Why I Translate

Recently, I decided to get back into the task of translating Chinese medical journal articles into English.  While working through the first selection, I reflected on the process of translation and decided that I wanted to share something with you about my motivation to translate.

Generally speaking, translating Chinese medical material into English is considered an esoteric pursuit.  Even among those in the field of Chinese medicine, most assume that it is extremely difficult, and I have been told by those who have never attempted it that it would simply be impossible for them.  For those of us with experience in this area, we realize that translating Chinese medical writings into English is a technical skill that, in fact, demands only a limited amount of working knowledge.  Blood, sweat, and tears, not a special gift or superior intellect, are the key credentials needed for successful translation.

Having the capability to translate Chinese medical material is a motivation, but there are two far more important reasons why I translate.  First, with the vast ocean of untranslated Chinese medical material that exists, it is up to those of us in the field who cherish this medicine to get to work on building a larger body of high quality resources.  Chinese medicine is still a recent immigrant to the West and, if we want to learn all it has to offer us, we need to hear more from the architects of this system, the doctors in China themselves.  The more we translate from the Chinese the more likely we are to accurately perceive the essence of Chinese medicine before it becomes irrevocably altered in its adoptive home.

The other reason I translate Chinese medical works into English is a personal one:  going back to the source, reading about Chinese medicine in Chinese, allows me a better understanding of the basic logic inherent in the medicine.  As medical anthropologists have shown, every medical system is the product of the culture where it originated, its philosophies, beliefs, history, and its language.  The ways in which we make connections in Chinese medicine--and Chinese medicine is, at its core, all about networks--directly relate to how effectively we practice.  If there is one single thing I have learned in my many years in the clinic, it is that clinical outcomes are clearly the product of practicing Chinese medicine according to its own rules, on its own terms.

If you are a patient, share this with your practitioner in the hopes that he or she will join us in this important endeavor.  If you are a practitioner or a translator, I invite you to participate in the collegian effort to grow our corpus of professional medical literature and, in the process, dive more deeply into the soul of your medicine.  We will thank you, your patients will thank you, and, once the value of translation becomes obvious to you, you will be thankful to have the opportunity to connect with all of the illustrious Chinese mentors who have taken the time to share their invaluable experience with us.