Sinological formatting

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I recently received this book:

Sūn Sīmiǎo, Sabine Wilms.  Healing Virtue-Power: Medical Ethics and the Doctor's Dao.  Whidbey Island WA:  Happy Goat Productions, 2022.

ISBN:  978-1-7321571-9-4


As soon as I started to leaf through the volume, I was struck by its unusual format and usages:  every Chinese character is accompanied by Hanyu Pinyin phonetic annotation with tones, and all terms and sentences are translated into English.  But that's just the beginning; after introducing the original author and the translator, I will point out additional features of this remarkable, praiseworthy monograph.

Sūn Sīmiǎo 孫思邈 (d. 682), a physician and author of the Sui and Tang dynasty, was known as China's Yào wáng 藥王 ("King of Medicine") "for his significant contributions to Chinese medicine and tremendous care to his patients."  (source)

Sabine Wilms holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from the University of Arizona (2002) (c.v.)


Sabine Wilms is the author and translator of more than a dozen books on Chinese medicine. With a PhD in East Asian Studies and Medical Anthropology, she specializes in bringing ancient Chinese wisdom to life. In addition to writing, translating, and publishing her work through her company Happy Goat Productions, she lectures at conferences and schools around the world and mentors private students and small groups through her “Imperial Tutor” mentorship program ( Some of her favorite topics are gynecology, pediatrics, medical ethics, and “nurturing life” as envisioned in the Chinese medical classics.

Her publications include translations of Sun Simiao’s writings on gynecology and pediatrics (Venerating the Root); of the Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica (Shennong Bencao Jing); and of two books on Wang Fengyi’s system of “Five Element Virtue Healing” (Let the Radiant Yang Shine Forth and Twelve Characters); as well as extensively annotated translations and discussions of the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, Plain Questions (Huangdi Nei Jing Suwen) Chapter Five, the “Great Discourse on the Resonant Manifestations of Yin and Yang” (published as Humming with Elephants); and of Qi Zhongfu’s Hundred Questions on Gynecology (Nüke Bai Wen, published as Channeling the Moon).

With a strong academic background in early Chinese philosophy, science, cosmology, and language, she is known for her historically and culturally sensitive approach to Chinese Medicine but also sees it as a living, effective, ever-changing, and much needed response to the issues of our modern times. She lives happy as a clam on Whidbey Island near Seattle.


Reminds me of Red Pine / Bill Porter (b. 1943), the eminent "translator of Chinese texts, primarily Taoist and Buddhist, including poetry and sūtras" (source), who lives nearby in Port Townsend.  Being a bit of a hermit himself, Red Pine also writes about Chinese recluses.  (see here, here, and here)

Here's an online description of Sabine Wilms' book on healing virtue-power:

Healing Virtue-Power: Medical Ethics and the Doctor’s Dao is a conversation across time and space, between the seventh-century hermit Sūn Sīmiǎo 孫思邈 and the contemporary translator Sabine Wilms, to address two sets of questions at the heart of the most ancient and precious texts in Chinese medicine:

    1. How do we find the DÀO 道 OF MEDICINE? How do we walk the PATH OF THE HEALER?

    2. How do we cultivate DÉ 德 “VIRTUE-POWER”? How do we learn and teach, recognize and transmit, replenish and nurture our HEALING SUPERPOWER?

To explore these questions and potential answers from the 7th-century Chinese and modern Western perspective, this book includes:

    • Literal, line-by-line translations of Sūn Sīmiǎo’s two essays “On the Professional Practice of the Great Doctor” and “On the Sublime Sincerity of the Great Doctor,” which constitute the first two chapters of his Bèijí qiānjīn yàofāng 《備急千金要方》 from 652 CE, in Dr. Wilms’ trademark lucid style and elegant layout with the original Chinese text plus Pinyin transcription on the opposite page.

    • A critical edition of the original Chinese source text.

    • Over a hundred pages of detailed notes and discussions that provide historical, religious, philosophical, and medical context for Sūn Sīmiǎo’s writings.

