Acupuncture is thousands of years old. It is a Chinese system of medicine involving the use of fine needles inserted into the skin. To know the beginnings of the practice and art of this ancient therapy, we must enter the folds of time and focus our minds back to ancient China.
The beginning of Chinese acupuncture may have been almost 4,000 years ago (1600 B.C.) based on the discovery of bone etchings depicting the use of the treatment.
Through the last century, archaeological excavation of sites around China has yielded several pointed stones that archeologists have determined to be ancient acupuncture needles that were used for medical purposes, specifically to create skin incisions and to activate certain points on the body.
Ancient acupuncture’s history began with the use of these stones. Later on, slivers of animal bones were also used. Then, bamboo needles took the place of these slivers of stone and animal bones to treat certain maladies.
A tomb from the Shang Dynasty (1766 – 1122 B.C.) was excavated at the site of another archeological dig in China. Around the tomb, a lacquer casket containing a stone hook was found that indicated a valuable object. After thorough investigation, it was deemed that this hook was also a medical instrument associated with ancient Chinese acupuncture.
These ancient needles and medical instruments not only gave us a glimpse of acupuncture’s popularity at those times, but along with these things, large, bronze artifacts were also discovered that showed the importance of Chinese acupuncture during those times.
One of these artifacts was a life sized bronze man that was marked with acupuncture points on the body. This artifact contributed greatly to the rise and development of ancient acupuncture in China. Wang Weiyi (circa 987 to 1067) the maker of this bronze man, also created two more bronze statues that represented the front and back of a man. Acupuncture points totaling 657 were engraved on these statues which were used the Imperial acupuncture examinations for new acupuncturists in ancient China. Thick wax was applied on the statues and then filled with water. During an exam, the student needed to locate the acupuncture point and needle the point into the statue. If a drop of water appears when the needle was withdrawn, this means that the student had needled the correct acupoint.
A manual illustrating acupoints and moxibustion points in the Bronze Man was also compiled by Wang Weiyi. It was called Tongren Shuhsue Zhen Jiu Yujing. In a couple of stone steles measuring approximately seven meters in length and above two meters high erected in Kaifeng (this was the Northern Song Dynasty’s capital during that time), the text of this manual were engraved for the benefit of the public. The great work of Wang Weiyi had a huge boost in the advancement of ancient Chinese acupuncture. The ancient medical tools have been invented, the body’s acupoints have been mapped out, and the ancient people of China were being healed.
The book, History of the Song Dynasty (Sonshi), featured a recorded history of ancient Chinese acupuncture. The book recounts that in 1034, the Emperor Renzong fell ill and successfully recuperated with the help of acupuncture. The story made acupuncture even more popular in China and its practice became the specialty of legendary physicians like Wang Zhizhong who had lived during the Southern Song dynasty. The ancient acupuncture classic text Zhenjiu Hsishengjing Wang (A Description of Moxibustion and Acupuncture) was written by Wang and was published in 1220.
Actually, the ancient Egyptians were also using ancient acupuncture as early as 1550 B.C. During this time, the papyrus Ebers was written, which was ancient Egypt’s most important medical treaties. The document pertains to a book on the subject of vessels that could conform to acupuncture’s twelve primary meridians.
In South Africa, the Bantu sometimes scratch parts of the body to treat disease. To treat sciatica, the Bantu cauterize a part of the ear with a hot metal probe which somewhat corresponds to the practice of ear or auricular acupuncture. Just like ancient Chinese acupuncture, some Eskimos utilize sharp stones to stimulate certain parts of the body. In the Amazon jungle, an isolated tribe in Brazil shoots small arrows with a blowpipe into certain body parts.
The Chinese great contribution to acupuncture is that they have developed a fairly comprehensive systemic method of this treatment. This method has been described and catalogued in several text books. It can be reproduced in clinical studies and is taught in universities in China.
The desire and interest to learn acupuncture’s practices and methods is as fresh as ever. This treatment has certainly come a long way since its ancient beginnings.
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