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Acupuncture, or needle puncture, is a European term invented by Willem Ten Rhyne, a Dutch physician who visited Nagasaki in Japan in the early part of the seventeenth century. The Chinese describe acupuncture by the character ‘Chen’, which literally means ‘to prick with a needle’, a graphic description of this therapeutic technique.
The first known acupuncture text is the Nei Ching Su Wen and there is a great deal of controversy about the exact origins and authorship of this book. The Nei Ching Su Wen is divided into two main sections, the Su Wen, or simple questions and the Ling Shu, or difficult questions. The book is also known by a variety of alternative titles such as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, or the Canon of Medicine, but all these titles refer to the same basic text.
The Warring States period is a particularly interesting time in Chinese history and has exerted a great deal of influence on Chinese thought. Two main philosophical ideologies became part of the mainstream of Chinese thought at this time, Taoism and Confucianism.
As acupuncture developed, the Bian stones were discarded and needles of stone and pottery were used. These simple, primitive needles are still used in some of the rural areas of China. Eventually metal needles began to appear and these took the form of the classical ‘nine needles’. The ‘nine needles’ comprised the arrowhead needle for superficial pricking, the round needle for massaging, the blunt needle for knocking or pressing, the three edged needle for puncturing a vein, the sword-like needle for draining abscesses, the sharp round needle for rapid pricking, the filliform needle, the long needle for thick muscles and the large needle for puncturing painful joints.
A discussion of the history of acupuncture is incomplete without mentioning moxibustion. Moxibustion is the burning on the skin of the herb moxa. The Chinese character ‘Chiu’ is used to describe the art of moxibustion, and literally means ‘to scar with a burning object’. Moxibustion does not now involve scarring, but moxa is still used to provide local heat over acupuncture points. It is made from the dried leaves of Artemisia vulgaris and the Chinese believe that the older the moxa, the better its therapeutic properties.
The exceptionally productive period of the Warring States also gives us the first known and recorded therapeutic success of acupuncture The Historical Records by Ssu-ma Ch’ien tells how the physician Pien Cheuh used acupuncture to revive the Governor of the State of Kuo from a coma. In fact the name of the physician was Chin Yenh-jen, but by taking the legendary name of the famous Chinese physician, Pein Cheuh, we can assess his prestige. The Governor was treated by acupuncture and subsequently with herbal medicines. In ancient China, as today, an event like this is a powerful argument in favor of the acceptance of any form of treatment.
Initially, there were no specific locations on the body for applying either moxa or acupuncture but gradually, through empirical experience, the use of specific points on the skin were shown to be of value in particular diseases. Acupuncture points are undoubtedly the end-product of millions of detailed observations and as they were developed so each of them was given a name and Chinese character, depending on its therapy properties.
Another major text, the Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, also made its appearance during the Warring States period. This was written by Huang Fu Mi in the third century BC Together with the Nei Ching Su Wen these two texts form the basis for the anatomical descriptions of the main channels, and some 349 acupuncture points on these channels. The Warring States period saw the coalescence of acupuncture, and indeed most of Chinese thought, in the mold in which it existed until the recent Communist revolution.
China developed the art of printing in the Sui and Tang dynasties, although it was not widely used during these periods as most books were copied by hand. Early Chinese printing is rather like a lino-cut, the characters being carved on stone and hand-made prints taken from each block. During the Sung dynasty (AD 960-1280), printing techniques were improved and used extensively. This gave a great boost to acupuncture as far more books became available. Many of the pre-Sun, books suffered from repetition and confusion, especially over the location of various points and channels. . These books were copied by non-medical calligraphers and this led to a great deal of confusion over the exact meaning of some of the characters in the text.
Because of the confusion that had gone before him, Wei-yi collected and collated all the information that was available to him in the eleventh century. He redefined all the points and channels and compiled an authoritative text called Illustrated Manual on the Points for Acupuncture and Moxibustion on the New Bronze Model. This text dates from AD 1026 and details the use of 354 points on the body. A vast amount of information is given about the location of the points, the method of needle insertion into each point, and the clinical indications for the use of specific points. There are also illustrations in the text to assist teaching and to act as a method of swift reference for the acupuncturist.