Acupuncture‘s origins in China are uncertain. One explanation is that some soldiers wounded in battle by arrows were cured of chronic afflictions that were otherwise untreated, and there are variations on this idea. In China, the practice of acupuncture can perhaps be traced as far back as the Stone Age, with the ”Bian shi”, or sharpened stones. In 1963 a ”bian” stone was found in Duolon County, Mongolia, pushing the origins of acupuncture into the Neolithic age. Hieroglyphs and pictographs have been found dating from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 BCE) which suggest that acupuncture was practiced along with moxibustion. Despite improvements in metallurgy over centuries, it was not until the 2nd century BCE during the Han Dynasty that stone and bone needles were replaced with metal.
In Europe, examinations of the 5,000-year-old mummified body of Ötzi the Iceman have identified 15 groups of tattoos on his body, some of which are located on what are now seen as contemporary acupuncture points. This has been cited as evidence that practices similar to acupuncture may have been practiced elsewhere in Eurasia during the early Bronze Age.
Acupuncture spread from China to Korea, Japan and Vietnam and elsewhere in East Asia.
Around ninety works on acupuncture were written in China between the Han Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, and the Emperor Renzong of Song, in 1023, ordered the production of a bronze statuette depicting the meridians and acupuncture points then in use. However, after the end of the Song Dynasty, acupuncture and its practitioners began to be seen as a technical rather than scholarly profession. It became more rare in the succeeding centuries, supplanted by medications and became associated with the less prestigious practices of shamanism, midwifery and moxibustion. Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century were among the first to bring reports of acupuncture to the West. Jacob de Bondt, a Danish surgeon travelling in Asia, described the practice in both Japan and Java. However, in China itself the practice was increasingly associated with the lower-classes and illiterate practitioners. The first European text on acupuncture was written by Willem ten Rhijne, a Dutch physician who studied the practice for two years in Japan. It consisted of an essay in a 1683 medical text on arthritis; Europeans were also at the time becoming more interested in moxibustion, which ten Rhijne also wrote about. In 1757 the physician Xu Daqun described the further decline of acupuncture, saying it was a lost art, with few experts to instruct; its decline was attributed in part to the popularity of prescriptions and medications, as well as its association with the lower classes.
In 1822, an edict from the Chinese Emperor banned the practice and teaching of acupuncture within the Imperial Academy of Medicine outright, as unfit for practice by gentlemen-scholars. At this point, acupuncture was still cited in Europe with both skepticism and praise, with little study and only a small amount of experimentation.
In the 1970s, acupuncture became better known in the United States after an article appeared in ”The New York Times” by James Reston, who underwent an emergency appendectomy while visiting China. While standard anesthesia was used for the actual surgery, Mr. Reston was treated with acupuncture for post-operative discomfort. The National Acupuncture Association (NAA), the first national association of acupuncture in the US, introduced acupuncture to the West through seminars and research presentations. The NAA created and staffed the UCLA Acupuncture Pain clinic in 1972. This was the first legal clinic in a medical school setting in the US. The first acupuncture clinic in the United States is claimed to have been opened by Dr. Yao Wu Lee in Washington, D.C. on July 9, 1972. The Internal Revenue Service allowed acupuncture to be deducted as a medical expense beginning in 1973.
In 2006, a BBC documentary ”Alternative Medicine” filmed a patient undergoing open heart surgery allegedly under acupuncture-induced anaesthesia. It was later revealed that the patient had been given a cocktail of weak anaesthetics that in combination could have a much more powerful effect. The program was also criticised for its fanciful interpretation of the results of a brain scanning experiment.
- What is Acupuncture?
- Chinese Acupuncture
- Modern Acupuncture
- Acupuncture Theories
- Acupuncture Efficacy
- Acupuncture Safety
- Acupuncture Legal Status
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