Chinese Acupuncture History

The history of China is rich and complex; the history of Chinese medicine and acupuncture no less so.

There is evidence dating back to the Shang Dynasty (c.1000 BC) of a relatively sophisticated approach to medical problems.

Archeological digs have unearthed early types of acupuncture needles, and observations on medical conditions have been found inscribed on bones dating back to this time.

In keeping with the Chinese emphasis on the balancing and governing of the forces of nature, it seems likely that medical practices developed through observation of the natural world.  Many of the graceful postures in Taiji and Qigong stem from observation of animal behavior. For example, the movements of wild geese form the basis of Dayan Qigong, which relates these movements to the acupuncture points and the energy body.

There is clear evidence of a shamanic culture existing in early Asian civilization, and many shamanistic practices are believed to lie at the foundation of Chinese acupuncture history. By the sixth century B.C., the link between shamans and the medical practitioner was clear. Confucius is quoted as having said that “a man without persistence will never make a good shaman or a good physician”.

The practice of both Chinese acupuncture and massage developed in an empirical manner through the observation of the effects they produced on certain parts of the body and on specific ailments. Early acupuncture was carried out using sharpened bone fragments before other tools were developed.

By the first century A.D., the first and most important classic text in Chinese medicine had been completed. This work, known as the Inner Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing), was compiled over centuries by various authors and takes the form of a dialogue between the legendary Yellow Emperor and his minister Qi Bo on the topic of medicine.

This book provides the basis for Chinese acupuncture history and over the centuries this basis was expanded, and specific works emerged on acupuncture and on herbal remedies.

Right into the twentieth century, much of the practice of Chinese medicine reflected the traditions that had developed over the course of the preceding 3,000 years. By then, however, Western culture was also making an impact in China. The initial response was for the more traditional theories based on Yin and Yang and the five elements to withdraw under the weight of Western scientific thought. By the time the Communists took power in China in 1949, there was a real dilemma regarding how best to deal with the apparent split between Western-based medical practices and those followed by traditional Chinese practitioners.

By 1954, more Chinese acupuncture history was made when the government officially recognized traditional practitioners as representing a ‘medical legacy of the motherland’. Thus began a parallel development of Western and Chinese medical practices. Texts from major teaching centers in China have been translated, and efforts have been make to make the principles of Chinese medicine accessible to the Western reader.