    • A 30-page preface by Dr. Wilms on “Honoring those Whose Shoulders We Stand On.”

    • A 36-page conclusion by Dr. Wilms on “Acting by Non-Action: The Last Word?”

    • Forewords by Michael Max and Z’ev Rosenberg.

In her quest for exactitude, Wilms is willing to invent new words like "qiology", which is the study of qì (also romanized as ch'i, chi, ki) 氣 ("vital energy"), that ineffable, primal substance-spirit of which all in the universe is composed, for which see here, here, and here.


Selected readings



  1. Peter Grubtal said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 10:01 am

    On the Sinological formatting, I understand the interest, but do I overreact when I feel that the post seems to veer off into an endorsement of quackery?
    Just in case, I suggest as antidote :

  2. Victor Mair said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 11:49 am

    Yes, you do "overreact".

    "seems to veer off"

    Instead of name calling, why don't you demonstrate the "quackery"?

  3. Peter Grubtal said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 12:29 pm

    Victor :
    from Wikipedia on TCM :
    "Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an alternative medical practice drawn from traditional medicine in China. It has been described as "fraught with pseudoscience", with the majority of its treatments having no logical mechanism of action."

    It's possible perhaps that I have overestimated the overlap of Sabine Wilms' book with TCM, admittedly not having read her book and lacking knowledge of the authors she refers to.

    If time permits, (i.e. tomorrow) I could post an amusing quote about TCM from as early as 1700 which expressed profound scepticism about.

  4. Peter Grubtal said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 12:32 pm

    …whoops, …hit the submit button too soon.. :
    …which expressed profound scepticism about TCM.

  5. wanda said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 2:35 pm

    According to the AAMC, walking the PATH OF THE HEALER involves the MCAT and getting A's.

    Re: quackery: One of the chapters is posted here: This text is definitely rooted in the idea that seventh century Chinese medical practice is something that modern medical practitioners should aspire to emulate. For example, the author writes approvingly of people who are trying to reincorporate astrology into TCM. Victor, what would you think of a healthcare provider who made medical recommendations based on your star chart?

    There has been extensive studies on Chinese medicine. For example, take acupuncture. Studies have found that acupuncture can be helpful for certain conditions, but it is just as effective if you don't needle the "correct" points or if you use collapsing needles that don't puncture the skin. Is this quackery? I would tend to think so; to me this evidence suggests that acupuncture doesn't work the way it is said to work. That means we can focus on figuring out what there is about the doctor/patient relationship or laying on of hands that is helpful, skipping the potentially dangerous part about the needles.

  6. M. Paul Shore said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 2:47 pm

    Peter Grubtal: I don’t read anything in Prof. Mair’s remarks as necessarily endorsing traditional Chinese medical beliefs or practices. Yes, there is the phrase “Sabine Wilms’ book on healing virtue-power”, but in my view that doesn’t necessarily express a belief in that specific Chinese concept or concept-cluster, any more than, say, the phrase “Hans Holzer’s book on ghosts” would necessarily express a belief in ghosts.

    You should note that Prof. Mair’s remarks and list of “Selected Readings” are identified in the post by being the only material that goes all the way to the left margin. Everything else is not-necessarily-fully-endorsed quotations of material by others.

  7. Peter Grubtal said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 10:25 am

    Accounts of Chinese traditional medicine started reaching Europe in the 17th Cent. William Wotton, in his "Reflections on Learning….." (1694) reported on it thusly:
    "….the Missionary who sent this account ….was afraid it would be thought ridiculous …….which fear of his seems to have been well grounded."
    "It would be tedious to dwell any longer upon such Notions as these, ….The Anatomical Figures …are so very whimsical, that a Man would almost believe the whole to be a banter…"

    His remarks might be interpreted nowadays as chauvinistic or xenophobic, but he was a very fair-minded man and went on to allow that perhaps some Chinese herbal remedies might be efficacious.

  8. John Swindle said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 7:28 pm

    As neither a linguist nor a physician I will suggest that there's no *linguistic* reason to reject traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). I hope there's an element of objective scientific thinking in my preference for Western medicine, but I suspect there's also an element of tradition.

