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  • Writer's pictureYK CHEUNG


'Shu 術’, instead of skills, in fact means ‘road in a state (yi zhong dao ye 邑中道也)’, according to Key to Chinese Characters (Shuowen jiezi 說文解字). From it is derived the senses ‘method’ and ‘skills’. Nevertheless, what shu means in this idiom is highly likely to be the former – ‘method’ – if the mode of thinking in Chinese is brought into play. In pursuit of stability, the Chinese language has a strong preference for a sense of balance. While xin, the character meaning ‘heart’ – how one thinks – represents abstraction, shu meaning ‘the way’ makes the concrete counterpart of this lexical construction. Therefore, the core idea of renshu 仁術 is that the method adopted is in the best interests of the patient, not how effective the doctor is in treating him/her. For that reason, ‘professionalism’, for example, may as well serve as a translation of this phrase, depending on the context.

This post is adapted from my book review of A New Comprehensive Chinese-English Dictionary compiled by S.W. Chan published in Translation Quarterly 96 (2020): 81-90.


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