Reception of Translated Classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Spanish-speaking World: A Survey of Seven Spanish Versions of Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) : Chinese Medicine and Culture

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Reception of Translated Classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Spanish-speaking World: A Survey of Seven Spanish Versions of Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic)

Hu, Wen-Wen✉,

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/MC9.0000000000000026
  • Open

Abstract

1 Introduction

As an important branch of traditional medicine with a history of over 3,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an essential part of Chinese culture. TCM boasts a complete, integrated system of medical theories, clinical practice, and therapeutic methods; it is highly respected in the Chinese-speaking world and has gained increasing attention worldwide. The classics of TCM cover intricate concepts and clinical details, and they introduce a highly practical holistic healing system; they are at the top of reading lists for TCM researchers and practitioners. Hence, translation of TCM classics, which serves individuals who cannot read ancient Chinese texts, is crucial in promoting international communication related to TCM.

Su Wen (《素问》 Basic Questions) and Ling Shu (《灵枢》 The Spiritual Pivot) are collectively known as Huangdi Neijing (《黄帝内经》 The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic), one of the four classics of TCM. Huangdi Neijing systematically discusses the principles and doctrines of human physiology, pathology, and treatment in TCM. Unschuld remarks that Huangdi Neijing “plays a role in Chinese medical history comparable to that of the Hippocratic writings in ancient Europe.”1 Previous studies on translating Huangdi Neijing have focused on English translations2–6; translating Huangdi Neijing into other languages, which accounts for an essential part of international communication for TCM, has attracted little attention.

Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and the official language of 21 countries. After Chinese, Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the world. However, little research has been conducted on Spanish translation and communication of TCM classics, including Huangdi Neijing. Zhang (张焱) et al.7 were the first to give a brief introduction to Spanish translations of TCM classics and noted the illustrated translation of Huangdi Neijing in Spanish in 2010. Li (李照国)8 briefly listed Spanish translations of some TCM classics in the 21st century, including the Spanish translations of Ling Shu published in 2009 and Su Wen published in 2014. However, neither of those reports offered detailed information nor an introduction to translated versions; there have been no in-depth studies of Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing.

The present study examined all Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing in book form (most of which have never been examined) and investigated their overseas reception. This study objectively researched the translation and communication of TCM classics in the Spanish-speaking world; it addresses the lack of information about translation and international communication of TCM classics; and it provides insights for promoting the communication of TCM culture in the non-English-speaking world. It should be noted that the Spanish-speaking world here has no strict geographic boundaries: it includes countries where Spanish is the official language and countries where it is a main foreign language, such as the United States.

2 Research objectives and data

This study collected eight Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing: two full translated versions and one abridged translated version of Su Wen; two full translated versions and two abridged translated versions of Ling Shu; and one adapted translated version of both Su Wen and Ling Shu. The Spanish translation of Huangdi Neijing started with the translation of chapters 1 to 13 published in different issues of the journal of the Sociedad Española de Médicos Acupuntores (Spanish Society of Medical Acupuncturists) (Note 1); the other seven versions were translations that were officially published in book form, including reprints (Table 1).

Table 1 - Overview of Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing
No. Translator(s) About translator(s) Book name Year of first publication Content of the book
1 José Luis Padilla Corral (Note 2) Spanish; Medical Ph.D.; Founder of S. E. M. A.; Professor of acupuncture The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic: The Spiritual Pivot (Nei King Ling Shu) 1980–1981 Abridged translation of Ling Shu (13 Chapters)
2 Shuai Xuezhong (帅学忠) 9–11 (Note 3) Chinese; Professor of Hunan College of TCM; English Translator of TCM The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic: The Spiritual Pivot (HOANG TI NEI KING: Ling Shu) 1982 Abridged translation of Ling Shu (66 Chapters)
3 Teresa Sans Morales 12–14 Spanish; Sworn translator and interpreter of English, French, and Spanish The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic: Basic Questions (Hoang Ti Nei King: Su Wen) 1990 Full translation of Su Wen (Two Parts)
4 Roberto González G. 15 Mexican; Ph.D. in TCM;
Professor of acupuncture; Acupuncturist
The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic: Basic Questions (MEDICINA TRADICIONAL CHINA: El primer canon del Emperador Amarillo El tratado clásico de la acupuntura) 1996 Abridged translation of Su Wen (47 Chapters)
Yan Jianhua (烟建华) Chinese; Professor of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine
5 Zhou Chuncai (周春才) 16 Chinese; Painter; Independent writer The Illustrated Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (HUANGDI NEIJING: gráfico pra cuidar la salud) 1997 Adapted translation of Su Wen (18 Chapters) and Ling Shu (12 Chapters)
HanYazhou (韩亚洲) (Note 4) Chinese; Art editor
6 Julio García 17 Spanish; Other personal information not found (Note 5) The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic: The Spiritual Pivot (LÍNG SHŪ: Canon de Medicina Interna del Emperador Amarillo) 2002 Full translation of Ling Shu
7 Julio García 18 Spanish; Other personal information not found The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic: Basic Questions (SÙ WÈN: Canon de Medicina Interna del Emperador Amarillo) 2005 Full translation of Su Wen
8 Víctor Aguilera 19–21 Spanish; Acupuncturist The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic: The Spiritual Pivot Volume I; Volume II; Volume III (Huangdi Neijing Lingshu Tomo I; Tomo II; Tomo III) 2019 (Volume I); 2020 (Volume I); 2021 (Volume I) Full translation of Ling Shu (Three Volumes); Retranslated from the French version of Nguyen Van Nghi, Tran Viet Dzung, and Christine Recours Nguyen in 1994–1999
Rosa María Canas Spnaish; Acupuncturist; Director of Instituto de Medicina Natural y Energética Barcelona

