Translating TCM nomenclature into English: A bilingual reference tool needed for clinical practice

Lily Lim, Ping Chen, Vincent Xian Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Introduction: Translating traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terminology into other languages, although notoriously difficult, is vital for medical practices outside China. Given the diverse and notably inconsistent translations of TCM terms in bilingual glossaries, dictionaries and the general TCM literature, there is a real and urgent need to study the merits and drawbacks of the representative translations in order to better support clinical practice. Methods: Ten commonly used bilingual terminology references were selected to investigate the translations of ten key terms on 经络 jingluo. As a case study, the sample of translations was analyzed in terms of the use of translation strategies and the strengths and weaknesses of the different translations. Results: Four major translation strategies were identified, the most common being literal translation and semantic translation, followed by a combination of transliteration and either literal or semantic translation, and, lastly, transliteration. Each of the ten reference works uses three or more translation strategies. It is worth noting that several conventionally established translations of the key terms, including 经脉 jingmai, only partially convey the meaning of the Chinese term and could therefore result in misunderstandings. Conclusion: This study demonstrates the usefulness of studying the most representative bilingual glossaries to understand the merits and constraints of diverse translation strategies. We argue for the need to construct a comprehensive bilingual reference work containing the major representative translations of TCM terms to be used in different contexts, which will be instrumental for the clinical practice and spread of TCM.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102155
JournalEuropean Journal of Integrative Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Jingluo
  • Nomenclature
  • Terminology
  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • Translation principles
  • Translation strategies


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