The history of acupuncture is often presented as a composite of
legends, myths, personal interpretations and political biases.
Perhaps the intention is to keep it simple and convincing.
On this page, we present the history based only on the factual material
and physical evidence that illustrates the more interesting, intriguing
and controversial evolutionary aspects that acupuncture has made through the centuries.
Practical applications of acupuncture techniques can be
tracked back to the dawn of civilization. Apparently, acupuncture
was practiced in many ancient cultures around the world, as you will
see on this page.
The Chinese formalized it and presented it into modern times.
Acupuncture as a system of knowledge is deeply rooted in Chinese philosophy.
However, the notion of "unified" Chinese philosophy is inaccurate.
In fact, it is a mixture of various ideologies and beliefs.
Confucianism, Taoism (Daoism), and Buddhism form the three main pillars of Chinese thought,
keeping in mind that they are not monolithic but multifaceted traditions with
complex internal divisions.
Confucianism, Taoism of all trends, different branches
of Buddhism, all represent Chinese philosophy and heavily influenced
Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture.
These teachings have determined Chinese society for thousands of years.
Acupuncture, as a medical system, was an integral
part of this social environment. Without this social background,
it would have been inconceivable.
The evolutions of the official policy would lift certain ideology while the
other would fall out of favor.
For instance, Confucianism was dominant philosophy when Buddhism entered China
in the first century AD.
But two centuries earlier, the Chinese Emperor
Qin Shi Huang burned most of the Confucian literature in the country and
sentenced thousands of intellectuals to years of forced labor on the Great Wall
as political prisoners, where most of them perished.
Traditional schools of acupuncture, with their diversity, sometimes appear inconsistent
or contradictory. In reality, they bear influence of different philosophies and
reflect different theoretical backgrounds.
This explains differences that we see in various acupuncture schools, their
terminology, clinical interpretations and emphasis on different basic concepts.
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Ironically, the first physical evidence of acupuncture was found not
in China but in central Europe.
In 1991 the scientific world was rocked by the discovery of "The Ice Man",
a 5,300-year-old mummified man found in the Italian Alps along the border
with Austria. The frozen body was remarkably well preserved.
One of the most remarkable discoveries was a complicated system of bluish-black
tattoos running along his back, right knee and left ankle. The
locations of the "tattoos" corresponded precisely to acupuncture points
and meridians, including the 'master point for back pain'.
Apparently he suffered from back pain that was confirmed by a series
of X-rays of his body, with evidence of acute arthritis in the lumbar spine.
Otherwise he was in good health, he had all his teeth with no cavities.
He was approximately 45 years old at the moment of sudden death...
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Acupuncture's beginnings lie in China but
there is a lot of contradictory information concerning the date of its genesis.
What is certain is that acupuncture was used around 2000 BC in China.
Drawings dating from around 1600 BC reveal that sharpened
bamboo and bronze needles were used in treatment. Excavations have uncovered
sharpened stones dating from around 3000 BC which may indicate the beginnings
The first medical account of acupuncture was NEI
CHING SU WEN "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine" which dates
from about 200 BC.
Throughout the centuries, acupuncture flourished in China despite
the periods when it was suppressed (from the Qing Dynasty to the Opium Wars: 1644-1840).
In the 20-th century, following the Revolution of 1911 Western Medicine
was introduced in China. Acupuncture and herbs remained the only option
in rural communities, and the term "barefoot doctor" emerged. In 1932 when
Chang Khi Chek seized power in China, acupuncture was banned in the cities.
Chairman Mao took over in 1945 and Chang Khi Chek escaped to the island of
Formosa (now Taiwan).
China was closed to the West and acupuncture was
restored as the method of healing in a country deprived of antibiotics and
western medical equipment.
From the 1970-s China's policy became more open,
and its medical system benefits from modern technologies while remains loyal
to the time-honored tradition.
History of Chinese Acupuncture in chronological order: dates & events
- During the excavation of archeological sites dated back to the Shang
Dynasty (Approximately 1000 BC) bronze needles were discovered.
Hieroglyphs showed evidence of Acupuncture and Moxibustion.
Four gold needles and five silver needles were found in an ancient tomb
dating back to 100 B.C.
- The most significant milestone in the history of Acupuncture occurred
during the period of Huang Di -The Yellow Emperor.
In a famous dialogue between Huang Di and his physician Qi Bo, they discuss
the whole spectrum of the Chinese Medical Arts. These conversations would
later become the monumental text - The Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperors Classic
of Internal Medicine).
The Nei Jing is the earliest book written on
Chinese Medicine. It was compiled around 200 B.C.
It consists of two parts:
1. The Su Wen (Plain Questions) -9 volumes - 81 chapters The Su Wen introduces
anatomy and physiology, etiology of disease, pathology, diagnosis, differentiation
of syndromes, prevention, yin-yang, five elements, treatment, and man's
relationship with nature and the cosmos.
2.: The Ling Shu (Miraculous Pivot,Spiritual Axis)- 81 Chapters The Ling
Shu's focus is Acupuncture, description of the meridians, functions of
the zang-fu organs, nine types of needles, functions of the acupuncture
points, needling techniques, types of Qi, location of 160 points.
- From 260-265 A.D., the famous physician
Huang Fu Mi, organized all of the ancient literature
into his classic text -Systematic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion.