The present study investigated the reception of the seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing published in book form in terms of the following three parameters: (1) collection records of each Spanish version of Huangdi Neijing found in libraries worldwide and the distribution of the libraries that owned them; (2) book reviews and citation counts of the Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing in international journals; and (3) customer reviews of the Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing on Amazon. To a great extent, assessing the three parameters was able to present a clear picture of the reception of the Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing. The seven versions are referred to as Shuai’s version, Sans’s version, González and Yan’s version, Zhou and Han’s version, García’s Ling Shu version, García’s Su Wen version, and Aguilera and Canas’s version.

3 Reception of seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing

3.1 Summary of seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing following WorldCat search

OCLC’s (formerly known as the Online Computer Library Center) WorldCat is the largest online public access catalog globally: it makes library collections findable and accessible worldwide. It allows readers to locate a book, video, or other item of interest and find which libraries (over 30,000 libraries in more than 100 countries) own the item. The data in WorldCat are updated in real time.22 The number of collection records of a book in global libraries and distribution of libraries that own an item can be regarded as good yardsticks for measuring a book’s cultural influence. With translated texts, libraries tend to collect more popular and recognized versions. A greater number of collection records indicates better reception of a translated text; the distribution of libraries that own a translated text can present a snapshot of the coverage and communication of the translation. The data in the present study were collected from WorldCat on March 29, 2022. The search results of the seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing (including different editions) worldwide appear in Table 2.

 Table 2 - Collection records of seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing on WorldCat
Version Year of publication City of publication: publisher Collection record (distribution of libraries)
Shuai’s version 1982 Madrid: Las Mil y Una Ediciones 5 (Spain: 4; USA: 1) Total: 7 (Spain: 6; USA: 1)
2004 Madrid: Editorial Dilema 2 (Spain: 2)
2009 Buenos Aires: Ediciones Continente 0
Sans’s version 1990 Madrid: Mandala Ediciones 0 Total: 4
(Spain: 3;
2004 Madrid: Editorial Dilema 4 (Spain: 3; Singapore: 1)
Singapore: 1)
2009 Buenos Aires: Ediciones Continente 0
González and Yan’s version 1996 Mexico, D.F.: Editorial Grijalbo Total: 10 (Spain: 1; Mexico: 2; UK: 1; USA: 6)
Zhou and Han’s version 1997 Beijing: Editorial Delfin Total: 3 (China: 1; Belgium: 1; USA: 1)
García’sLing Shu version 2002; 2015 Madrid: JG Ediciones Total: 3 (Spain: 3)
García’s Su Wen version 2005; 2014 (digital edition); 2015 Madrid: JG Ediciones Total: 2 (Spain: 2)
(0 digital edition)
Aguilera and Canas’s version 2019 Madrid: Editorial Dilema 1 (Spain: 1) Total: 1 (Spain: 1)
2020 0
2021 0

Table 2 presents 30 collection records of all seven Spanish versions: 16 records in Spanish libraries; eight in the US libraries; two in Mexican libraries; and one each in Belgium, China, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. González and Yan’s version ranked highest with 10 records; Shuai’s version was second with seven records; and Sans’s version ranked third with four records. There were 12 records published by Editorial Dilema. No digital copy of the seven versions could be found in the WorldCat search.

