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Say It Right Series

All in a Name

Posted by kelinsheng December 7, 2008 in the Group General Discussion.

Tags: , classics, huangdi, nei jing, neijing, su wen, huang di nei jing, 黄帝内经, 黄帝内经素问

The only standard name for the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine is the Chinese:


(there is another book, ling shu, which I won't get into right now)

黄帝 (Huang2 di4) is fairly strait forward to translate. "Yellow Emperor"

内经 (nei4 jing1) and 素问 (su4 wen4), on the other hand are a little more tricky.

内 can mean inside; inner; internal; within; interior

经 can mean classics; sacred book; pass through; to undergo; scripture

So 内经 could be translated as "scripture within"; "sacred book within"; And I think this is why the word "canon" fits into most of the translated titles. I'm not sure if the term 内 has anything to do with meanning internal in this context. I have a feeling that 内 has to do with being "hidden" and therefore of value. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with internal medicine though. Also, I need a better understanding of the character 经 to be clear about the meaning of 内经.

素 I do not know what this character means in this context. I need to know the etymology of the character. The dictionary says "white; plain; element; always". I wonder if it could be elemental in this context, and therefore meaning fundamental. It would be kind of silly I think to translate it as "plain" since it's so important to Chinese medicine.

问 means questions.

So my guess is that 素问 means "fundamental questions"

So maybe a good English title would be:

"The Yellow Emperor's Scripture of Fundamental Questions"


"The Yellow Emperor's Sacred Book of Fundamental Questions"

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