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Table of Contents
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 144-146

Hanzi: A key to traditional Chinese medicine

Postgraduate English Teaching Department, Foreign Languages School, Anhui University of Technology, Maanshan, Anhui, China

Date of Web Publication8-Jan-2019

Correspondence Address:
Assoc Prof. Anwen Zheng
Foreign Language School, Anhui University of Technology, Anhui
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_34_18

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Owing to a similar way of thinking, visualized thought, a close link between Hanzi and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been set up at the very beginning of the ancient Chinese culture. Both Hanzi and TCM had undergone many ups and downs before they were firmly established in Chinese lives. Instead of being phased out, Hanzi and TCM have been successfully reinvigorated and can meet the challenge of the information technology-dependent modern society.

Keywords: Hanzi, ideographic writing system, traditional Chinese medicine

How to cite this article:
Zheng A. Hanzi: A key to traditional Chinese medicine. Chin Med Cult 2018;1:144-6

How to cite this URL:
Zheng A. Hanzi: A key to traditional Chinese medicine. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 May 22];1:144-6. Available from: http://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2018/1/3/144/249579

Hanzi (汉字), or Chinese character, is one of the oldest ideographic writing systems in the world. Unlike other ancient ideograms that were somehow phased out by alphabetic scripts in antiquity, Hanzi, however, survived and is still in use, not only in China, but in overseas Chinese communities all over the world. Over the past millennia, Hanzi has played a significant role in safeguarding China as a united multiethnic state. In addition, this ancient oriental writing system has long been used to record achievements of various disciplines, including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

  The Synchronous Development of Hanzi and TCM Top

Notwithstanding the disparity of disciplines, Hanzi and TCM are so closely related that no one can conceal the fact that a qualified TCM learner should have a good mastery of Hanzi.

It is commonly believed that Hanzi has roughly undergone seven stages (some overlapped), known as jiaguwen (甲骨文) [Figure 1], dazhuan (大篆), xiaozhuan (小篆), lishu (隶书), caoshu (草书) kaishu (楷书) xingshu (行书), respectively, and among them, the emergence of lishu in Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC–220 AD), also referred to as libian (隶变), marked a milestone of Hanzi as a mature writing system.[1]
Figure 1: Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases

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Almost at the same time, TCM also witnessed the first development peak of its own at this period when four classics of TCM, Huang Di Nei Jing (《黄帝内经》 The Inner Canon of Huangdi), Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (《神农本草经》 Shennong's Herbal Classic), Nan Jing (《难经》 Classics on Medical Problems) and [Shang Han Za Bing Lun] ( 《伤寒杂病论》 Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases) were compiled and published.[2] The four classics laid a solid foundation for fundamental theories of TCM, ranging from the elementary philosophy to therapeutic methodologies and pharmacy of TCM.

All of these medical classics were written in Hanzi, and the aggregate number of Hanzi, collected in Shuo Wen Jie Zi (《说文解字》 Analytical Dictionary of Characters [Figure 2], the earliest dictionary compiled by Xu Shen (许慎) in Han Dynasty (around the year 121 AD), is 9353, among which the Chinese characters that are relevant to TCM amount to 1124, involving many facets of this oriental medicine: therapy, drug, herb, hygiene, and medical care. Besides, the close link between Hanzi and TCM can also be found in the similar formation mechanisms; they largely rely on a rather direct way of describing, that is to describe in terms of tangible images instead of something intangible, and in many cases, the innate logic has to be understood through the learners' life experience and intuition.
Figure 2: Ke Ju wax statue

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  A Career Ladder in Ancient China Top

Admittedly, however, it was not easy for average Chinese to learn and master Hanzi due to its complicated structure; therefore, those who could read and write in Hanzi would be called Xian Sheng (先生), a courtesy title for a lettered man in Mandarin. In ancient China, a lettered man's dream can best be described with the lines of ancient Chinese poems, say, “In the dawn, you are a farm laborer, but in the late afternoon, work as a cabinet member” (朝为田舍郎, 暮登天子堂). That is to say, even a humble peasant, if he was able to pass the Ke Ju (科举) Examination, or the Imperial Examination held by the government at all levels, might have a chance of being selected as an official by the emperor; in other words, he won his Gong Ming (功名), the official rank. Yet, if he failed, the lettered man still had another choice, namely, to be a TCM doctor, for he had the capability to read the medical classics written in Hanzi, and almost all the lettered men had the same conviction: “If not a good official, then a good doctor” (不为良相, 便为良医).

  Crisis and Revival Top

In their pursuit of both official rank and TCM knowledge, Chinese scholars gradually developed a new discipline, Xiao Xue (小学), not primary school but a study focused on Hanzi. For more than 2000 years, Hanzi, like an efficient and obedient servant for the prosperity of this old oriental civilization, had been basked in a general approbation until 19th century when China, step by step, was reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-Feudal country after the Opium War of 1840. From then on, a series of unequal treaties was imposed on China, a vanquished country, and her independence and sovereignty were seriously damaged. And still worse, some scholars, including Chinese scholars, began to blame the country's decline on Chinese traditional culture. Both Hanzi and TCM were labeled as obstacles to modern civilization because they failed to meet the so-called scientific standards, virtually set by Westerners. It seemed that traditional Chinese culture was in great peril unless effective measures could be taken to meet the serious challenge. While there were calls to abolish Hanzi and totally rely on a new alphabetic script, the government of P. R. China refused to do so. Instead, more efforts had been made to improve this old ideographic writing system. In the late 1950s, Han Yu Pin Yin Fang An (汉语拼音方案), or the Scheme for the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet, was published and put into effect. Almost simultaneously, the Scheme for Simplifying Chinese Characters was also published by the Chinese government. The two schemes proved to be remarkably convenient for average Chinese to learn and master their mother language. Yet, the debate as to Hanzi did not cease accordingly, especially when Chinese were entering into an information technology-dependent society in the late 20th century. Some scholars expressed their concerns over the prospect of Hanzi because it seemed that ideographic writing system might defy computerization; in other words, the software of Chinese character input would be an insurmountable obstacle to computer application. Such concerns which sound a bit reasonable, however, turn out to be redundant. With their talents and hard work, Chinese IT elites have developed a number of Hanzi input systems,[3] and now even a primary school pupil, as long as he/she has a mastery Pin Yin, can surf the cyberspace with ease.

Similarly, TCM [Figure 3] has been challenged over its scientific nature because Western medicine, which stresses the scientific methods, was introduced to China in the 19th century and increasingly gained its popularity among common people. In today's China, Western medicine, no doubt, is playing a dominant role in hospitals throughout the country. However, that does not mean TCM are gradually dying out. Conversely, in the treatment of chronic diseases, people are more willing to try some traditional therapies. Along with the rise of China's economy, especially under the background of the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by president Xi in the year of 2013, TCM has been increasingly introduced to the world, and more and more people are willing to have a try of TCM therapies.
Figure 3: Inner Canon of HuangdI

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Financial support and sponsorship

Humanities and Social Sciences Research Project of Anhui Province (SK2018A0060).

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Yushu H. Modern Chinese Language. Shanghai: Shanghai Education Press; 1995. p. 135.  Back to cited text no. 1
Kefu C. Fundamental Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Beijing: People's Medical Publishing House: 1998. p. 4.  Back to cited text no. 2
Ning W. Introduction to Chinese Character Formation Mechanism. Beijing: The Commercial Press; 2016. p. 1.  Back to cited text no. 3


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]


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