3.2 Book reviews and citation counts of seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing

Peer review is essential for the overseas promotion of translated texts. For the overseas reception of TCM translated texts, reviews by overseas experts on Chinese studies or history are highly important. The present study searched for book reviews of Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing written by peer experts abroad in the international journal databases of Web of Science (including SciELO Citation Index), Scopus, and EBSCOHost on March 29, 2022. SciElO Citation Index includes research in regional journals in the Caribbean, Latin America, Portugal, South Africa, and Spain, and it can be searched in English, Portuguese, or Spanish. The search found no book reviews of the seven Spanish versions.

Citation counts in international journals reflect the degree of scholarly interest in publications. The author searched the international journal databases of Web of Science (including SciELO Citation Index), Scopus, and EBSCOHost on March 29, 2022, to collect the citation counts of the seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing. The author found only one citation of García’s Su Wen version and no citations of the other versions.

3.3 Customer reviews of the seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing on Amazon

Overseas reader reviews are important indicators for evaluating the reception of translated texts: they exert a strong influence on subsequent readers or buyers. Amazon is the world’s biggest online retailer, and the company owns localized stores, which differ in selection and prices. The author searched on Amazon (including Spain-based website and Mexico-based website) on March 29, 2022, and collected all customer reviews of the seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing. The results appear in Table 3.

 Table 3 - Number of customer reviews of seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing
Version No. of customer reviews Note
Shuai’s version 21 (For digital edition: 15)
(USA: 11; Spain: 8; Mexico: 2)
Sans’s version 6 (Spain: 4; USA: 2)
González and Yan’s version 0 Item not found on Amazon
Zhou and Han’s version 0
García’s Ling Shu version 0
García’s Su Wen version 1 (Spain: 1)
Aguilera and Canas’s version 0

Shuai’s version ranked highest with 21 customer reviews, among which 15 were for the digital edition. The latest review appeared in Spain on January 22, 2021. There were 11 customer reviews in the United States, eight in Spain, and two in Mexico. Sans’s version came second with six customer reviews (four in Spain, two in the United States). García’s Su Wen version received only one review, which was made in Spain on January 16, 2016. González and Yan’s version did not appear on Amazon. No customer reviews were found for the other three versions.

The number of book reviews by Amazon readers reflected the popularity of the Spanish translations of Huangdi Neijing among overseas general readers; the comments of Amazon readers were direct feedback of the reading experience for each version. Evidently, Shuai’s version was the most popular. Among the 21 customer reviews, 18 were positive. The editor (Fernando Cabal) of Shuai’s version wrote the following in the prologue to Shuai’s version:

“Estamos seguros de que esta obra enriquecerá tanto al néofito que por primera vez se acerca a la acupuntura como al acupuntor experto, que encontrará en ella un inagotable legado de sabiduría y una invitación constante al estudio y la reflexión.”11

(English translation:

“We are sure that this work will enrich both the neophyte, who approaches acupuncture for the first time, and the expert acupuncturist, who will find in it an inexhaustible legacy of wisdom and a constant invitation to study and reflection.”)

Among general readers, it was clear that Shuai’s version attracted the targeted readers as the editor expected. The author quotes two reviews here:

  • 1) “Es un libro difícil, si no entiendes nada de MTC o acabas de empezar a estudiarlo, es mejor que esperes un poco a tener más conocimientos ya que muchos de los nombres de los puntos tienen su terminología china antigua, y puede crear un poco de confusión. Pero aún asi es un libro que todo acupuntor debe leer una vez en su vida la menos.23

(English translation:

“This is a difficult book. If you know nothing about TCM or are just start learning, you had better start reading the book later: many acupoint names have ancient Chinese terms, and they may cause some confusion. But still, it is a book that every acupuncturist should read at least once in their lives.”)

  • 2) “Un clásico imprescindible para todo estudiante de MTC. Es un libro complicado de entender, pues las traducciones a veces son demasiado literales y pueden llevarnos a pensar que no avanzamos en su lectura. Hay que tener paciencia y no limitarse a leerlo, sino también consultar otros textos más modernos que nos faciliten su comprensión.”23

(English translation:

“A must-have classic for every TCM student. It is a difficult book to understand because the translations are sometimes too literal and can lead us to think that we are not making progress in our reading. We must be patient not only in reading it but also in consulting other more modern texts that make it easier to understand.”)

