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Interpreting and understanding traditional Chinese medical texts: Chinese philosophy in Zhang Xichun's 張錫純 Yixue zhong zhong can xi lu 醫學衷中參西錄 (On Medicine: Chinese at Heart and Western as Reference)

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posted on 2023-09-19, 02:01 authored by Wai Hung Lam

Understanding traditional Chinese medical texts is a complex process, mainly due to the antiquity of the texts, and the fact that Chinese medicine is a healthcare system developed within the ancient Chinese philosophical and cultural paradigm, and carries viewpoints and influences from many schools of philosophy of ancient China, alongside evidence-based clinical reasoning. The aim of this thesis is to analyse how Zhang Xichun 張錫純 (1860-1933) understood the traditional philosophical concepts of yin-yang 陰陽, qi 氣and shen 神in the context of traditional Chinese medicine in his time, and how he was able to give these old concepts renewed vigour in the era of scientific progress in the late 19th and early 20th century. Zhang Xichun was a leading reformer of Chinese medicine in his time; he belonged to the so-called Huitongpai 匯通派 (School of Convergence and Connection). In his work Yixue Zhong zhong can xi lu 醫學衷中參西錄 (On Medicine: Chinese at Heart and Western as Reference), which was published amid arguments that would gravely affect the progress and mere survival of Chinese medicine, he argued that Chinese philosophy and medical classics including the Huangdi neijing 黃帝內經 (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) and Shanghan lun 傷寒論 (Treatise on Cold Damage) were the basis of traditional Chinese medicine and would not hinder the progress of medicine in the modern world, as some of his contemporaries had suggested. In this project, through textual analysis in a historical context, chapters from Zhang Xichun’s work are studied and compared with relevant classical medical and philosophical texts, and the difficulties in and approaches to understanding traditional Chinese medical texts are analysed. It is hoped that the modern-day meanings of the traditional key concepts of yin-yang 陰陽, qi 氣 and shen 神 in Chinese medicine will be clarified and demystified.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction -- Chapter 2 Zhang Xichun and his Yixue zhong zhong can xi lu -- Chapter 3 Yin-yang 陰陽 in Yixue zhong zhong can xi lu -- Chapter 4 Qi 氣 in Yixue zhong zhong can xi lu -- Chapter 5 Shen 神 in Yixue zhong zhong can xi lu -- Chapter 6 Conclusion -- References

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Languages and Literature

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Shirley Chan

Additional Supervisor 1

Malcolm Choat


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235 pages

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