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The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic has become a landmark in the history of Chinese civilization. In recent years, traditional medical practice has seen a dynamic revival in China and throughout many countries in the Western world. Elements of this time-honored therapy, including acupuncture and the harmony of human spirit with the natural world, have become part of mainstream medical practice; The Yellow Emperor’s Classic provides the historical and philosophical foundation of this practice. Ilza Veith provides an extensive introduction to her monumental translation of this classic work, which is written in the form of a dialogue in which the emperor seeks information from his minister Ch’I-Po on all questions of health and the art of healing. A

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  1. Stuart-Little says:
    65 of 67 people found the following review helpful:
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    Beautifully written, but a very flawed translation., January 20, 2005

    This review is from: The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Paperback)


    The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine or Huangdi Neijing (more accurately translated as: Yellow Thearch’s Inner Classic) is the seminal text of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and covers the theoretical foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, diagnosis methods and treatment methods. The Huangdi Neijing (commonly referred to as the Neijing) is composed of two books, namely, the Suwen or (Plain Questions — 81 chapters or treatises. Note, for two of the chapters only the titles are known, the contents are lost.) and the Lingshu (Spiritual Pivot — also 81 chapters). Modern scholars believe the first book, the Suwen, was compiled and edited over a long period of time from the third century BCE to 1053 CE (Song Dynasty).

    The Neijing departs from the older shamanistic belief that disease was caused by magical influences. In the Neijing the natural effects of diet, lifestyle, emotions, environment, age and heredity are the reason diseases develop. The universe is composed of various forces and principles and these forces can be understood via logical means and humans can stay in balance or return to balance and health by understanding the laws and theories of these natural forces. Central to the Neijing is the notation that humans are a microcosm that mirrors the larger macrocosm, thus the principles of yin and yang, qi, the five elements, the environmental factors of wind, damp, hot and cold and so on that are part of the macrocosm or Universe equally apply to the human microcosm.


    The version Veith translated is the authoritative version known as the: Chong Guang Bu Zhu Huangdi Neijing Suwen. She translated:

    (i) Wang Bing’s 762 CE preface.
    (ii) The circa 1053 CE Imperial Office’s preface.
    (iii) A historical overview of the Suwen, i.e., chapter 103 of the Siku Quanshu Zongmu Tiyao. (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries: General Catalog with Abstracts, circa late eighteenth century.)
    (iv) The first thirty-four treatises of the Suwen. The Lingshu is not translated.

    In addition, she includes an extensive introduction on the history, basic philosophy and theory of the Neijing, TCM and Taoism. She includes some interesting historical illustrations.


    Ilza Veith’s translation was my first encounter to this Classic Chinese Medicine text and definitely inspired me to study Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is beautifully written. Unfortunately, her book contains major translation errors. For this reason it can not be fully relied upon. While ancient Chinese texts are well known to be difficult to translate, some of the errors show a lack of knowledge of TCM and Classical Chinese. Further, she adds in words without indicating they are additions. Classical Chinese is terse and words must be added in for good English and sometimes the implied subject or topic is omitted and must be added back in for good English, but in good translations these additions are enclosed in square brackets. Veith often adds in the wrong omitted topic or assumes a topic is missing when it isn’t and thus adds in new words, topics, etc. not in the original.

    Since the book is beautifully written, contains many interesting illustrations, and some useful historical and philosophical knowledge, as well as introductory Chinese Medical theory it is still worth reading. However, as a reference for learning the nuances of the ancient fundamentals of Chinese Medicine it is way too flawed.

    Given the work done by Wiseman, et al. and Unschuld on ancient Chinese medical vocabulary and grammar in the past twenty years it is somewhat surprising that these errors have not been corrected in this latest version. From what I can tell all that has changed from the prior edition is a new forward by Ken Rose and a new more modern looking cover.


    EXAMPLE I. Veith in chapter 10 (=treatise 10), page 144 has clauses like “when the pulse has a white appearance”, “when the pulse has a green appearance” and so on for the other three colors. This is absurd, pulses do not have white or green appearances in TCM.

    What is occurring is just prior to this passage the five colors are mentioned for examination purposes. Then each color is given along with a pulse type. She failed to realize the color is about the complexion, not the pulse, and that the color [Typically observed by looking at the patient's face, in other parts of the Suwen it is detailed which parts of the face should be observed.] is being matched with a particular pulse image.

    EXAMPLE II. Page 160, (chapter 17, book 5), unfortunately this passage is so distorted from the actual meaning…

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    ... on July October 26th, 2011
  2. John Vornle says:
    5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    holistic healthcare theory, December 12, 2006
    John Vornle (Westport, Connecticut USA) –

    This review is from: The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Paperback)

    The content of this book, originally translated in 1949, could be 3,000 years old and reflects a distinctly holistic approach to wellness and disease. The author strives to identify the causes of non-wellness. The author approaches the human organism from the function and linkages of all organs to different parts of the body. It provides a complete endorsement and supportive theory for acupuncture and other forms of holistic treatment that takes into account the individual’s environment, the seasons, and many additional internal and external factors. The book is more revealing about China and the Chinese than traditional interpretive treaties and consequently reveals much about Western medicine through the blank space of what is generally not discussed in Western healthcare. Sure, there are translation errors, but it’s an excellent source of information about the genesis and basis of Asian healthcare.

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    ... on July October 26th, 2011