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  • Writer's pictureLauren Jordan

How did acupuncture evolve?

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

When I first began acupuncture school in 2014, I had been enrolled in a class that focused on the basic 101 theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine. From that point on, I heard numbers thrown around from 4,000 to 3,000 to 2,000 years ago of what ancient texts would describe as the creation of acupuncture. In classic texts from 2,000 years ago, it has been frequently cited that acupuncture instruments were made of stone and named bian stone. Bian stone was used during the primitive society and was an external treatment applied to the body. The primitive period is broken into two stages: the old stone age( remote antiquity to 10,000 years ago) and the new stone age (10,000 to 4,000 years ago). In the old stone age people knew to use stone knives, scrapers, drain pus and expel blood to create healing for the body. In the new stone age, bian stone was made as a tool that could be used for medical purposes.There were different types of bian stone depending on there use, here is an example of one:

Due to the evidence that exists during both primitive stages, it can be suggested that acupuncture has existed for a very long time, beyond 4,000 years ago. Acupuncture has evolved of course but nonetheless our ancestors knew techniques that are still used today such as: stimulating areas for qi regulation, bloodletting, draining pus and using scrapers on the skin.

3,000 years ago during the Shang dynasty in China, hieroglyphs would show both acupuncture and moxibustion being in-scripted on bones and tortoise shells. Bian stone was still used during this time to treat diseases and a new development of bronze needles had advanced. During the Shang dynasty the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine sprouted, ancient physicians working in medicine had an understanding of pulse, blood, body fluid, qi, shen (spirit), jing (essence), five sounds, five colors, five flavors, the different types of qi and pathogenic factors. The theory behind yin-yang and the five elements evolved as well.

(Here is a picture taken while I was in China, he has moxibustion on the needles. The doctor will light the moxibustion and the moxa will burn to a black color. The patient may feel warmth and smell the smoke. )

During the Warring States Period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.) to the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.-207 B.C.) and the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A-.D. 24) there is the development of metal medical needles. According to the book, Miraculous Pivot, there were nine types of metallic needles that served different uses for puncturing, massage or surgical incision.

During the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220) and to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265) acupuncture gained further recognition by many famous doctors. One doctor, Hua Tuo, was the first to apply herbal anesthesia for surgical operations, selected 1 or 2 points for acupuncture and applied manipulation to the needles to gain sensation (de qi- it would later be called). Another famous medical doctor during this time period, Huangfu Mi would compile the book Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. This book would contain, 128 chapters that included 349 acupuncture points, as well as, theory of the zang fu (organ systems), qi, blood, meridians, pulses, manipulation techniques for the needles and moxibustion.

At the time of the Tang dynasty (618-907), a famous doctor, Sun Simiao, who had a great deal of knowledge on acupuncture and moxibustion created Charts of Three Views. This included colorful descriptions of the meridians (12 of them) , the extraordinary meridians (8 of them) and 650 points all together on the body. The literature on Traditional Chinese Medicine continued to grow into the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as there were more doctors specialized in the field of acupuncture and moxibustion. There had been an expanded compilation of books, studies and applications of moxibustion.

From the Qing dynasty in 1644 to the opium war in 1840, acupuncture and moxibustion use declined and herbal medicine became more superior. This was later changed in 1817 in a text called, Sources of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, where acupuncture and herbal medicine are equally respected. In 1822, acupuncture and moxibustion were abolished permanently because they were not suitable to be applied to the Emperor. The revolution in 1911 ended the Qing dynasty and the rules that had been implemented ( abolish acupuncture and moxibustion). In 1914, the government of China tried to ban all of Traditional Chinese Medicine, restricting its development and ultimately causing a decline in the use of this medicine. Acupuncturists and folk people in China continued to create literature, launching courses to teach acupuncture, founded acupuncture associations and ultimately kept the medicine alive.

In 1934, the introduction to electro-acupuncture was introduced in a text called Study of Electro-acupuncture by Tang Shicheng.

Western medicine had already made its way to China by 1911 and by October of 1944, many medical doctors in China who were practicing Western medicine started doing further research in acupuncture and moxibustion. In April 1945, an acupuncture clinic was introduced into The International Peace Hospital, this was the first time in history that acupuncture was acknowledged in a comprehensive hospital. As western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine came to unite, Comrade Zhu De wrote an inscription for a book, New acupuncture, stating that, "Chinese acupuncture treatment has a history of thousands of years. It is not only simple and economical , but also very effective for many kinds of diseases. So this is the science. I hope that the doctors of both Western and traditional schools should unite for the further improvement of its technique and science."

Since the 1950's Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has spread through research, it has been instituted in different provinces and cities in China, and is being taught in every college of traditional medicine in China. TCM has been established in city and communal hospitals in China. Acupuncture has been spreading to other countries where it has been implemented in Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, India, Europe and the United States.

In the following post, I will share my experience while I traveled to China to study acupuncture. I will share pictures and talk about the integration of Eastern and Western medicine.

References: Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion (text), by: D.Liangyue, G. Yijun, H. Shuhui, et al

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