Similar comments appeared in other customer reviews of the book. Readers considered it an essential classic for acupuncturists and TCM students, but it was unsuitable for readers with no background knowledge of TCM. Sans’s version was the second-most popular on Amazon. The book features an introduction by Alfredo Embid; Sans retranslated the English version of Huangdi Neijing of Henry C. Lu (吕聪明) into Spanish (Note 6). Lu’s translation was initially intended for students of the Chinese College of Acupuncture and Herbology. Sans deleted the introduction of each chapter and the comments of each section made by Lu in her retranslation, but Sans’s version still attracted TCM students. Two reader reviews were as follows:

  • 1) “Si te interesa la medicina alternativa, concretamente la tradicional china, éste libro (en sus dos partes) es como el ABC. Tienes que tenerlo sí o sí.24

(English translation:

“If you are interested in alternative medicine, specifically traditional Chinese medicine, this book (in its two parts) is as fundamental as ABC. You must have it.”)

  • 2) “El contenido está bien, hecho en falta la trascripción fonética, en chino, de algunos términos. El formato es manejable pero algo voluminoso. Lo recomiendo para los estudiantes de acupuntura.24

(English translation:

“The content is fine, but the phonetic transcription, in Chinese, of some terms is missing. The format is manageable but somewhat bulky. I recommend it for acupuncture students.”)

3.4 Discussion and implications

From the present survey, applying the three parameters described above, the Spanish translations and communications related to Huangdi Neijing presented the following four features.

  • 1) The Spanish translations of TCM classics received little academic attention. The total number of collection records of Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing is small. The author found no book reviews and only one citation in the international journal database. The author attributes that situation to three factors.
    • A) TCM, which is considered alternative medicine overseas, is not well recognized in a world dominated by Western medicine. The Spanish government has yet to legalize TCM, which limits its development in Spain.
    • B) No acknowledged academic publisher participated in publishing the translated versions. Las Mil y Una Ediciones, Editorial Dilema, and JG Ediciones are all small Madrid-based publishers, specializing in alternative therapies. Editorial Delfin is subordinate to China’s Foreign Language Bureau, and it specializes in publishing children’s books and works in education and social sciences. Editorial Grijalbo was a Mexican publisher with representation in Spain, and it currently belongs to Penguin Random House. It became known for publishing works in social science, political philosophy, and social and political theory. In 1989, Editorial Grijalbo was bought by the Italian group Mondadori, which was Italy’s largest publisher, and it became part of the Penguin Random House Editorial Group in 2012. Among the above publishers, Editorial Grijalbo is the most influential, which may partly explain González and Yan’s version having the largest collection record on WorldCat.
    • C) The seven translated versions did not originally intend to serve an academic purpose. Zhou and Han’s version aimed to popularize culture. The illustrated book is easy to read, using simple words and short sentences. The other six versions are mainly for imparting knowledge to TCM students, clinical practitioners, and people interested in TCM. The intended readers of Shuai’s version and Sans’s version have already been analyzed. González states in the translator’s note that the translation is invaluable for professionals dedicated to the study, research, and clinical application of TCM as well as laypeople generally interested in the study of Chinese culture.16 To facilitate understanding, pronunciation, and meaning for students, García renders terms in pinyin with separated syllables and with accents18; the translation method of TCM terms is applied in both his Ling Shu and Su Wen versions. Aguilera and Canas’s version is a translation of the French version of Ling Shu translated by Nguyen Van Nghi, Tran Viet Dzung, and Christine Recours Nguyen in 1994–1999. With the translated notes of Ma Yuantai (马元台) and Zhang Yin’an (张隐庵) (Note 7) as well as notes by Nguyen Van Nghi, the French translators intended to guide the readers (professionals or students of TCM and acupuncture) in appreciating the subtly of TCM and acupuncture.20 Furthermore, none of the seven versions conforms to academic writing format or style. Thus, with respect to the above three factors, academic neglect to the Spanish translations of Huangdi Neijing is understandable.
  • 2) Among general readers, the Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing have likewise not been well received. With customer reviews, Shuai’s version was the most popular, and Sans’s version ranked second. This is partly due to the three versions published by Editorial Dilema being available on Amazon, whereas the other versions are not. It is notable that the digital edition of Shuai’s version received the most customer reviews: this implies that publication of a digital edition is crucial in promoting the spreading of a translation in the modern era.
  • 3) The reception of Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing indicated that the focus of translation and communication of TCM classics in the Spanish-speaking world is Spain. Most translators and publishers of Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing were from Spain. The largest collection records were located in Spanish libraries, and most customer reviews came from Spain. Regarding collection records and customer reviews, it should be observed that the United States plays a vital role in the translation and communication of TCM classics in the Spanish-speaking world. Hispanics are the largest minority in the United States, and that country has the world’s second-largest population of Spanish speakers (after Mexico).25 The market in the United States cannot be ignored. It is remarkable that though Argentina published both Shuai’s version and Sans’s version, no collection record was found in Argentinian libraries. This shows that Spanish translations of Huangdi Neijing are not well accepted in Argentina, which could be attributed to a lack of public awareness of TCM classics.
  • 4) It was evident that Chinese scholars were widely involved in Spanish translations of Huangdi Neijing. In terms of collection records and Amazon’s customer reviews, González and Yan’s version and Shuai’s version were the most recognized among the seven translations. This indicates that Chinese scholars play a crucial role in the translation and communication of TCM classics in Spanish.

