History of Acupuncture | Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences

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

Acupuncture is a very ancient form of healing that predates recorded history.

The philosophy behind acupuncture is rooted in the Daoist tradition which goes back over 8000 years. The people of this time would meditate and observe the flow of energy in the universe.

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 crafted into fine needles and served as instruments of healing.  Many stone needles and needles made from bamboo and bone have been excavated from ruins in China.

The most significant milestone in the history of acupuncture occurred during the period of Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor (approximately 2697-2597?). In a famous dialogue between Huang Di and his physician Qi Bo, they discuss the whole spectrum of Chinese Medical Arts.

This dialogue is the basis for a monumental text called the Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s 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:

The Su Wen (Plain Questions) and the Ling Shu (Miraculous Pivot or Spiritual Axis).

The Ling Shu’s focus is acupuncture, description of the meridians, functions of the acupuncture points, needling techniques, types of Qi and location of 160 points.

During the Warring States Era (421 -221 B.C.), metal needles replaced the stone needles. Four gold needles and five silver needles were found in an ancient tomb dating back to 113 B.C. The Miraculous Pivot names nine types of acupuncture needles.

From 260-265 A.D., the famous physician Huang Fu Mi, organized all of the ancient literature into his classic text – Systemic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (Zhenjiu Jia Yi Jing).

The text is twelve volumes and describes 349 acupuncture points. This book is noted to be one of the most influential texts in the history of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture.

Acupuncture experienced great development during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-649 A.D.) dynasties. Upon request from the Tang government, the famous physician Zhen Quan revised the important acupuncture texts and charts. Another famous physician of the time, Sun Simiao, wrote Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold for Emergencies (Qian Jin Yao Fang).

This text includes data on acupuncture from various scholars. During this period, acupuncture became a special branch of medicine and practitioners were now called 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 accompanied the Bronze Man statue which was a life size model of the acupoints on the human body.

The Ming Dynasty (1568-1644) was the enlightening period for the advancement of acupuncture. Classic texts were revised, techniques and manipulations were developed, moxa sticks were used, extra points were discovered and an encyclopedic work of 120 volumes was written. This encyclopedic work called Principles of Acupuncture and Moxibustion was the foundation of the teachings of G. Soulie de Mourant who introduced acupuncture to Europe.

The popularity and use of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in China ebbed and flowed with passing generations. Acupuncture was used exclusively during the long march (1934-35) in China and, despite harsh conditions, it helped maintain the health of the army.

In 1950 Chairman Mao officially united Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine and acupuncture became established in many hospitals, ensuring that acupuncture remained an important element in China’s medical system.

In the late 50 and 60’s, research continued into acupuncture with further study of ancient texts, clinical effects of acupuncture on various diseases, and the development of acupuncture anesthesia.

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 and its clinical effects.

Although acupuncture has become modernized, it will never lose its connection to a philosophy established thousands of years ago.

Scott Suvow practices Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in New York City

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