and History

Acupuncture and history dates back over 5,000 years, with a clearly recorded history of around 2,000 years ago.

Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures throughout the world. It is based on the ancient Chinese system of knowledge and Chinese philosophy (Confucianism, Taosim [Daoism] and Buddhism).

This medical practice is done by inserting and manipulating very fine hair thin needles into the skin, sometimes used with electrical stimulus or heat (moxibustion).

There are approximately 390 acupuncture points on the body. They lie along the 12 meridians (pathways in the body) along which qi (vital energy) is said to flow.

These needles are placed at specific points (along meridians) to cure disease or relieve pain with little or no discomfort.

Acupuncture and history was first discussed in the "Huang Di Nei Jing" (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine). This is considered to be the best known and earliest Chinese medical text.
It was written about 200 B.C.

Huang Di - The Yellow Emperor (2697 - 2597), was the third great emperor of China.

Around 700 A.D. the first medical school was established and approximately 300 doctors were taught acupuncture and massage.

Acupuncture spread from China to Japan, Korea, Vietnam and throughout East Asia. In the 16th century, Portugese missionaries were some of the first to introduce acupuncture to the West.

Europe was introduced to this medical technique by way of French Indochina (which is modern-day Vietnam).

Acupuncture thrived in China except for the periods when it was suppressed (from the Qing Dynasty to the Opium Wars: 1644 - 1840).

In 1932, when Chang Khi Chek took power, Acupuncture was banned in the cities and western medicine was introduced.

In 1945, Chairman Mao Tse Tung took control and acupuncture was restored as the method of healing in China. The doors to the west were closed.

In the 1970's, with the help of New York Times reporter James Reston and President Nixon, the doors to China were again opened. Stories of surgeries being done without anesthetic renewed interest in this 'alternative, new' medical treatment.

Reston had to have an emergency appendectomy while in China with President Nixon, and used acupuncture as anesthesia and to relieve his pain.

The First Evidence

Surprisingly, the first physical evidence of acupuncture was found in Europe and not China.

In 1991 "The Ice Man" (named Otzi) was discovered in the Italian Alps along the Austrian border. This was a 5,300-year-old mummified man that was frozen and amazingly well preserved.

On his body were over 50 preserved "tattoos". They were in a complex system of bluish-black marks along his back, his right knee and left ankle.

The locations of many of these "tattoos" are precisely where acupuncture points and meridians are, notably the 'master point for back pain'.

It was thought that this man suffered from back pain, and that was confirmed with multiple x-rays that showed acute arthritis in the lumbar spine. Overall, he was in very good health, 45 years old, and died suddenly.

Acupuncture and History of Usage Around the World

  • Egyptians in 1550 B.C. documented (in the Papyrus Ebera medical treatises) vessels that resembled the 12 meridians in the body
  • South African Bantu tribespeople scratched parts of their bodies to cure disease
  • Arabs cauterized their ears with hot metal probes
  • Eskimos used sharp stones for basic acupuncture
  • Ancient Brazilians shot tiny arrows with blow pipes into diseased body parts to cure them
  • When ancient warriors were wounded in battle by stones and arrows, sometimes diseases that affected them for years were now gone
  • Sharp stones and bamboo were replaced with fish bones and later with various needles made of metal

Acupuncture and history have come a long way over the last 5,000 years.

In 1996, in the U.S., acupuncture needles were removed from the "investigative" category to "accepted medical instruments" category.

In 1997, The National Institute of Health in the U.S. issued the Consensus statement that recognized that "Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States" and "may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program."

When considering Acupuncture as a form of medical care, be sure to look for a well-trained professional that uses sterile needles.

Return from Acupuncture and History to Answer My Health Question home page.