Background. A theory of nursing derived from nurses’ experience can reflect indigenous practice values, which in turn can act as a fertile source of ideas and inventiveness in developing a relevant knowledge base to inform practice. However, systematic study of how Chinese nurses articulate nursing in their everyday practice is lacking.
Aim. The aim of this paper is to describe how Chinese nurses conceptualize the practice of nursing; and to arrive at a definition of nursing based on this common understanding.
Method. A systematic inquiry using a modified version of Van Kaam's controlled explication was designed. In the prescientific phase, 254 written accounts of nurses’ views on nursing as lived in their everyday practice were collected in eight Chinese cities. In the scientific phase, concept analysis based on Aristotle's notion of four causes was adopted to capture the richness of the phrases that explain the multi-dimensionality of Chinese nurses’ concepts of nursing. This was followed by a survey of 1782 nurses to verify the findings. The most commonly held views were summarized and a Chinese definition of nursing was drafted.
Findings. Nursing in the Chinese sense means to understand the dynamic health status of a person, to verify health concerns dialectically, and to consider interventions with the goal of assisting the person to master the appropriate health knowledge and skills for the attainment of optimal well-being. The survey findings show that nursing has developed into a professional caring practice in China today. The definition has some similarities with those of Western nurses, but the underpinning epistemic concerns are grounded in the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine and Eastern ideologies.
Conclusion. The findings provide Chinese nurses with a definition of nursing articulated in their own language. The identification of qing, li, zhi, and xin as its epistemic concerns, and the articulation of the process of nursing as ‘dialectical verification’, provides a perspective for understanding nursing based on Eastern philosophies. The findings can enhance nurses’ engagement in a cross-cultural dialogue to promote better understanding of nursing as it is practised in different parts of the world.