion of the issues involved in Chinese medical translation. The document is designed to help students, educators, practitioners, researchers, publishers and translators evaluate and digest Chinese medical texts with greater sensitivity and comprehension.
“This publication aims to raise awareness among the many stakeholders involved with the translation of Chinese medicine,” explained principal investigator Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, founder and director of the UCLA center. The 15-page document, entitled Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine, was developed and written by a UCLA team that included a physician, an anthropologist, a China scholar, and a translator. Study authors Sonya Pritzker, a licensed Chinese medicine practitioner/anthropologist and Hanmo Zhang, a China scholar, hope that the publication will promote communication in the field and play a role in the development of thorough, accurate translations.
The document highlights several important topics involved in the translation of Chinese medical texts, including: the history of Chinese medical translations; which individuals make ideal translators; and other translation-specific issues, such as the intricate balance of focusing translations on the source-document language while considering the language that it will be translated into. In addition, the document addresses issues of technical terminology, period-specific language and style, and historical and cultural perspective. For example, depending on the historical circumstances and language use, some translations may be focused on a Western scientific audience or, alternately, it may take a more natural and spiritual tone. The authors explain that it is sometimes helpful to include dual translations, such as “windfire eye/acute conjunctivitis,” in order to enable a link between traditional Chinese medical terms and biomedical diagnoses.
The final section of the document notes the need for further discussion and action, specifically in the development of international collaborative efforts focused on the creation of more rigorous guidelines for the translation of Chinese medicine texts. “Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine,” was inspired by the late well-known translator and scholar Michael Heim, a professor in the UCLA departments of comparative literature and Slavic studies. Dr. Heims mastered 12 languages during his career. He is best known for his translation into English of Czech author Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The new UCLA document is dedicated to him.
In addition to inspiration from Dr. Heims, the authors note that the document was influenced in large part by the American Council of Learned Societies’ Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts, which are intended to promote communications in the social sciences across language boundaries. It was also influenced by Pritzker’s long-term anthropological study of translation in Chinese medicine, which is detailed in her new book, Living Translation: Language and the Search for Resonance in U.S. Chinese Medicine, recently published by Berghahn Books.