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The History of Acupuncture
By: Scott Suvow, L.Ac.

Acupuncture is a very ancient form of healing which pre-dates recorded history.  The philosophy is rooted in the Taoist tradition which goes back over 8000 years. The people of this time period would meditate and observe the flow of energy within and without. They also were keen to observe man's relations with nature and the universe. There were many sages of this period, but the most legendary was Fu Hsi, who lived in the Yellow River area of China approximately 8000 years ago. By observing nature, he formulated the first two symbols, a broken line and unbroken line.   These symbols represented the two major forces in the universe – creation and reception - and how their interaction forms life. This duality was named yin-yang and they represent the backbone of Chinese Medicine theory and application. Fu Hsi then discovered that when yin-yang fuse, a creative action occurs, and this gives birth to a third aspect. Fu Hsi then pondered on how this triplicity occurs eight times and this led to the eight trigrams and then 64 hexagrams of the I-Ching (Book of Change).  The I-Ching shaped the thinking for years to come and every influential book on Chinese Medicine is based upon its fundamental philosophy.

The primitive society of China is divided into two time periods- The Old Stone Age(10,000 years ago and beyond) and the New Stone Age (10,000-4000 years ago).During the Old Stone Age knives were made of stone and were used  for certain medical procedures. During the New Stone Age, stones were refined into fine needles and served as instruments of healing. They were named bian stone - which means use of a sharp edged stone to treat disease. Many bian stone needles were excavated from ruins in China dating back to the New Stone Age.

The most significant milestone in the history of Acupuncture occurred during the period of Huang Di -The Yellow Emperor (2697-2597). 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 305-204 B.C. and 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.

In approximately 1000 BC, during the Shang Dynasty, hieroglyphs showed evidence of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Bronze needles were excavated from ruins, but the bian stones remained the main form of needle.

During the Warren States Era (421-221 B.C.) metal needles replaced the bian stones. Four gold needles and five silver needles were found in an ancient tomb dating back to 113B.C. The Miraculous Pivot names nine types of Acupuncture needles. The Historical Records notes many physicians practicing Acupuncture during this time. Another milestone for this period was the compilation of the Nan Jing (Book of Difficult Questions).  The Nan Jing discusses five element theory, hara diagnosis, eight extra meridians, and other important topics.

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 texts in the history of Chinese Medicine.

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). This text includes data on Acupuncture from various scholars. During this period Acupuncture became a special branch of medicine and practitioners were named Acupuncturists. 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 casted 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 included:

  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
  5. The encyclopedic work of 120 volumes- Principle and Practice of Medicine was written by the famous physician Wang Gendung
  6. 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 suppressed.

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" emerged.

Acupuncture was used exclusively during the Long March (1934-35) and despite harsh conditions it helped maintain the health of the army. This led Mao Zedong, the leader of the Communist Party, to see that Acupuncture remained an important element in China's medical system. In 1950 Chairman Mao officially united Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine, and 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 acupuncture's effect on the internal organs.

From the 1970's to the present, Acupuncture continues to play an important role in China's medical system. China has taken the lead in researching all aspects of acupuncture's application and clinical effects. Although acupuncture has become modernized, it will never lose its connection to a philosophy established thousands of years ago.

About the Author:

Scott Suvow was introduced to Chinese Medicine in 1969 while studying Tai Chi Chuan with Grandmaster William Chen in New York City. The Tai Chi movements gave him first hand experience with the vital energy known as Qi. This unique experience reinforced his belief system in the whole spectrum of the Chinese Healing Arts. He has made it a life long study ever since. His teachers include Mantak Chia, Stephen Chang, Nancy and Michael Zeng, John Lindseth, Kezhuang Zhao, and other distinguished scholars. He is a graduate of the Tao of Healing Arts - School of Classical Chinese Herbology, and holds certification in Classical Chinese Herbology -Foundation of Tao- under the direction of Dr. Stephen Chang. He earned his Master of Oriental Medicine Degree at the International Institute of Chinese Medicine, Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is National Board Certified in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology (NCCAOM). He is licensed in New York and is in private practice in New York City. Scott employs a subtle approach to healing and modalities include Acupuncture, Acupressure-Tuina, Chinese Herbology, Bach Flower Essences, Chinese Medicine Food Therapy, and Internal Exercises.

Scott Suvow practices Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in New York City and can be reached at:
920 Broadway @ 21St.  8th floor, New York, NY 10010
Phone - 212-683-9575; Email - scott(at)acupuncturecare.com

Website: http://www.acupuncturecare.com