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The History of Acupuncture the Origins of Acupuncture

The Chinese practice of acupuncture (chen-chiu) has been a custom for over 5,000 years and its population throughout the world increases with every year. However, the origins of this practice can be somewhat difficult to trace.

According to Chinese tradition a human being is alive because energy circulates through the twelve meridians in a certain order. This energy, ch’i, circulates first through one and then through another, and after it has circulated through all twelve, starts with the first meridian again. It is a simple concept of health and disease is the functional bodily harmony or disharmony between two forces, Yin (the negative) and Yang (the positive).

There are about a thousand acupuncture points situated in the subcutaneous tissue of the body. They are divided into twelve main groups, all the points in one group being united via a line called a meridian. Within the twelve meridians the acupuncture points are further sub-divided so that each point within each meridian has a certain function, the same type of point having the same function in which-ever meridian it may be.

The earliest known mention of acupuncture is from the Su Wen Nei Ching “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine”, an ancient Chinese medical text. Here bian (‘sharp’) stones or stone-needles, were used “”to pick at the body surface in order to cure diseases” (Lu, p.301). The earliest extant mention of bian stones is in a text from the 6th century BCE, but Chinese archaeologists claim to have unearthed such instruments dating back at least 4,000 years and possibly 10,000 years.

Initially, the practice of using bian stones were designed to relieve pain, but gradually developed into a special healing art with stone needles being used to treat all kinds of diseases.

The use of metallic needles is said to have come with the Bronze Age, and there is evidence that by the early stage of the Warring States period (475 to 221 B.C.), when China was just entering the Iron Age, metallic needles were being used and the practice of acupuncture was widespread. We can see this in the discovery of gold and silver needles found when an ancient tomb dating to 113 BCE, in Hebei Province was excavated.

In 399 CE, a Chinese Buddhist monk named Fa Xian travelled to India during their stay they made Indians aware of Chinese techniques of acupuncture and pulse examination. On their return journey, they carried with them Buddhist works with their innumerable medical references; and also valuable information on medicinal plants, methods of treatment and organisation of free hospitals and dispensaries.

The therapeutics of disease were carried out in accordance with cosmologic, animistic, and medicinal methodologies, some of which included the use of amulets and talismans, remedies based upon plant lore, acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, enemas, and graded exercise. These beliefs and techniques were further advanced and expounded upon by the Wu and their descendants during later dynasties.

Acupuncture was carried from China to Japan at an early period but was not introduced to Europe until later. At one time it aroused considerable interest in Europe, especially in France. Nowadays, acupuncture is widely used in practically all kinds of diseases ranging from surgical conditions such as appendicitis to chronic conditions such as diabetes.

For thousands of years the Chinese have practised and refined the custom of acupuncture in order to relieve pain and to heal a wide variety of illnesses and malfunctions, and it is inherent connection with its ancient roots that keeps the practice alive today.


Lu, Gwei-Djen (2002) Celestial Lancets: A History and Rationale of Acupuncture and Moxa, Routledge, London.