China is currently propelling the international spread of TCM. Toward promoting the reception of TCM classics and TCM culture in the Spanish-speaking world, some implications can be summarized from the above analysis.

  • 1) The comprehensive communication of TCM classics in the Spanish-speaking world should not ignore academia. Translating TCM classics for academic purposes places a high demand on both translators and publishers. One solution is to render into Spanish well-recognized academic versions of translations from other languages. With Huangdi Neijing, Unschuld’s version enjoys a high reputation among both academics and general readers,6 which would make it ideal for retranslation.
  • 2) The existing Spanish versions of TCM classics were mainly produced by small publishers specializing in alternative therapy. Collaboration with more recognized publishers – especially academic ones – in the Spanish-speaking world would be appropriate for future translation projects. Furthermore, producing a digital edition is essential for publishers.
  • 3) Spain is currently the center of Spanish translation and communication of TCM classics. However, Mexico and the United States are great potential markets and cannot be ignored.
  • 4) Collaboration between Spanish translators and Chinese scholars has proven very effective in Spanish translations of Huangdi Neijing. Chinese scholars should participate more in the translation and communication of TCM classics in the Spanish-speaking world. It is essential to raise awareness of non-English translations of TCM classics among Chinese scholars.

4 Conclusion

Even for Chinese, reading the classics of TCM is difficult; the obstacle for Spanish readers is very much greater. Translations of TCM classics endeavor to bridge the gap between those works and Spanish readers. The present survey of seven Spanish versions of Huangdi Neijing is the first attempt to assess the current situation regarding the translation and communication of TCM classics in the Spanish-speaking world. It is evident that Spanish translations of those works have been poorly received in academia and among general readers in the Spanish-speaking world. Regarding the marginal status of Spanish translations of TCM classics, four suggestions are advanced to promote those works and TCM culture in the Spanish-speaking world: (1) rendering into Spanish well-recognized academic versions of English translations; (2) collaboration with more recognized publishers and producing digital editions; (3) promoting the potential markets of Mexico and the United States; and (4) collaboration between Spanish translators and Chinese scholars.

Notes

Note 1: Unless otherwise specified, the author undertook all the English translations of Spanish proper nouns and quotations in this article.

Note 2: The author contacted José Luis Padilla and obtained the copies published in the journal of the Spanish Society of Medical Acupuncturists; however, Padilla did not provide the specific issue number of the journal in which each chapter was published, so the author was unable to provide complete information about the translation in the reference.

Note 3: The edition published by Las Mil y Una Ediciones in 1982 does not provide information about the translator. However, except for the copyright page, the 1982 edition is evidently the same as the edition published by Editorial Dilema in 2004. The copyright page of the Dilema edition adds the following note: Primera versión al castellano a cargo de: Shuai Xuezhong (English translation: “Person in charge of the first Spanish version: Shuai Xuezhong”). Professor Shuai Xuezhong does not know Spanish, so it is likely that the Spanish translation was completed under his guidance or organization. In the present study, the 1982 edition is identified as Shuai’s version.

Note 4: This version should be based on the Chinese book Huangdi Neijing Yangsheng Tudian (《黄帝内经养生图典》 The Illustrated Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic), published by the Chinese Cultural Federation Publishing House in June 1996. Zhou Chuncai and Han Yazhou are painters and art editors, so the translator of the version is unknown.

Note 5: Personal information about Julio García could not be found in conventional media and online resources. The author contacted him by e-mail, but he declined to provide any personal information and hoped readers would focus only on his translation.

Note 6: The author obtained information about the translation of Lu’s English version directly from Sans by e-mail.

Note 7: The French translators of the original version misspelled the name “Zhang Yin’an”as “Zhang An Yin.” This error was not corrected in the Spanish version.

Funding

This research was financed by the grants from Guandong Provincial Philosophy Social Science Project (No. GD20CWY09) and the Social Science Project of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine (No. 2020SKXK20).

Ethical approval

This study does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by the author.

Author contributions

Wen-Wen Hu wrote and reviewed the article.

Conflicts of interest

The author declare no financial or other conflicts of interest.

References

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                    Keywords:

                    Classics of traditional Chinese medicine; Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic); Reception; Spanish translation

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