History of Acupuncture

Ancient History

Acupuncture’s origins and development in China are reasonably well known. One theory of its origin is that soldiers wounded in battle by arrows were cured of chronic complaints. However, there are variations on this idea, and other suggestions, such as clearing of evil spirits. 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 have been found dating from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 BC) which suggest that acupuncture was practiced along with moxibustion. It is thought that it was not until the 2nd century BC that stone and bone needles were replaced with metal. The earliest records of acupuncture is in the Shiji ( Records of the Grand Historian). The earliest Chinese medical text to describe acupuncture is the Huangdi Neijing, the legendary Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (History of Acupuncture) which was compiled around 305–204 B.C.

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 acupuncture points. Some people suggest that practices similar to acupuncture may have been practiced elsewhere in Eurasia during the early Bronze Age.

Middle history

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 (206 BC–220AD)and the Song Dynasty (960AD and 1279AD), including in 1023, when the emperor ordered the production of a bronze statuette depicting the meridians and acupuncture points in use at the time. At the end of the Song Dynasty, acupuncture and its practitioners began to be seen as a technical rather than scholarly profession. Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century were among the first to bring reports of acupuncture to the West. The first European text on acupuncture was written by a Dutch physician who studied the practice for two years in Japan.

Acupuncture in the Modern Age

The resurgence of acupuncture in China and its expansion in the USA and UK during the 20th Century has seen more research, training and development. This has been driven by people’s increased interest in other methods of healthcare and the focus of acupuncture for restoring balance in an individual as well as curing a specific illness. Find out more about how acupuncture works, how a treatment may proceed. You can also learn more about modern research .