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This is an example sentence in my textbook:

"建立良好的人际关系,是每个社会人的精神需要"

精神 is translated in the dictionary into "spirit, mind, consciousness". Here I believe it must be modifying 需要, which is acting as a noun.

Spiritual need? This translation seems right, but feels weird because nothing about "人际关系" (interpersonal relationships) is "spiritual" to me.

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精神 is often applied to things which we don't consider "spiritual" in English. Often 精神 means "spiritual" in opposition to materialistic, practical, etc. So interpersonal relationships are a "spiritual need" because they're not economic/material/etc. –  Jon May 22 '12 at 13:49
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What do you think about translating it as "non-material"? This clarifies that it isn't a physical need like housing, clothing, etc. but also leaves it broad enough that I can understand what the Chinese is getting at. The word "spiritual" is just confusing to me, I'm not even certain what it is supposed to mean in English, and I'm a native speaker. –  aelephant May 22 '12 at 23:31
    
I am not going to post an answer as you've pretty much got it. Non-material is how I would have it. –  deutschZuid May 23 '12 at 2:39

4 Answers 4

I agree with @Betty "mental" or "psychological" fits the criteria for 精神 in this context. When dealing with relationships it's typically mental or psychological interaction rather than a spiritual one. You think about how you will have good relationship, you don't believe that you will.

Hudong.com refers to 精神需要 as:

是指对观念对象的需求,诸如,道德、情感、求知、审美等等。

是指人们在精神上的欲望和追求。其中包括求知需要、审美需要、实现自我价值需要等。

Which, in short, refers to a demand on one's mental state.

E.g., you think about how to have a good marriage, you don't believe that you will.

As for 需要 I think "requirement" might also be appropriate in this context compared "need". The context of the sentence can suggest that this is something that must (required to) happen rather than something that should (need/want to) happen.

Requirement: I think when expressing 需要, "requirement" more appropriate than "need," especially when expressing the need to process certain credentials or characteristics.

  • I.e., You must have something to happen in order to move on.
  • E.g., In the US, you are required to be at least 18 years old in order to be able to buy cigarettes.

Need: I think "need" would be more appropriate at emphasizing the level of (personal) passion or feelings.

  • I.e., You want something to happen in order to move on.

  • E.g., The sign needs to be red in order to mean "stop."

I would personally translate the sentence to something along the lines of:

Establishing good/favorable relationships between fellow members of (human) society is a psychological requirement for better mental well-being/health.

I used both psychological and mental in my translation, because I feel that 精神 has a broad range of meanings in English. I believe that here it implies both a psychological requirement (to be enforce a societal rule) for the benefit of better mental well-being/health or state of mind.

In order to get rid of the bit of redundancy between 每个社会人 and 人际关系 I bundled then into "relationships between fellow members of (human) society".

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how about "needs of cultural goods"?

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"Spiritual needs" is a typical word-to-word translation that is common in texts translated from Chinese but does not fit in the English context. You may consider other words such as "psychological" or "mental".

Similarly, for "物质需要", I think "physical needs" is better than "material needs".

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In Chinese when you see "精神" modifying nouns to form phrases such as "精神需要" and "精神文明", it just means the opposite side of their material counterpart such as "物质需要" and "物质文明".

So your translation of "spiritual" is correct, but you need to understand it from a different point of view as I stated above.

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