The text is twelve volumes and describes 349 Acupuncture points. It is
organized according to the theory of: zang fu, Qi and blood, channels
and collaterals, acupuncture points, and clinical application. This book
is noted to be one of the most influential text in the history of Chinese
- Acupuncture was very popular during the Jin,
Northern, Southern, Dynasties (265-581A.D.). For generations the
Xu Xi family were known as the experts in the art of Acupuncture. During
this time period important texts and charts enhanced knowledge and application.
- Acupuncture experienced great development during
the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties.
Upon request from the Tang Government
(627-649A.D.), the famous physician Zhen Quan revised the important
Acupuncture texts and charts.
Another famous physician of the time, Sun Simio, wrote Prescription with
a Thousand Gold for Emergencies (650-692 A.D).
This text includes data on Acupuncture from various scholars. During
this period Acupuncture became a special branch of of medicine.
Acupuncture schools appeared, and Acupuncture education became part of
the Imperial Medical Bureau.
- During the Song Dynasty (960-1279),
the famous physician Wang Weiyi wrote The Illustrated Manual on
Points for Acupuncture and Moxibustion. This book included the description
of 657 points. He also produced two bronze statues on which meridians
and points were engraved for teaching purposes.
- The Ming Dynasty (1568-1644) was the
enlightening period for the advancement of Acupuncture. Many new developments
1. Revision of the classic texts
2. Refinement of Acupuncture techniques and manipulation
3. Development of Moxa sticks for indirect treatment
4. Development of extra points outside the main meridians
During that period the encyclopedic work of 120 volumes- Principle and
Practice of Medicine was written by the famous physician Wang Gendung
In 1601 Yang Jizhou wrote Zhenjin Dacheng ( Principles of Acupuncture
and Moxibustion. This great treatise on Acupuncture reinforced the principles
of the Nei Jing and Nan Jing. This work was the foundation of the teachings
of G.Soulie de Morant who introduced Acupuncture into Europe.
- From the Qing Dynasty to the Opium Wars (1644-1840),
herbal medicine became the main tool of physicians and Acupuncture was
- Following the Revolution of 1911, Western
Medicine was introduced and Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology were suppressed.
Due to the large population and need for medical care, Acupuncture and
herbs remained popular among the folk people, and the "barefoot doctor"
- Acupuncture was used exclusively during the
Long March (1934-35) and despite harsh conditions it helped maintain
the health of the army of Chinese resistance.
- In 1950 Chairman Mao (Mao Zedong, the
leader of the Communist Party) officially endorsed Acupuncture and Traditional
Chinese Medicine and authorized Acupuncture as an important element in
China's medical system. Acupuncture became established in many hospitals.
In the same year, Comrade Zhu De reinforced Traditional Chinese Medicine
with his book New Acupuncture.
- In the late 1950's to the 1960's Acupuncture
research continued with further study of the ancient texts, clinical effect
on various diseases, acupuncture anesthesia, and all aspects of acupuncture's
application and clinical effects.
- From the 1970's to the present, Acupuncture
continues to play an important role in China's medical system. China and
Taiwan today play a leading role in developing traditional Chinese medicine.
In these countries, there are some 232,000 traditional Chinese medical
doctors and 50 institutes producing 30,000 traditional Chinese medical
Although acupuncture has become modernized, it preserves its bond with
a philosophy established thousands of years ago.
Read related articles:
Acupuncture:Its Origin, Application, and Efficacy
by Kate Ewald; 11/29, 2000.
External and Internal in Ge Hong's Alchemy
by Evgueny A. Tortchinov
Traditionally associated with China, Japan, and Korea,
acupuncture is incorporated into medical practice in Europe. Acupuncture
was introduced in Europe by European physicians who brought it from Far
Eastern colonies. That mode of introduction made it credible.
The first known European acupuncture publication
was dated 1658 and was published
The Dutch doctor Jakob de Bondt published an extensive,
six volume work about the history of nature and medicine in East India.
Modern medicine as we know it today did not exist yet, and there
were 300 years of parallel development, interaction, and scientific scrutiny.
There are similarities and differences in the contexts of European and Chinese
acupuncture. The similarity is that there is close communication and contribution
between acupuncturists practicing in Europe and China. European professional's practice
based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Chinese practitioners promptly
accommodate and incorporate new European techniques such as electropuncture and
concepts like auriculopuncture.
The difference is that European acupuncture coexists with highly advanced,
state-of-the-art modern medicine, and Chinese acupuncture does not.
Acupuncture in China quite often aims to replace conventional medicine
to fill the gaps and deficits in healthcare.
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In the United states, the first
publication on acupuncture in 1826 belongs to Bache Franklin M.D., great
grandson of Benjamin Franklin.
In 1892, Sir William Osler B.T., M.D., FBS in his fundamental work
"the Principles and Practice of Medicine" featured acupuncture as recommended
treatment for lumbago.
Rapid advance of Western medicine and biological science in the beginning of
twentieth century marginalized acupuncture practice, and after the 1920's
acupuncture was rarely ever used with the exception of Chinatowns.
It was not until 1971,
when interest to acupuncture revived.
James Reston reporter for the New York Times with Nixon's Chinese trip had
an emergency appendectomy with acupuncture anesthesia
His post operative pain was relieved by acupuncture at
the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Peking, China. This brought great publicity to
acupuncture and renewed interest in this form of treatment.
In 1996 in America, needles were removed from the "investigative" category to
accepted medical instruments
In 1997 The National Institute of Health issued
the Consensus Statement
that recognized that "Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in
the United States" and "may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable
alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program."
NIH has formed a department of Alternative Health care to provide needed research funding in alternative avenues of medical care.
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This page last updated: 14-Mar-2015