History of Acupuncture... 

(China May Not Be the Origin of Acupuncture!)

The 5,000 year history of acupuncture not being told....

The real story of how millions of Chinese have not been using acupuncture for thousands of years and the evidence that shows the Middle East and Europe may have been using acupuncture before China.

 

Also revealed is how the communist leader Mao Zedong re-created Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and started marketing acupuncture around the world as a cultural phenomenon.

The Origin of Acupuncture

Where does acupuncture come from?  No one truly knows...

 

When you remove cultural or metaphysical dogma about Acupuncture, the origins of acupuncture look to be the same as nutrition, pharmacology, massage, physical therapies and surgery.

If we begin millions of years ago to trace the origins of nutrition, one can say with absolute certainty that no one race invented or discovered eating. Human species all over the earth, throughout time, have been developing the science of nutrition; what you ingest can enhance or harm your health.  All cultures discovered that substances like herbs and minerals could be used as a treatment of illness. With millions of years of research and technological advancement, this basic principle of eating has evolved in many modern sciences like Nutrition and Pharmacology.

So, what about Acupuncture? Have you have ever had pain? Then you most likely would have rubbed it or put heat on it. If you experience nagging, chronic pain, you may even have the urge to stab into it, or in extreme cases the desire to cut the offending pain out.  It is probable that human beings millions of years ago had the same thoughts.  All humans, throughout time, likely have also rubbed or massaged an area that was painful as we still do today. Massaging (physical therapies), piercing (injections & acupuncture), cutting (surgery) and herbs (pharmacology) are still currently the main treatments for pain.

Humans dating back 2.8 million years, first started developing technology, or tools, that can puncture, cut and burn to improve their protection, comfort and to get food. In the last 300,000 years, all modern Homo sapiens around the planet have used these innovations to help gain more control over their environment and health.

There is actual evidence that 5,000 years ago humans didn’t just massage over injured areas they also pierced and cut the skin with sharp objects (Acupuncture:  Acu = Sharp + Puncture = break the skin) and used heat to treat pain as we still do today.  Are the origins of acupuncture the instinctual, biological program of all humans to massaging an area that hurts? When humans started to develop tools, did we started using them to enhance the basic technique of massage by piercing, cutting, and heating the areas of pain?

Thousands of years ago, humans discovered the phenomena that physical stimulation to structures of the body can enhance our health just as they discovered digestion of certain foods (biochemicals) could also. With accumulation of knowledge and development of technology, massage developed into acupuncture which further evolved into surgery.

Did nutrition start in France?   Did Germany invent the science of pharmacology? Is Sweden the origin of massage? Who created surgery?  Is the origin of acupuncture from China?

Acupuncture in Europe for 5,000 years?

The oldest evidence of acupuncture actually comes from Europe, with the discovery of a frozen mummy, "Ötzi", found in a glacier on the Austrian/Italian border in 1991.  He is dated to be over 5,300 years old (3400BC to 3100BC).

The hunter and gatherer had tattoos on his body made with cutting and piercing the skin with sharp objects and charcoal rubbed in. These tattoos were not ornamental but small dots and lines in different areas that seemed to have no pattern.  With further investigation, X-rays confirmed the points or areas tattooed were over places that the man had sustained injuries when alive, along with other spots that correlated with known acupuncture points.

Several mummies from other countries also have been found with tattooed or scarred acupuncture points made from either directly burning the skin with ember or cutting the skin and adding charcoal.

Acupuncture point mummies uncovered in Egypt, Peru and Chile dated before and at the same time as the records of acupuncture begin to show up in China. 3,000-year-old stone tools were found in Greece and Egypt , many of which ae the same as those used for acupuncture in ancient China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Written Documents of Acupuncture

The first written evidence of acupuncture techniques appeared in

the ancient Egyptian medical document, Ebers Papyrus dating

around 1500BC.  Other ancient Egyptian papyri also show

"meridians" like those described later in China.  Imhotep should

really be considered the Father of Modern Medicine, but even

before Imhotep was Isis, who successfully treated her patients

with essential oils as medicine.

