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THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE Volume 2, Number 1, 1996. pp. 19-21 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

A Short History of Acupuncture


he documented history of acupuncture as a medical therapy starts with an ancient Chinese book, the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic).^ The first part is titled Su Wen (Simple Questions). The second part is titled Ling Shu (The Spiritual Pivot), sometimes known as the "Canon of Acupuncture," because it is the first exposition on this subject. ^^ It is ascribed to the legendary "Yellow Emperor," Huang Di, and his ministers, especially Qi Bo (ca. 2600 B.C.). The book we have today shows editing that places much of it linguistically in the period of the "Warring States" (i.e., 480-220 B.C.). In its first paragraph, the Ling Shu provides the silk thread that ties neolithic stone probes to the needs of a great leader who wishes to provide for his people. This beginning statement is as timely and as apropos to 1994 as it was to 2600 B.C., because humans are still confronted with the same health crisis. Huang Di said to Qi Bo, "I, the emperor of the people, receive revenues of rents and taxes to nourish the Hundred Families, but I am grieved by not being able to provide for those afflicted with disease. I wish they did not have to endure the poison of medicines and the use of stone probes. I prefer to use those fine needles which penetrate the channels, harmonize the blood and Qi energy, manage the current and countercurrents, and assemble the exits and entrances. Please unravel this for future generations and enlighten them in the proper methods so this
Taoist Health Institute, Washington, DC. 19

therapy will not be destroyed or severed for aeons. See that it is easy to use, difficult to forget, a classical record. Delineate the process, clarify the extrinsic and the intrinsic, define an end and a beginning. Please formalize the reality of each item. Begin with the fundamentals of classical acupuncture. I wish to hear of these essentials. Perhaps the participants of this meeting may take Huang Di's advice and promote the use of these fine needles to heal the ills besetting modern humankind. The natural philosophy that formed the basis of Chinese medical classifications in this early literature are examined briefly as follows: The Dao: The way, the movement of nature and humans. The pictograph is of a head and of motion (i.e., the primal motion). Yin and Yang: Yin is dark; Yang is light. They are constantly moving, as one advances the other recedes, until the cycle is reversed. Yin was a picture of the shady side of a hill; Yang was the sunny side. Heaven, Man, and Earth: Harmony and health occur when these forces are in balance. We have recently begun to understand the health hazards of human-made pollution. The Four Seasons: If weather is unseasonal, disease can occur in humans. The Five Elements or Wu Xing: The normal Western translation of the word Xing shows the great difference between Chinese theory



Pulse reading continues the emphasis on flow and time. Twenty-four patterns are described in the Mai Jing, and a few more have been added since. Pulse taking is just one of a number of diagnostic procedures. The history of each patient, tongue, body color, and the general physical and emotional conditions are noted before treatment. As time passed and clinical observation accumulated, authors systematized acupuncture knowledge. The Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing (A Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion) was published in the 3rd century A.D.^ The Nan Jing (The Classic of Difficult Issues) attempted to clarify obscure items in the Huang Di Nei Jing7 China is a vast country, so it probably took many centuries for acupuncture to have spread from its historic From these beginnings, came the idea that beginnings in South China, there were Jing Luo channels (i.e., meridians With time there were progressively more through the body). These channels were roads medical texts. Sun Simiao's (A.D. 581-682) The of Qi that were connected not only to different Thousand Golden Formulae and Wang Tao's body organs but also to each other. They were (A.D. 701-771) Secrets Held by an Official both assigned names that had reference to the Yin recognized acupuncture and moxibustion as or Yang modalities of energy as well as the or- important therapeutic techniques,^'^ and Wang gan connection. Along these channels were the Tao's volume had colored charts mapping out acupuncture points. the various meridians. The acupuncture point is designated by the Instruction and training in the practice of Chinese written character as an opening into Chinese medicine was formalized with the esthe body. As such it can be influenced by pres- tablishment in A.D. 620-630 of the Imperial sure, heat, and woundingall of which can Medical College, as well as medical colleges in arouse the body's defensive posture to protect other major cities. and heal. More than 400 of these acupuncture In the 11th century, bronze figures were cast points are now recognized by contemporary with the meridians and points under the dipractitioners. rection of Wang Wei Yi. In the ancient texts, nine forms of needles are Trade and cultural exchange have been described. Today, one of the most commonly recorded between China and its neighbors used is the filiform or fine needle. The filiform from all compass directions. It is documented comes in varying lengths and thicknesses, but that Yang Er, a Chinese doctor, went to Japan in most instances it has a steel body and a han- in A.D. 513, and another doctor, Zhi Cong, foldie made of another metal or material. lowed in A.D. 550 with acupuncture charts and The Qi energy and blood flow through the writing. Japanese medical students visited meridians and blood vessels respectively and China for study in this field, and in the Medical could be felt and used diagnostically by a doc- Code of A.D. 701, the Japanese Imperial govtor. Various places on the human body were ernment decreed that the Hw^n^D/Nez/mg and used to feel the pulse of this flowing Qi. The the Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing be included as compulancient Chinese literature alluded to or briefly sory literature. described this classical method of diagnosis. The former kingdoms of Koguryo, Silla, and but the first book dedicated solely to this study Paekche, which now form Korea, like Japan, was Wang Shuhe's (A.D. 180-270) Mai Jing (The made the two acupuncture classics mandatory Classic of the Pulse).^ medical texts between the 7th and 10th centuries.

