Mixing metaphors: Translating the indian medical doctrine tridoa in chinese buddhist sources

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12 Scopus citations


What constitutes success in the translation of a medical doctrine? Scholars have long thought that Chinese translators failed to understand or to transmit faithfully the Indian medical terminology they encountered within the Buddhist Tripitaka. This paper takes a closer look at the variations in the translation of the doctrine Tridoa in Chinese. I argue that translation inconsistencies reflect not confusion, but a range of strategic translation decisions. While some translators prioritised closer fidelity to Sanskrit originals, most chose to emphasise the compatibility between Indian and Chinese medical thought by glossing the Tridoa with terms that were loaded with indigenous metaphorical connotations. In a rereading of one such passage, I show that understanding so-called errors as translation tactics allows historical analysis to move beyond a limited focus on the accuracy of translations and to instead explore the cultural resonances and social logics of translated texts in their historical context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-74
Number of pages20
JournalAsian Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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