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Reviewed by:
  • Huangdi Neijing: A Synopsis with Commentaries by Y. C. Kong
  • John Welden (bio)
Y. C. Kong. Huangdi Neijing: A Synopsis with Commentaries. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2010. xlv, 495 pp. Hardcover $69.99, isbn 978-962-996-420-7.

Y. C. Kong provides a translation and analysis of the Neijing Zhiyao 內經知要 (Knowing the Essentials of Neijing) by the Ming dynasty physician Li Zhongzi 李中梓 (1588–1655), which reveals much about the intellectual history of Chinese medicine. Kong provides a meticulous study of these selected passages from the Huangdi Neijing 黃帝內經 (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) that facilitates an understanding of this seminal text. The copy of the Neijing at Li Zhongzi’s disposal would have been the one promulgated by the Northern Song dynasty (960–1126), [End Page 510] based on an authoritative version from the Tang dynasty (618–907), when several apocryphal chapters were added to what was believed to have been formally constituted during the Han dynasty (206 b.c.e.–221 c.e.), and which drew from Warring States (ca. 500–220 b.c.) literature. This fascinating process of transformation and distillation across the centuries is evident in these passages, and historians and clinicians alike will find the narrative intriguing.

Kong states two primary goals: (1) to produce a scholarly English-language translation of this synopsis of the Neijing, and (2) to reconcile knowledge from Chinese medical literature with modern scientific medicine. The format of Kong’s book is very useful toward fulfilling his first goal. The chapters are arranged topically, such as longevity practices, yin-yang theory, or principles of treatment, and each begins with an exegesis that provides the context and explains the significance of that topic. This is followed by the passages for translation, each of which begins with the identification of the source followed by the Chinese text with the English translation. Having these next to each other facilitates the reader’s ability to make comparisons and provides the transparency essential to a scholarly work. Kong then provides his explanatory notes to the passage, where he succinctly discusses and analyzes each selection. These remarks are replete with useful footnotes that also immediately follow the relevant section for easy reference. The footnotes provide the justification for many of the author’s translation choices, and when considered in their entirety, they provide a rich subtext to the work, although they are repetitive in several instances. In a few sections, additional notes are provided by Dr. W. F. Pau for a modern clinical perspective.

The only section where there is a problematic translation and the footnotes fail to provide a justification is section 4.1, “Suwen” (chap. 17), “On the Finer Points of Pulse-Taking.” This passage from the Neijing describes the three different locations for feeling the pulse on the wrist. It begins with the chi 尺 site (which is most proximal) and proceeds to explain that the other positions are shang 上 (above or distal) to that site. For each location on the left and right, a description is given regarding what organs can be felt wai 外 (exteriorly or with light finger pressure) and li 裡 (interiorly or with heavier pressure), but Kong also translates these two terms as proximal and distal. The chart he includes in his notes repeats this description, and his brief summary of current practices fails to acknowledge the superficial and deep levels of the pulse.

An error was also found in the footnote to section 8.25, “Lingshu” (chap. 71), where an herbal prescription requires water that has been specially prepared. Kong states that Li Zhongzhi refers to it as ganlanshui 甘瀾水 (sweet rippling water), a term not found elsewhere (p. 414). In fact, the origin of this term is the Shanghan Lun 傷寒論 (Treatise on Cold Damage) by Zhang Zhongjing 張仲景 (142–220 c.e.) where it is used for bentun 奔豚 (running piglet) syndrome. The medicinal water is also included in the Tang Ye Ben Cao 湯液本草 (Materia Medica of Decoction) by Wang Haogu 王好古 (fl. 1298–1308 c.e.). [End Page 511]

Regarding his second goal, Kong brings up an important debate in Chinese medicine, which is directly related to the continuing struggle for meaningful integration into the authoritative field of modern medicine. The...