Video on archaic words of Chinese medicine herbs that took China netizens by storm!

As a learner of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), even though some of the words in the lyrics are not unfamiliar to me because we use them in classes, there were still many others I also do not know.

So don’t fret, you’re not the only one!

Backstory of the video

In case you wonder how this video came about, the story goes that the head of publicity department at the Shanxi province TCM hospital had a friend who went to see the doctor. Along the way, he passed by a chest of drawers for herbs and saw one that stated “no medicine” (没药). He found it amusing that the hospital would still label the drawer, even though there’s no medicine.

Well, actually it’s the name of a herb. It doesn’t mean there is “no medicine”  没 can be read as ‘mei’ or ‘mo’ If you read as a herb name, it’s ‘mo yao’. If it is read as ‘mei’, then it means ‘mei yao’ (no medicine)!

Hence, the hospital was inspired to propagate the culture of Chinese herbs through a video on archaic words used in TCM, so that more people understand better and have a passion for Chinese herbs.

English translation

And to share the wonders of TCM to English-speaking readers, I tried my best to translate it. In some instances, I explained the terms further, because some nuances may be lost or couldn’t capture its full essence in translation. TCM is a philosophy of how to live life, art and a culture of all Chinese people, a healing gift to the world.

If there are any shortcomings in the translation, please feel free to let me know so we refine and make it better!

CHORUS:
千年中华的才智
五行阴阳诠释那生命的虚实*
给后世以福祉
答问灵素**的缘赐
一方一术仁心秉持

Our thousand years of Chinese wisdom
The five elements yin yang explains of life’s internal deficiency and excessive syndrome
Blesses the future generation with well-being
Bestowed by Suwen and Lingshu
Benevolently upholding the spirit of each Chinese herb prescription and traditional Chinese medicine skill

*虚实: I have a hard time to translate this, because the meaning behind the two characters, which in full is 虚证, 实证, embodies some traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories. 虚证 means a weak body constitution, resulting in the symptoms of deficiency in qi, blood, yin and/or yang. 实证 means outside causes inflicted on man, or internal heat, blood stasis, indigestion, dampness, which obstructs, and the symptoms of excessive syndrome surface
**答问灵素: In the context of TCM, it would refer to Suwen and Lingshu, the texts from Huangdi Neijing. You can read more here.

天人合一感念源悠长
岐黄*道业万古流芳
国医奇术妙手除痛疮
瘰疬瘛瘲**癥瘕痏疡

In the unity of heaven and man, we recall with gratitude of the deep, long origins
The way of traditional Chinese Medicine will live forever more
Traditional Chinese medical physicians’ remarkable skills to heal painful wounds
Scrofula, spasm, lumps, bruises and sores

*岐黄: A term derived from the names of two legendary founders of Chinese medicine, Qibo 岐黄 and Huangdi 黄帝
**瘲 is a traditional Chinese character. Its simplified Chinese character is 疭.

Wu 食飧飨饔
Wu 额颏颌颔
Wu 血衃衄衉

飧: supper; 飨: provide; 饔: breakfast
额: forehead; 颏: chin; 颌: jaw; 颔: chin
衃: coagulated blood; 衄: nosebleed; 衉: vomit

彖爻

彖: foretell; 爻: whole & broken linear symbols making up the eight trigrams in The Book of Changes 《易经》

莨菪 荠苨 菝葜 葶苈
萝艻 芜菁 茳芏 茯苓

Henbane, Chinese mosla, china root greenbrier, woolly whitlow grass
Sweet basil, turnip, cyperus malaccensis var. brevifolius, tuckahoe (Poria coccus – an edible fungus)

日晡 燠暍 肉瞤 齛齧
榅桲 硇砂 赤瓟 靰鞡

3-5 pm (日晡 is an archaic reference to a certain time slot), heat stroke, eyelid twitch, gnaw
Quince, sal ammoniac, red bottle gourd, carex meyeriana

蓇葖 蒟蒻 踯躅 竹箨
没药 不瘳 郄腧 濡芤

Flower bud, konjac, pacing up and down, sheaths of bamboo shoots
Myrrh, doesn’t recover from an illness, 郄: A type of acupoint that treats patients who have either pain or blood issues, depending whether the meridian path is yin or yang; 濡, 芤: a type of pulse

萆薢 蛤蚧 霜薤 分蘖
莴苣 蘡薁 痈疽 肩髃

Yam (Dioscorea), red-spotted gecko, frosted Chinese onion, tiller (a stem produced by grass plants, and refers to all shoots that grow after the initial parent shoot grows from a seed)
Lettuce, Thunberg grape (Vitis adstricta), ulcer, 肩髃: An acupoint that lies in the deltoid area. You can find it when you lift your arm out to the side, there will be two dips formed on your shoulder. The 1st dip in front is the acupoint.

秦艽 枸橼 栝*楼 豨莶
怵惕 惴惴 天癸 橐龠

Large-leaved gentian (Gentiana macrophylla), citron (citrus medica), Mongolian snakegourd, St. Paul’s wort
Apprehension, anxiety, menses, bellows for blowing up the fire in a furnace

*栝 is the archaic character for 瓜. These days, we use 瓜楼, but time to time, I do see the character 栝 used in place of 瓜, especially in some Chinese herb prescriptions.

膏肓 腠理 悁悒 怢栗
怔忡 愊臆 锋鑱 鍉铍

膏肓: An acupoint that lies level with the 4th thoracic vertebra, 3 cun* from the middle of back; melancholy, sudden tremble with cold.
Palpitation, 愊臆: A term to describe qi obstruction in the chest and side (from armpit to waist) or abdomen due to anger, sadness or depression, sharp plough (a tool to dig for herbs in the ancient times), a type of long needle used in acupuncture in the ancient times

*cun: This is not the English measurement of inch.

Repeat CHORUS.

望闻问切的默契
理法方药神奇
天地人的心在这里浑如太极*
更有辨治的含义
亦真亦善美境如诗

The intimate understanding among observing, listening, enquiring and feeling (望闻问切 is the foundation to how a TCM physician diagnose an illness)
The effective and startling (application) of 理法方药: It’s made up of 4 terms, each with its own meaning. 理: TCM theory; 法: clinical treatment principle; 方: Chinese herb prescription; 药: herbs
The heart of heaven, earth and man here resemble exactly like taichi
Even more so with the implication of treatment based on differentiating syndrome
Indeed true and good of a beautiful state like a poem

*It’s a literal translation. I’d think what this phrase wants to bring across is how profoundly man’s environment affects man and vice versa (e.g. climate, the flora and fauna). Nothing can be standalone, like how taichi is a philosophy of yin and yang, which the two is always in interaction with each other. When yin subsides, yang rises and likewise the reverse is also true. TCM looks to balance the yin and yang. One cannot be too forceful over the other. If this balance is not maintained, the belief is illness will befall.

沉疴力拔纵危澜也不惧
勤求古训博采众方故成医

Setting patients free of severe & lingering illness; Unafraid the legion of critical illnesses
Diligently seek the teachings of our forefathers and adopt widely used practices, henceforth to become a learner of medicine

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