 

 

 

 

The Han Dynasty (206BC - 210AD) is another very important period of time in the history of acupuncture

and herbal medicine.  One of the earliest and most

important classical medical texts on Acupuncture

from China "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of

Internal Medicine" (Huang Di Nei Jing) was written. 

Greece, the Middle East, and India had active trade with

China via the Silk Road.  The famous I-Ching had its

foundations during this time and India introduced

Buddhism to China.  The Middle East was the world

leader of science, math and medicine.  The Yellow

Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine is rooted in the

Yin & Yang and Five Element theories, which is the ancient model for understanding the principles that affect health and disease. This system of medicine has many direct correlations & similarities to ancient India's Ayurvedic medical system of Five Elements and the Four Humors of ancient Greece.

The rise and fall of Acupuncture in China

Acupuncture did reach its peak of development and sophistication during the Han Dynasty in China, but most knowledge and books had been lost or destroyed by the 1600s, and the practice of Acupuncture almost disappeared in China by the 1800s.

By the end of the 1800s, only one college was remaining in all of China.  Because of rampant charlatanism by many Chinese acupuncturists, who based their practice on shamanism and superstition, this college was outlawed by the government, and therefore closed in the early 1900s.  At this point, most acupuncture information in China had been lost or destroyed and it was reported by authorities that there was not a single copy of the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine left in China.  As a result, this important text was believed to be a myth, as was the author, Huang Di (The Yellow Emperor).

Japan and Korea, however, had been practicing acupuncture since about 500AD and still possessed many of the original acupuncture textbooks that were introduced from China.  They still had thriving acupuncture colleges throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. 

Japan has been responsible for many technological advancements in equipment like fine acupuncture needles, desensitizing guide tubes to help the needle enter the body, ear and body studs that remain in for five days and electroacupuncture.  Europe and Japan were the first countries to begin to understand and research acupuncture for its neurological, chemical and immune effects.

Acupuncture has been practiced as a medical science in many European countries since the 16th century with the first European book on Acupuncture published in 1683 by Wilhelm Ten Rhijne, who learned from the Japanese. Rhijne was just one of the many Europeans during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries who practiced and published about Acupuncture.

The Acupuncture Revolution in China

In 1949 Mao Zedong established the ruling Communist Party in China, and the country was cut off from the West, creating a worker and peasant society where scientists and doctors were sent to the country to become farmers and farmers became doctors and scientists.

In 1957 Mao launched the “Great Leap Forward” in an attempt in turn the failing country from an agrarian-based economy to an industrial-based one.  This resulted in 20 to 45 million deaths from starvation and disease.  With minimal health care, very few trained medical doctors, equipment or medications, Mao turn to resurrect traditional forms of medicine, including herbal medicine and acupuncture.

There had not been a formal acupuncture school in China for over half a century and they had little to no information about what acupuncture was.  Mao ordered the creation of a fast and simple way to teach acupuncture to designated peasants and factory workers and they become known as Barefoot Doctors.  Acupuncture resources from Japan and Europe particularly from books by French author Georges Soulié de Morant were studied and used.

What are Qi and Meridians?

Qi is the energy that flows through Meridians and is the bedrock of how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) understands and uses acupuncture.

Qi and meridians are terms which are an interpretation or idea that appeared around 1929 by French bank clerk Georges Soulié de Morant, who had spent time in China 10 years previously.  He always wanted to be a doctor but wasn't able to fulfill his wish and never actually received any medical training. At a very young age, he studied Chinese from a Jesuit priest, and because of his working command of the Chinese language, was sent to China to work for the bank he was employed at the age of twenty (1899).

