duó tāi huàn ɡǔ 夺胎换骨
Replace the Flesh and Bones of a Human Being with Those of an Immortal / Express the Ideas in Earlier Literary Works in a New Way
This term, which figuratively means to replace the flesh and bones of an ordinary human being with those of an immortal, is used to describe a literary technique in which a writer uses his own words to express new ideas while quoting those from earlier works. The emphasis is on borrowing from the past without showing any traces, yet forming something new in the process. In poetry, this is achieved primarily by substituting words and ideas to highlight a theme, thus creating a beautiful new phrase. Duotai (夺胎) is to identify an idea in an existing work and to imbue it with new meaning by expounding, deepening or broadening it. Huangu (换骨) is to identify a brilliant idea or feeling in an earlier work which is insufficiently expressed, and to give it greater refinement and clarity by expressing it with a more appropriate choice of words. This technique exemplifies how literature both perpetuates and yet changes tradition. Cultural scholarship can also borrow from this method to build on the past and to further develop.
Huangu is to use more appropriate words without changing the meaning of earlier writers; Duotai is to comprehend a certain meaning of an author and then deepen it and express it more fully. (Shi Huihong: Evening Talks at Lengzhai)
Though not copying earlier writings word from word, the ancients had a way of “replacing the flesh and bones” which, like a magic pill turning iron into gold, brings forward even better works. (Chen Shan: Daring Remarks on Literature)