Bioethics Blogs

Sonya E. Pritzker’s Living Translation: Language and the Search for Resonance in U.S. Chinese Medicine by Miao Jenny Hua

Living Translation: Language and the Search for Resonance in U.S. Chinese Medicine

by Sonya E. Pritzker

Berghahn Books, 2014, 228 pages

By: Miao Jenny Hua

Chinese medicine names at least five components to the spiritual part of the embodied self, corresponding to each of the five organ-systems. The shen-spirit is associated with the heart, the yi-spirit with the spleen, po with the lungs, zhi with the kidneys and hun with the liver. These are not just technical jargon; each “spirit” has distinct connotations in everyday life. But how does one capture such subtle variations with actionable precision in the context of clinical Chinese medicine in the United States?

This is the kind of daunting question that Sonya Pritzker’s Living Translation addresses with exquisite ethnographic detail. Denying from the start that she is providing a how-to guide on translating Chinese medicine, Pritzker instead portrays the variable ways in which translations are enacted (2). With an eye to the world-making effects of practice inspired by Annemarie Mol (2002), “enact” is a capacious enough verb for Pritzker to capture translation as multiple modes of making lived equivalences. An ongoing process from monographs to conferences, classrooms to clinics, theoretical arguments over translation are never fully settled and clinical remedies in translation are rarely neatly reductive.

In the early twentieth-century, “Chinese medicine” was constituted as a defensive response to the discrediting advances of modern science and biomedicine in China (25). In the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese medicine was swept up as part of the New Age Movement in the United States, eventually achieving widespread institutional recognition as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.