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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 79-80

Chinese idioms and traditional chinese medicine

Postgraduate English Teaching Department, Foreign Language School, Anhui University of Technology, Maanshan, Anhui, China

Date of Web Publication9-Oct-2018

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Anwen Zheng
Postgraduate English Teaching Department, Foreign Language School, Anhui University of Technology, Maanshan, Anhui
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_15_18

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Like traditional Chinese medicine, Cheng Yu can also be viewed as a brilliant facet of traditional Chinese culture. In the essay, the author attempts to illustrate the close link between the two through some examples.

Keywords: Chinese characters, Chinese idioms, traditional Chinese medicine

How to cite this article:
Zheng A. Chinese idioms and traditional chinese medicine. Chin Med Cult 2018;1:79-80

How to cite this URL:
Zheng A. Chinese idioms and traditional chinese medicine. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 Jun 29];1:79-80. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2018/1/2/79/242571

  Introduction Top

Chinese idioms, or Cheng Yu (成语), normally composed of four Chinese characters, are widely viewed as the essence of the nation's language, which is partly due to their strong ideographic function with such a concise form and partly to the profundity of the cultural origins, involving ancient literatures, fables, historical anecdotes,[1] as well as the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Quite a number of Chinese idioms, in fact, originated directly from the practice of TCM, which had dominated the medical care for more than 2000 years in this oriental country until Chinese contacted and gradually accepted western medicine in the 19th century.

Today, idioms related to TCM have gone far beyond the medical community and entered into the daily utterances among average people. Normally, such idioms depict one particular facet of TCM: some give a vivid account of the magic curative effect of TCM, such as qǐ sǐ huí shēng (起死回生) and yào dào bìng chú (药到病除); some reveal the fundamentals of TCM, such as yīn dì zhì yí(因地制宜) , yīn rén zhì yí(因人制宜), and yīn shí zhì yí (因时制宜); and still others sing high praise for the work ethics and the affirmative attitudes, held by many, toward the TCM profession itself, such as xuán hú jì shì (悬壶济世).[2]

This essay attempts to deal with the origins and usages of the above-mentioned idioms, respectively. Definitely, the six idioms chosen at random merely constitute a small fraction of the total; however, a sound knowledge of their formation may help us further understand TCM, which is closely related to the Chinese ancient culture.

  Qǐ Sǐ Huí Shēng (起死回生): Bring the Dying Back to Life Top

The source of the idiom can be traced back to a legend of Bian Que (扁鹊), a famous and exceptionally talented physician living in the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BC), who learned his medical skills and expertise from Chang Sang Jun (长桑君), a famous teacher of medicine. It is said that Dr. Chang trusted Bian Que to such a degree that finally, he imparted all his secret prescriptions to the young man, with which the young man also made his fame in medical circle.

One day, the legend goes, Bian Que traveled to a kingdom named GuoGuo (虢国), where the prince just breathed his last breath, and no one believed that the prince could be brought back to life. Bian Que, however, claimed that the prince was still alive and should be given first aid immediately with acupuncture. Despite his disbelief, the official who was in charge of the matter allowed Bian Que to have a try, and he really made it. With the spread of the story, people came to believe that Bian Que was able to bring the dying back to life.

  Yào Dào Bìng Chú(药到病除): Pills Work Like a Charm Top

Unlike qǐ sǐ huí shēng, the idiom yào dào bìng chú was not borrowed from a legend but from a medical book, composed by Xichun Zhang (1860–1963), a famous medical scientist in China's modern history. The complete quotation from the book is “yào dào bìng chú, xiào rú fú gǔ”(药到病除 效如桴鼓), which means no sooner had the medicine taken effect than the illness vanished, just as someone beat the drum, and he could hear the drum simultaneously. Today, this idiom is mainly uttered to praise the efficacy of a certain medicine, but sometimes, the extended meaning of this idiom is also used to express someone's happiness when he finds a quick solution to a tough problem.

  Yīn Dì Zhì Yí (因地制宜): Adaptation to Local Conditions Top

The idiom yīn dì zhì yí is frequently used in contexts like, say, before a new policy is going to be implemented or a new measure to be taken. The purpose is to stress the compatibility between the environment and the new policy or measure, which, in turn, may determine whether the policy or measure can be successfully carried out.

As for the origin of the idiom, it has much to do with the so-called holism principle, a fundamental principle of diagnosis in TCM, which holds that, in his medical diagnosis, a doctor cannot jump to a conclusion, just by analyzing a patient's symptoms; other factors, however, including the region where the patient inhabits, the season when he got sick and the unique physical conditions of the patient also should be taken into account before a correct prescription can be made, for ancient Chinese doctors believed that physical health of human being depended heavily on the harmony between human and nature itself. Hence, two other synonymous idioms yīn rén zhì yí (因人制宜) and yīn shí zhì yí (因时制宜) arise and are frequently quoted in the similar contexts as well, with an emphasis on individual uniqueness and the time when he got ill, respectively.

The three idioms constitute an important concept, that is, the so-called three yīn, which, to a large extent, reflects the attitudes adopted by most TCM doctors toward their diagnosis. An individual's physical condition, which is anything but constant according to TCM, varies not only from region to region but also from season to season. In other words, in addition to dietary habits and lifestyles, China's geography, which is characterized by the coastal East, sandy West, foggy South, cold North, and humid Central area, also plays a critical role that gives rise to different diseases. Therefore, it is no wonder that a comprehensive perspective is of the greatest significance in a TCM diagnosis.

  Xuán Hú Jì Shì (悬壶济世): Practice the Medicine to Help the People Top

Confucianism, as we know, had been the dominant ideology in ancient China for over 2000 years, which exerted an important influence on all walks of life, including medical work. rén (仁), one of the fundamental values harbored by Confucianism, which means benevolence or kindness, can be best embodied in the idiom xuán hú jì shì. Xuán hú means a hung calabash, which was used to contain drugs and usually hung near the doctor's doorstep to convey the message to the public: I am a doctor, and what can I do for you? A hung calabash, in ancient China, used to be an emblem of the medical profession, similar to the emblem with a snake coiling around a cane for the WHO. jì shì means “benefit mankind” or “do good to society”, which can be regarded as the top working ethic of TCM doctors, and conventionally, Chinese trust their unique medicine and respect the TCM doctors on the whole.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Bin Z. Modern Chinese Language. Shanghai: East China Normal University Press; 2006. p. 158.  Back to cited text no. 1
Xu Z. Xin Hua Cheng Yu Ci Dian. Beijing: The Commercial Press; 2012. p. 900, 901.  Back to cited text no. 2


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