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Home > Newsletters > May 2007 > Mistranslation of Chi

Mistranslation of Chi

By James Lee

The ancient Chinese once thought that Chi was the micro-substance that makes up all the matter in the universe. Thus, the term Chi has a great influence in Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM). The term Chi has many meanings depending on the context in which itís being used. For example, Chi by itself means air. However, in Chi Kung, we are involved in breathing methods. Therefore, Chi means breathing in this context. Thus, Chi Kung is an ultimate breathing method.

In TCM, the term Chi is used very loosely. In my native acupuncture book, Chi is described as the following: Chi is the functional activities of the internal organs. In order for our body to be in the state of homeostasis, the organs must interact with each other. One organ produces a product and itís passed on to another. For example, the liver converts glycogen into glucose and it is carried by the blood throughout the body. Because the liver is performing its function, it is considered that its Chi is flowing properly. If the liver stops functioning properly by not converting glucose efficiently, the Chi is considered clogged and not flowing properly.

The TCM practitioner might say that the Chi is weak in oneís body. It simply means that the some of the organs are not functioning properly. This is how Chi is expressed in the Chinese society. Among the Chinese people, they just know the term Chi, but cannot explain it explicitly.

There is an old Chinese proverb says: If something is not named correctly, then it cannot be described properly. In the case of Chi, it is usually translated as Energy. The original meaning has been changed completely. As we can see, Energy does not match the meanings as described above. Unfortunately, scientists have tried to conduct experiments on this imaginary Energy theory and still have not come to any conclusions. Why? It is due to the mistranslation of the term Chi as Energy. We are abided by the limited definition of Energy and, hence, and we go off the wrong track.

If we treated Chi as Chi, then we may find a way to prove it as Energy. If we cannot prove it as Energy, then we still have Chi to work with. In fact, Chi is not Energy; it has to be something else. Now, Chi is still an open item to be investigated. In the other words, if we insist that Chi is Energy, this will lead us to a dead end.

In conclusion, the mistranslation of Chi as Energy is due to the language barrier between two cultures. Chi was never meant as a form of Energy in Chinese society. Calling Chi as Energy is totally mistranslated. Mistranslation will cause misinterpretations and misleading. The imaginary Energy is causing scientific investigation come to a cul-de-sac. That is why, up until now, modern science still cannot come up with a scientific explanation. So, people lets wake up, stop trying to catch the shadow of the wind. Chi is not Energy. Letís break this language barrier.

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