and its popularized form. Xing does not mean element. Pictorially it means to walk, to act. It is an expression of an energy of a time mode, not of structure. The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Like Yin and Yang, they are mutually generative and destructive. There are obvious differences with the ancient Greek notions of fire, water, earth, and air. Qi Energy: It is my personal belief that air was left out of the Wu Xing because it became equated with Qi; in fact, Qi is the picture of air with a rice seed within it (i.e., the prime energy). The word Qi in modern times is almost untranslatable, but in a historical context, it may be favorably compared to Greek pneuma and Indian prana.



In the West, silk and tea trade dispersed Chinese ideas as well as goods. After the 10th century, evidence of this dispersal can be seen in Persia where an encyclopedia published there included articles on Chinese medicine. The use of qualifying examinations were passed from China to the Middle East when in A.D- 931 Caliph al-Muqtadin of Baghdad ordered such for physicians who were to practice. Even though the nature of the medicine was different, the Chinese idea of a formal examination process for physicians reached the West in A.D. 1140 when Roger of Sicily also decreed such exams to be mandatory. Chinese medicine, with its principles and its therapies, followed these same trade routes and were of great interest in France and other European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Michael Boym, a Polish physician of the 17th century, published in A.D. 1686 a book titled Clavis Medica ad Chinarum Doctrinam de Pulsibus. The convergence of traditional Chinese medicine and modern Western medicine has accelerated since the end of World War II, especially in the case of acupuncture. The vision of the Chinese ancients of the human body as an organic whole, forces a reexamination of the fractionation of modern Western medicine. This remarkable return of Chinese medical therapy was reported by James Reston of the New York Times in an article about acupuncture in the early 1970s. The drama of his surgery without chemical anesthesia captured the world's imagination. Universities in China, Japan, and Korea are actively investigating the raison d'etre of acupuncture. Perhaps there is a trigger mechanism in the reticuloendothehal system; perhaps there is more.

To practice acupuncture in China and other Asian countries today, 5 years of training are required. Optional 3-year graduate programs are also available. A fusion of these two streams of medical theorytraditional Chinese and modern Westernis sure to happen because each in its way works to heal the "Hundred Families."

1. Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic), 480-220 B.C. 2. Huangfu M. Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing (A Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion), A.D. 259. 3. Institute of the History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Ancient China's Technology and Science. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1983. 4. Needham J. Science and Civihsation in China: Volume II. Richmond, UK: Kingprint, 1972. 5. Needham J. Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970. 6. Sun S. The Thousand Golden Formulae, A.D. 682. 7. Unschuld P, ed. Nan-Ching: The Classic of Difficult Issues. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. 8. Wang S. Mai Jing (The Classic of the Pulse), A.D. 265-317. 9- Wang T. Secrets Held by an Official, A.D. 752. 10. Wu JN, ed. Ling Shu (The Spiritual Pivot). Washington, DC: The Taoist Center, 1993. 11. Yanchi L. The Essential Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine: Volume 2. Clinical Practice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Address reprint requests to: Jing-Nuan Wu, L.Ac. President Taoist Health Institute 5524 McArthur Boulevard, NW Washington, DC 20016

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