  9. Aardvark Cheeselog said,

    June 5, 2023 @ 10:15 am

    From the chapter that somebody linked: Prerequisite 2 for becoming a "大醫" is

    In addition, you must comprehend the subtleties of Yīnyáng fortune telling, of the various schools of physiognomy, and of plastromancy and the Five Omens, Yìjīng, and Six rén Stems methods.

    And by "comprehend," the author means "master with sublime proficiency." I do not think most medical professionals would agree that this would be a worthwhile use of anyone's time, who wishes to become a modern healer.

    It does look like a beautifully-typeset book.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 6, 2023 @ 7:32 pm

    From a professor of the history of Chinese science at a major American university:


    Thanks for alerting me to Sabine’s new book! I have a lot of respect for the integrity of her work, by which I mean both the quality of the scholarship and also the way she integrates her study of Sun Simiao in the way she lives her life. I met her years ago at a conference and she strikes me as someone truly sui generis.

    I also think that some of the commenters on this thread are being a little narrow-minded. Maybe it would be better to read Sun Simiao before dismissing what he has to say as “quackery.” I’m all for skepticism about healing practices—of any sort—but considering that the lion’s share of our resources and efforts today go to biomedicine, I think we ought to be particularly skeptical about biomedical practitioners’ defensive claims that everything else is nonsense.


    Please note that Sabine Wilms is herself a highly trained Sinologist with a Ph.D. from a major American university.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    June 6, 2023 @ 8:51 pm

    From a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous:

    I like your terse and plucky response to the comment from Peter Grubtal.

    The post is relevant, timely, and well written. People who can't appreciate that there are thousands year old traditions of health and medicine but that they are not exactly the same as modern Western medicine fail to recognize the virtue of studying and even living (in the in the sense of Red Pine's and Sabine Wilms' cases) according to their interpretations of these ancient teachings. That makes people who fail to recognize this virtue dangerous to academic environments. Universities should foster research into ancient ideas to keep them alive and augment the vibrancy of our modern culture. Boring bureaucrats will kill university liberal studies!

  12. Victor Mair said,

    June 6, 2023 @ 8:52 pm

    From another colleague who wishes to remain anonymous:

    Sun Simiao is universally recognized by serious Sinologists as a central figure in the history of Chinese medicine. Anyone who dismisses his tenets as quackery may be suspected of bigotry.

  13. Peter Grubtal said,

    June 7, 2023 @ 10:53 am

    I can understand the Sinological, antiquarian and bibliophile interest in the book. And at the time the material in it was written and for a long time afterwards, it's arguable whether Europe or the West had anything better to offer. It's perhaps even possible that at the time the Chinese way was better than what was practiced in Europe, where such treatments as blood-letting must have aggravated the ailment and even killed the patient.

    But things have moved on in the last century or so, and much for the better. I find it irresponsible and worse to encourage people to shun science-based medicine, with arguments that any anti-vaxxer would be proud of. I recommend again a perusal of the whatstheharm site to see what damage this can do.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    June 7, 2023 @ 6:27 pm

    From a leading scholar of the history of Daoism:

    You are truly a saint — or maybe a bodhisattva of patience.

    Sabine is a great scholar of early Chinese medicine. She is also a practitioner. And she is a friend.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 6:04 am

    From a prominent historian of Daoist religion:

    I seem to recall I wrote letters of recommendation for Sabine way back when, and she also contributed mightily to the translation of Li Jianmin’s chapter on early Chinese medicine in the Early Chinese Religion I volumes. That she is a highly competent scholar there can be no doubt, and that she tries to live a life with its roots in traditional Chinese culture/wisdom can only be described as admirable. Catherine Despeux is her French counterpart, with, I suspect, pretty similar views about biomedicine.

    I have no experience of Chinese medicine, so no views on the “quackery” issue. But Arthur Kleinman’s Patients and Healers book shows that Nature is the best healer: in Taiwan, mediums and “Western” doctors have the same rate of success, around 85% if I recall correctly.

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