The unconfirmed story is that Morant witnessed the effects of acupuncture treatment during an epidemic of cholera in Beijing, and he went out and found teachers to teach him about acupuncture.  This was a difficult task at the time, because there were very few acupuncturists left in Beijing.  It was reported that there was only one Acupuncturist in the whole of Canton, one of the largest cities in China and the world at the time.  Becoming proficient in Acupuncture, his master's considered him a doctor of Chinese medicine, the first Westerner outside of the "walls" with such a distinction.

In 1929, Morant first began writing about acupuncture, more than ten years after he left China.  Ironically, this was also the year when the Chinese government outlawed and condemned the use of acupuncture.  Soulié de Morant translated Chinese acupuncture transcripts which had detailed pictures and descriptions of the anatomy of the body, including internal organs and the circulatory system, which closely corresponded to the established modern science of the day.

He did not interpret any nervous system, but he did described meridians (longitudinal lines) which Qi (vital energy) traveled.  Are Qi and Meridians a basic understanding of the nervous system?

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, medical understanding of the electrical properties of the nervous system was in its infancy and just beginning to be understood.  Detailed drawings of the nervous system were not readily available.  A popular theory among many doctors in the early 19th century, based on ancient Greek teachings of Hippocrates, Plato and Galen, was that nerves were hollow in which animal spirits traveled (also called life force or vital energy or Qi).

The ancient Chinese pictographs and statues show the

location of Acupuncture points (acupoints) as small holes or

indents under the skin, however they were not joined to

form the "meridians" on the surface of the skin like we see

today until the 1900s.

Modern research does confirm that many of the acupuncture

points are in fact, the same location of neural structures of

the nervous system. But Morant’s Qi and Meridians concepts

were successfully woven into Traditional Chinese Medicine;

the communist presentation of acupuncture to the West

later during the '70s.  Many TCM advocates today still claim

meridians are not the same as the nervous system, but they

are real things that ancient Chinese sages knew and Western

science is not yet advanced enough to discover. 

TCM - The Great Leap Forward

The rise of Acupuncture's popularity in the West began in 1971 with the visit to China of the 37th president of the United States, Richard Nixon.

A reporter from the New York Times,

James Reston who was covering his

visit, got appendicitis and reported

getting acupuncture.  In the

Anti-imperialist Peking Union Hospital,

he underwent an operation to have his

appendix removed with conventional

modern anesthetic.  After he had

acupuncture to help with

postoperative pain, he describes his

experience in his New York Times

article; "Now about my operation in

Peking".

The article sparked an interest in America about acupuncture and China saw the political value of branding Acupuncture as uniquely Chinese and began a series of political programs to produce pseudo-scientific acupuncture text books and organize exchanges between Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctors to America and American Medical Doctors to China.

Even though the acupuncture methods did show results, the explanations of Qi and meridians created skepticism and interest among many medical professionals and institutions faded.  It did, however, catch the interest of many alternative lifestyle individuals coming out of the 60s.  As early as 1969, Acupuncture was already being taught in America to Westerners in California and Boston, mainly from Japanese and Taiwanese acupuncturists, but the communist-inspired Traditional Chinese Medicine successfully overtook and gained control of the curriculum of the American Colleges teaching acupuncture today.

Acupuncture in America Today

The understanding and use of acupuncture in America today is still dominated by the cultural and pseudo-scientific narrative from the communist era, which continues to bring justified skepticism from many medical professionals and logical individuals.

Today many Americans believe the Chinese have some unique insight into the practice of acupuncture because of generations of its use and popularity, but is this truth?  China started modernizing medicine in the 1970s, and Traditional Chinese Medicine was quickly replaced  with modern scientific medicine, which is the most popular form of medicine in China today.

Scientific evidence-based acupuncture is a legitimate and powerful bio-medicine specialty that is slowly emerging from the cultural branding and myth to be understood more clearly and used more effectively by acupuncture physicians and the community.

References

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With love and gratitude to A. Broski & K. Spencer for all the support and time with editing this site!